This week students and teachers at Forestville Elementary in Knightdale welcomed the all-female bluegrass band, Fox Crossing Stringband from Chicago, for an engaging Bluegrass in Schools performance. The talented trio featured Despina Pafralides on fiddle, Allison Branch on guitar, and Wake County’s own Cassie Wright on dobro and banjo.
Cassie is excited to be back to the place she fell in love with music. The Wake County Public School System and its teachers played an instrumental role in Cassie’s musical journey. From Pieces of Gold performances, show choir, and school musicals to improv groups and classes in technical theatre, Wake County public schools ignited her passion for music and theatre. Her educational path took her through Hunter Elementary, Ligon Middle, and Enloe High School, where two exceptional teachers, Mr. Allen and Ms. Scarborough, nurtured her love for the arts and performance.
“These teachers in Wake County go far beyond the classroom and personally take on mentoring and supporting their students,” Cassie said. “During the summer my technical theater teacher in middle school, Mr. Allen, was a lighting person at The Lost Colony, and he helped set up an internship program there for his students to get valuable real-world experience. And my theatre teacher Ms. Scarborough led the incredible musicals at Enloe and the improv group that I was in for three years. I am still friends with them both.”
Cassie’s introduction to bluegrass was a departure from the norm. Unlike many bluegrass musicians who start at a young age or come from musical families, she never even listened to bluegrass music during her childhood. She described growing up in a time when “country wasn’t cool.” However, she changed her tune after she moved to Chicago and discovered the Old Town School of Folk Music. There at the age of 25 she learned to play her first instrument, the banjo, and then at 30, she added the dobro to her repertoire.
While in Chicago, she met Despina and Allison who were looking for a banjo and dobro player to provide the true bluegrass sound for their all-female band. Together, they traveled throughout the Midwest, performing at shows and festivals. Their mission was not only to create beautiful music but also to inspire others to explore the world of bluegrass music while advocating for greater inclusion in the bluegrass genre.
The power of the all-female group is a source of great pride for them. Despite their full-time jobs, Cassie and her bandmates dedicate themselves wholeheartedly to their music. The band has released two albums that feature a mix of original compositions and covers. They are passionate about promoting songs by female bluegrass songwriters and breathing new life into old classics. They are excited to attend the IBMA festival for the first time to network, jam, and share their love for bluegrass.
Fox Crossing Stringband’s powerful three-part harmonies and exceptional skills across five traditional bluegrass instruments had the students at Forestville Elementary clapping and tapping to the beat. The students were introduced to the fundamental concept that true bluegrass bands do not include drums. After several songs and a brief exploration of bluegrass history, the morning ended with an enthusiastic Q&A session, where students eagerly asked the band a wide range of questions about their music and instruments.
Cassie’s journey has brought her full circle, returning to Wake County to perform once again, this time as a seasoned musician with a deep appreciation for the supportive community and teachers who nurtured her musical dreams. She is proud to represent the spirit of Wake County, where passion, dedication, and support could transform a music-loving child into a successful musician who has found her true calling in the world of bluegrass.
ABOUT BLUEGRASS IN THE SCHOOLS
For the 11th consecutive year, United Arts has continued its collaboration with PineCone, the IBMA Foundation, and the Wake County Public School System to introduce the vibrant world of bluegrass music to schools as a part of the International Bluegrass Music Association’s World of Bluegrass initiative. Throughout the week, students from nine elementary schools experienced live, engaging performances by exceptionally talented IBMA artists, all provided to their schools at no cost.
This year’s Bluegrass in the Schools performers include Tray Wellington; Hillary Klug; Fox Crossing Stringband; Liam Purcell and Cane Mill Road; Fair Black Rose; Danny Paisley and The Southern Grass; Tim May and Steve Smith; and Crying Uncle Bluegrass Band.
Many thanks to the IBMA Foundation for supporting three performances this week including Fox Crossing Stringband through their Bluegrass in the Schools Mini-Grant Program.
(Photos l-r: The original trio Cassie, Allison and Despina in pink with new bass player Liz, The band performs for students, Cassie answers questions from students, Cassie shows off her old Enloe High School Student ID)
Follow Fox Crossing Stringband: FACEBOOK @foxcrossingstringband | INSTAGRAM @bluegrass_is_foxy | YOUTUBE FCS Channel