Artworks 2004

West Virginia as arts destination Mountain State is fertile ground for fiddler

By: Gordon Simmons

    In order to pursue an artistic career, more than a few of West Virginia’s most talented have felt the pull of other places. For writers, actors, filmmakers, painters - you name it- success has often meant relocating.
    But West Virginia, with its own rich cultural heritage, can sometimes be a destination for artists. So it was for musician Jake Krack.
At the age of 19, Krack’s accomplishments as a fiddler of old-time music have already earned him near-legendary status. He’s been featured in the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, CNN, NPR, and just about everywhere in between.
    In 2000, Governor Wise selected him to perform at the Kennedy Center. He was chosen for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival and has performed at Vandalia, Berea, Merlefest, Galax and Gallia County. He has been a protégé to such renowned Mountain State talents as Melvin Wine and Bobby Taylor.
    Krack has just released a new double CD entitled Second Time Around. It follow six sets of recordings, the first made when he was 11. And, despite a phenomenally successful performing career and many contest wins, Krack is now attending Berea College in Eastern Kentucky.
    Unlike many others who have flourished in the state’s tradition of fiddle playing, however, Jake Krack started out in Indiana, not West Virginia.
The route from the Hoosier State to our green hills is a story as exceptional as Krack’s talent. Growing up in Indiana, he began playing music in imitation of his father, who took up the violin while Jake was four.
    At six, the younger Krack got his first real violin and began classical lessons in the Suzuki method. Finding Brad Leftwich, a teacher of old-time, West Virginia fiddle playing, began a series of events for that Krack family that culminated in their decision to move to Calhoun County to let Jake immerse himself in a musical style for which he was already showing great talent.
    Krack credits that move for advancing his music. In a 2002 interview with folk works magazine, he was asked his reasons for coming here instead of a typical music destination like Los Angeles.
    After citing the wealth of mentors available to him in West Virginia, he mentioned his intention to learn to play “just like” those teachers, “to keep the tradition alive and to someday pass it on.”
    It’s a goal that Krack is already accomplishing, according to Bobby Taylor. Taylor attests that “He continues to preserve the older West Virginia fiddle styles.”
    Krack went on to note, however, that part of his experience was leading him to make West Virginia music his own, blending the styles he had learned was learning from Wine, Taylor and others, making his own contribution to the musical heritage.
    Taylor said, “Jake has surpassed all my greatest expectations. I wasn’t sure anyone would carry on my style until Jake took an interest. I couldn’t be prouder of his accomplishments.”