Appalachian storytelling, ballad singing, and music
Asheville, North Carolina
Storyteller, ballad singer, and multi-instrumentalist Josh Goforth is a native of Madison County in western North Carolina. Situated deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains, this area is known for its keeping of unbroken ballad and storytelling traditions brought by early Scots-Irish and English settlers in the mid-17th century. It was also fertile ground for the rise of American string band music played on fiddle, banjo, and guitar. Proud to share his Appalachian heritage with audiences near and far, Josh Goforth draws from each of these wellsprings.
Raised in a family of storytellers in the community of Sodom Laurel, Josh’s earliest memories are of listening to his grandparents tell stories deep into the evening hours. “Storytelling was a way of life where I grew up,” he recalls. To this day, he remembers the sense of fear that overcame him listening to his grandmother’s ghost stories. Yet, it was this very experience of suspense that taught him the importance of pacing when telling a story. A descendant of celebrated fiddler Asbury McDevitt, music was also a major part of Josh’s family. By the age of four, he was already playing piano in church.
A performance at his middle school by National Heritage Fellow Sheila Kay Adams, one of Madison County’s greatest living ballad singers and storytellers, and a fine banjo player as well, inspired Josh to devote himself to these rich traditions of his community. He soon received his first guitar from one of his great uncles, and began to take lessons from another great uncle. Learning by ear at the feet of such local masters as Gordon and Arvil Freeman, Josh became skilled at 10 different instruments.
Today, Josh is highly regarded for his skills as a storyteller, whether singing an old mountain ballad or getting laughs from audiences of all ages as a raconteur of family tales, and as an award-winning fiddler who plays old-time and bluegrass. He appears regularly at storytelling festivals, including the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee. Josh also tours extensively, both in the States and abroad, known for his frequent collaborations with fellow North Carolina musicians Laura Boosinger and David Holt, with whom he was nominated for a Grammy®. No matter when or where he is performing, Josh Goforth weaves together the different colors and textures of his Madison County heritage—a few stories here, a few fiddle tunes there, a haunting ballad at just the right moment, and for the kids, he plays several homemade percussion instruments, including a stump-fiddle (a stick with bottle caps struck by another stick) and a paper bag transformed into a small, hand-held drum.