Frank Lee and Allie Burbrink @ Pisgah Brewing Co. 12-20-2017
A passion for traditional songs and tunes from the rural South has fueled Frank’s love of performing for the past 25 years. As a founding member of The Freight Hoppers, he has shared this passion with audiences all over the United States and Canada as well as much of northern Europe. He presents a range of Old-Time music that spans from raw Blues from the Mississippi Delta to the hillbilly music recorded in the South in the 1920s.
Growing up just south of Atlanta, Frank recalls hearing stories about the exploits of his banjo-playing grandfathers, as well as hearing about Fiddlin’ John Carson and Riley Puckett. As a kid a neighbor introduced him to the music of Ralph Stanley, and Frank became fascinated by the banjo. Immediately after high school graduation, Frank broke his femur in a motorcycle racing accident. His father bought him a banjo to pass the time in traction, and Frank’s been playing ever since. Frank began giving banjo lessons when he was in art school and in the mid-80s started traveling with Clearwater, a bluegrass band that toured throughout the U.S. and released an acclaimed album, Willow of Time, produced by Rhonda Vincent. His focus gradually moved toward older, more archaic styles of Southern music. Clawhammer banjo styles took his attention away from the slick 3-finger bluegrass styles.
A few years later, Frank moved to Bryson City, NC to take a job playing music for the tourists on the Great Smoky Mountain Railway. The Freight Hoppers stringband grew out of this gig. They placed first in the stringband competition at Clifftop, performed on A Prairie Home Companion, and signed with Rounder Records. The Freight Hoppers toured extensively in the U.S., Canada, and Europe; released three albums; and achieved a level of public recognition previously unheard of for a modern Old-Time band.
Frank’s old-time banjo playing can be heard on the three Freight Hopper albums, and he has a banjo instruction video out on Homespun Video. Slide guitar has also become a part of Frank’s concerts. A 1932 National Duolian was added to the arsenal of banjos, along with a love of the oldest recorded blues players from the South, Son House, Willie Brown, and Blind Willie Johnson. Spirituals and blues round out a performance of unique arrangements of Old-Time music from the deep Southeast.
Allie Burbrink grew up a farm girl in the vast cornfields of southern Indiana. With her mom playing We Sing Fun & Folk cassettes and her dad blaring Nitty Gritty Dirt Band records, it was no surprise at age 14 that she picked up her mom’s old guitar to lead songs and entertain kids at church and camp. In high school and college, she loved playing and singing anywhere from churches to dorm rooms to community events as a distraction from studies.
A northern Indiana band called Goldmine Pickers reignited her interest in folk and bluegrass in her mid-twenties. She and her friends formed a group and called themselves The WhipstitchSallies. These “bluegrass rockers with panache” brought an innovative brand of harmony-driven, genre-blending arrangements to traditional songs, covers, and original material.
Intrigued by a friend’s clawhammer banjo playing, Allie stole from her mom again, taking her banjo down for a week of lessons at the John C. Campbell Folk School in North Carolina. Her teacher was also an ethnomusicologist, and she loved the new world of old tunes that she had stepped into. She began to include banjo in her work with the band and continued learning from books, friends, online teachers, and anyone who could show her a new tune.
Allie and The Whipstitch Sallies played mostly in and near Indiana, working around her schedule as a seventh grade Language Arts teacher. When The Whipstitch Sallies and The Freight Hoppers played a festival in northern Indiana, Frank encouraged the young musicians to bring their act to North Carolina. They made a couple trips to the Southeast, and Allie’s appetite for music and traveling grew stronger than her love for teaching. After she quit teaching, the band enjoyed trips to Colorado and Hawaii.
Allie continues to perform with The Whipstitch Sallies. She also was featured for the month of June in the 2016 Banjo Babes Calendar and Album with her song “Carefree Gum Tree Canoe”, inspired by John Hartford’s recording of “Gum Tree Canoe”.