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Volunteers refurbish musical instruments to donate to Eastern KY flood victims

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Volunteers working on instruments to send to eastern Ky.
Cheri Lawson
Mike Hughes, Larry Albert and Jo Mackby volunteer to refurbish instruments for people in eastern Ky

In late July historic floods took lives, demolished homes and destroyed bridges in several counties in eastern Kentucky. One organization started a flood instrument relief project in hopes of bringing music and joy back to the region.

Some volunteers have refurbished hundreds of musical instruments that will be handed out for free to people in eastern Kentucky whose instruments were lost or damaged in the floods.

In the basement of a Richmond, Ky music store, Raymond McLain of the McLain Family band is cleaning, restringing, and testing a mandolin.

McLain is one of 20 volunteers at Currier’s Music World on this Thursday evening refurbishing musical instruments for the people in eastern Kentucky who were affected by the floods that decimated the region in July. McLain said it’s an opportunity to help people who are in need of so much right now.

‘It just feels good to be in this room together with all these folks pulling together for such a positive response to something so tragic.”

The initiative to replace musical instruments was launched by folksinger Michael Johnathon and dozens of volunteers. It’s the second time in a year the host of WoodSongs Old Time Radio Hour has asked people from around the world to help Kentuckians in need. After tornadoes swept through western Kentucky earlier this year nearly 800 presentation-worthy instruments were delivered there. And now Johnathon says hundreds of instruments from as far away as Ireland are being cleaned up and will be delivered for free to the people in eastern Kentucky.

“This is the capital of America’s front porch community. And music is a big part of their culture, big part of their personality. America’s folk music springboards out of the Appalachian mountains,” explained Johnathon.

Volunteer cleans up trumpet for eastern Ky.
Cheri Lawson
Former music teacher Sharon Ohler is volunteering and getting band instruments in shape to donate to folks in eastern Ky.

Johnathon calls his friend, Cathy Currier, one of the finest luthiers in Kentucky. Currier set up the basement of her store as a makeshift workshop to get the instruments ready for delivery. She demonstrates how she gets an instrument ready for its new owner.

I’m just doing a basic setup on this. It’s already got new strings on it. So, on this one I did a neck adjustment, I lowered the nut and I lowered the bridge. And now I got to take the back off of it because the neck is a little crooked. So, what it takes is new strings, we clean them, and then we do six to seven different adjustments, whatever it needs to get it playable. The last thing I want to do is hand somebody an instrument and it not play in tune and it not play easy,” reported Currier.

Currier said when her father left her the legacy of this business, she learned about giving back.

“My father made it possible for me to go to school and obtain my education and if we haven’t learned it by now, we’re here to serve people. Yeah, I make money and sell stuff but I’m here to serve people,”said Currier.

After restringing two guitars Larry Albert is playing his banjo. The 71- year-old amateur musician from Morehead said he has the skills to help prepare the donated instruments for the flood survivors. “ It’s a good opportunity to do something that might be meaningful to people who are suffering,” said Albert.

Volunteers working on guitar for eastern Ky. flood survivors
Cheri Lawson
Volunteers Doug Naselroad and Earl Moore are helping get instruments presentation- ready for people in eastern Ky

Each volunteer has a different reason for spending hours here to help. As Lexington musician Jo Mackby restrings an acoustic guitar, she tells how her family’s home in California was destroyed in a flood when she was a child. “I was 11 and I watched our piano go under the six feet of flood water and I still have nightmares about it. So I want to be able to help people have instruments that might have lost them in the flooding,” explained Mackby.

It’s also personal for Melinda Barnett who lives in Irvine. Barnett is originally from Perry County, an area hit hard by the floods. She and her husband have been making trips to help family members who lost almost everything. She also thinks helping replace instruments is essential. She said music heals. “Everything about music, it touches your soul. And it comes deep from the mountains. It’s part of our heritage. It’s sacred. It really is.”

During the week Doug Naselroad, director of the Troublesome Creek Instrument Company and creator of the Appalachian School of Luthiery lives in Hindman, Ky. He said more than 40 lives were lost in the floods, hundreds of people lost everything and mountains of instruments were destroyed. He knows this effort means a lot to the people in eastern Kentucky.

“These instruments are just a joyful gift. They’re not something that somebody is doing from some agency. It’s just neighbors telling neighbors, hey, we’re thinking of you. It’s a joyful thing. Music’s joyful thing and the instruments are a joyful thing and when you get them working right, it’s joyful,” said Naselroad.

On October 29th Michael Johnathon and a group of volunteers will load up a big box truck and haul these newly cleaned instruments to Knott County Central High School where they will be personally delivered to those in need.

Cheri is a broadcast producer, anchor, reporter, announcer and talk show host with over 25 years of experience. For three years, she was the local host of Morning Edition on WMUB-FM at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Cheri produced and hosted local talk shows and news stories for the station for nine years. Prior to that, she produced and co-hosted a local talk show on WVXU, Cincinnati for nearly 15 years. Cheri has won numerous awards from the Public Radio News Directors Association, the Ohio and Kentucky Associated Press, and both the Cincinnati and Ohio chapters of the Society for Professional Journalists.
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