The Fine Tuned Project: An Initiative of the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area and the Blue Ridge Music Trails

The Blue Ridge Music Trails’ Fine Tuned project is a mentorship and collaboration-based project aimed at professional development for emerging artists playing traditional music in Western North Carolina. The Blue Ridge Music Trails (a program of the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area) produced an album featuring six mentor/mentee collaborations of traditional musicians from the mountains and foothills of Western North Carolina. Earl Scruggs Music Festival will present these artists on the Foggy Mountain Stage on Festival Friday. Below are some brief descriptions of these unique collaborations. For more information visit:

Bayla Davis and Cary Fridley

Cary Fidley served as mentor to Bayla Davis for their Fine Tuned journey. Cary offered a wealth of performing experience over multiple genres to Bayla’s wide open ears and mind. Bayla Davis, 15 years old, hails from Leicester, NC. She is a vocalist and an award-winning banjo player. Cary Fridley lives in Asheville, NC and is a multi-instrumentalist who performs and teaches across a wide range of styles. 

Benjamin Barker and David LaMotte

David Lamotte served as mentor to Benjamin Barker for their Fine Tuned journey. David brought his ability to connect through lyrics and relationships to share with Benjamin’s immense technical skills and expressive musicality. Benjamin Barker grew up and lives in Wilkesboro, NC. He plays hammered dulcimer and harp and in 2021, he won the National Hammered Dulcimer Championship. Ben describes his music as a folk/classical hybrid. David LaMotte lives in Montreat, NC. He is a singer-songwriter who plays guitar and hand percussion. Of his mentee Benjamin Barker, David says “Benjamin is amazingly talented, deeply devoted to his craft, and wide open to stretching and innovating. It has been such a joy to create some music with him.”

Donna Ray Norton and Josh Goforth

Donna Ray Norton grew up in the Sodom Laurel community of Madison County, NC. She is an eighth-generation ballad singer whose biggest mentors include her grandfather, Byard Ray, and her mother, Lena Jean Ray. Donna’s work with Fine Tuned producer Josh Goforth, on her album “Forevermore I’ll Sing” was the, prototype for the Fine Tuned project, inspiring the mentorship and innovative collaboration of the other Fine Tuned groupings. Josh Goforth earned “Master Fiddler” status by winning Fiddler of the Festival at Fiddler’s Grove three times. In 2009 he was nominated for a Grammy for his album with David Holt entitled “Cutting Loose.” Josh has extensive studio experience as a musician and a producer, and he currently is on faculty at the Academy for the Arts in Asheville while maintaining an active, worldwide performing schedule.

The Allen Boys with DaShawn Hickman and Kelley Breiding

For their work on the Fine Tuned project, The Allen Boys and DaShawn Hickman collaborated with Kelley Breiding to merge two strains of traditional Surry County music. The Allen Boys, consisting of Mitchel Fonville, Cam Moore, and Ranzy Moore along with DeShawn Hickman, grew up in Mount Airy NC. Kelley Breiding has extensive performance experience in old time, bluegrass, country, and western swing. Their soulful collaboration has merged two strains of traditional Surry County music—Sacred Steel (equal parts blues, rock, gospel, and jazz fusion) with the Round Peak style of clawhammer banjo playing.

Josh Jones and Sav Sankaran

Sav Sankaran served as mentor to Josh Jones for their Fine Tuned journey. These two musicians bonded over their classical vocal backgrounds and shared love of traditional bluegrass. Josh Jones grew up in Robbinsville, NC. He is a mandolin and fiddle player as well as a vocalist currently studying at the UNC School for the Arts. Josh describes his music as “leaning towards traditional bluegrass music.” Sav Sankaran grew up in the Allegheny Mountains of Central Pennsylvania and has lived in the Asheville area for the last 15 years. Sav is a bassist and vocalist performing with the nationally touring bluegrass band, Unspoken Tradition.