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Abstract

This dissertation examines varied practices of and debates that circulate around American old-time musics in the present day. Built upon multi-sited ethnographic work, I consider how and why a broad array of social agents orient themselves around and locate meaning in old-time—musics associated with the rural American past—focusing on the ways that parties of interest construct, shape, and navigate a complex discursive terrain around issues of heritage and place. In the first chapter, I problematize and destabilize the term “old-time,” examining the musics’ diverse historical trajectories and contexts, and the ways that they have been understood, shaped, and interpreted by various mediating agents from the early twentieth century to the present. I approach these issues through the interconnected lenses of commercialism, preservationism, and revivalism. Chapter 2 is a critical investigation of the means through which certain locales associated with rich musical heritage have achieved dominant, canonized statuses among practitioners, using Surry County, North Carolina as an illustrative example. To interrogate the complex ways that place functions in the construction of (old-time’s) musical canons, I set forth a theory of musical “epicenters.” Moving from a micro-regional to a wider regional focus, chapter 3 explores the construction of, and the issues of cultural representation that surround, two southern Appalachian music heritage tourism trails—the Blue Ridge Music Trails of western North Carolina and The Crooked Road of southwest Virginia. Chapter 4 approaches practices and presentations of old-time from an international perspective, examining the development of dedicated communities of practitioners and enthusiasts in the British Isles.

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