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Music is rolling through the hills of Appalachia again after flooding decimated parts of eastern Ky.

Knott Instruments
Cheri Lawson
Kylee Ingram shows off the guitar she received at Knott County Central High School. She is learning to play and is happy.

Music is rolling through the hills of Appalachia again after historic flooding decimated parts of eastern Kentucky in late July. A folk singer asked people from around the country to donate musical instruments to the flood survivors.

More than 500 instruments were handed out at a high school in eastern Ky.

Hundreds of people are lining up in front of Knott County Central High School in Hindman,Ky. where Michael Johnathon, the host of WoodSongs Old Time Radio Hour is getting ready to hand out free musical instruments like guitars, dulcimers, and mandolins.

The line is moving quickly. Jeff Coots is hoping to get a guitar to replace the one he lost in the flood. With short brown hair, and wearing a red Under Armour sweatshirt Coots looks younger than his 28 years. He said the church where he sings, and plays guitar, was destroyed in the flood.
“We lost every instrument we had in our entire church,” said Coots.

Knott Instruments2
Cheri Lawson
Jeff Coots sings and plays guitar at his church. The church was demolished and all the instruments were destroyed. Coots was grateful to get a mandolin for the church.

By the time Coots reached the front of the line, there were no guitars left but he was humbled by the generosity of Michael Johnathon and the volunteers. Coots was grateful to get a mandolin for his church.
“Honestly, I’m just thankful that we had that opportunity. We really didn’t deserve it,” explained Coots.

When the deadly floods hit eastern Kentucky at the end of July, folk singer Johnathon didn’t hesitate to ask people from around the world to donate musical instruments for the flood survivors in Appalachia.

“These are generous, kind, extremely hard-working sincere family oriented. This is the capital of America’s front porch community. You know, music is a big part of their culture,” said Johnathon.

It’s the second time this year the singer has organized an instrument relief project. In March, he and a group of volunteers distributed 800 musical instruments to people in western Kentucky after tornadoes swept through their region.

Johnathon gives all the credit to the volunteers who he said donated a lot of time and energy to collecting, cleaning, restringing, and testing instruments.

“Love is what makes the arts work. I believe in the idea of home and community, family, people working together, people caring about each other, that’s the love part of the arts. And this is a way to show that love,” said Johnathon.

People like Sharon Ohler, a retired music educator helped refurbish instruments like trumpets and flutes for the people who survived the tornadoes in western Kentucky. She was back again to get the instruments presentation-ready for flood survivors in eastern Kentucky.

“In so many ways, I think many of us wondered helplessly what could we do to help these folks. And this was a great brainchild by Michael Johnathon to put music back into the hands of folks who lost it,” said Ohler.

Cheri Lawson
Hundreds of people line up to receive free instruments being given out by folk singer Michael Johnathon and the volunteers.

Twenty-four-year-old Katie Stiles is the new band director at Knott County High School. It was difficult to find that the band room was flooded and most of the instruments were ruined. Stiles said this instrument relief project replaced several instruments in her band room.
“We really appreciate it. I now got some instruments to start my junior high students on and some of my high school students and rebuild the band program here. We lost quite a few of our instruments. So, their donations are helping immensely,” said Stiles.

One week before the floods Katie’s sister and parents had been helping Katie make an inventory of all the instruments in the band room. Katie’s dad, Randy Stiles said nobody expected the floods that ravaged the region.

“And we come back exactly a week afterwards to survey the damage in her room. We’re in our rubber boots, walking through the mud and there’s just muddy instruments everywhere and everything’s just destroyed. And we’re having to start from the beginning again,” said Randy.

Band director Katie Stiles said the mountain community is still rebuilding but having these instruments helps everyone.

“It gives the students and the kids in this area something to look forward to, an emotional release, playing their instrument. It gives them an opportunity to get out of their house and a distraction from the destruction around them. It’s awesome to see music coming back to eastern Kentucky,” said Katie.

More than 500 musical instruments were given out at Knott County Central High School in just 90 minutes to the flood survivors. People walking away with new instruments felt this was a big step in helping restore music to the mountains of eastern Kentucky.

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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.