© 2006-2014 James Leva. All Rights Reserved.

James Leva carries an appreciation for a vibrant, living music tradition, which he learned from masters born around the cusp of the 19th and 20th centuries, into the 21st. The attitudes and techniques he learned from great Appalachian musicians such as Tommy Jarrell, Fred Cockerham, Doug Wallin, the Hammons Family and a host of others throughout Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky, are part of James' life and music and are carried on in his fiddling, singing, guitar and banjo playing and his critically acclaimed songwriting.

Purgatory Mountain

James is joined by a band of startlingly talented young musicians whose skills, energy and love for the music and great traditional dancing light up the stage...

Danny Knicely is a fourth generation Appalachian multi-instrumentalist from a Virginia family steeped in mountain music tradition. He has used his roots in old-timey and bluegrass to explore many musical styles such as jazz and Irish and has studied music abroad in India, Nepal, Tibet, and China. He has conducted lectures at Columbia University and The University of South Carolina on Appalachian and Himalayan traditional music. He has won many awards for both his guitar and mandolin expertise such as first place in the mandolin contest of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. He currently performs with David Via and Corn Tornado and Footworks Percussive Dance Ensemble and has performed with Magraw Gap, Tony Rice, Mac Wiseman, and Vassar Clements

"Where Al Tharp doth pick and sing, there shalt there be dancing, and among them celebration! Who among the multitude shall deny him?" - Al's Mom

Al Tharp, multi instrumentalist and armed force of the unnatural, made history along with a few million former kids by dedicating his energies to the Stratocaster he got for his 13th birthday instead of the placid curriculum of the times. But his passion for musical involvement found it's destined power and expression when he arrived in Rockbridge county, VA in the late sixties and became immersed in the burgeoning old time music scene there as the banjo monster prodigy ready to play it all night long!

Al Tharp

He is a founding member of the now legendary Plank Road String Band, who hit the folk music world a near lethal head wound with their drive it hard at all costs and "enough of them goddamn waltzes" (Tommy Jarrell) furiously upbeat old time sound. Performing throughout the South, including a memorable NBC today show at the Carter Family Fold, and shortly thereafter for another Carter at the White house, Plank Road exasperated purists and inspired dancers and audiences as they cut their swath through an ever enlarging coterie of true believers.

Finding his way to Louisiana after taking an even more intense three piece Plank Road to Europe in the early 80's along with James Leva, he soon was noticed by his Cajun contemporaries and fellow travelers, Michael Doucet and BeauSoleil. Originally enlisted as a sound and production guru, his Grammy nominated recording and production efforts earned him a full time place in the performing line up. He's been on the road ever since with the now Grammy award winning band, playing bass and fiddle, as well as continuing to contribute his unique take on "cajun" banjo and electric and tenor guitars on BeauSoleil's CD's. While with BeauSoleil, Al Tharp also played for two Presidential Inaugurations and at the Super Bowl.

From an early age, Matthew had firsthand experience with a diverse mixture of music, dance and theatre, traveling with his family's Virginia-based instrument making business to arts and music festivals across the country.  He has been playing Irish flute, tin whistle and bodhran since the age of eight and for many years helped in his father's studio making flutes and other instruments. (His father, Patrick Olwell is a well-known flute maker.)


At the age of twelve, his love of Irish dance took him to study with National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship winner Donny Golden at the Augusta Heritage Center in Elkin's, WV. There he also began studying with Eileen Carson, artistic director of Footworks Percussive Dance Ensemble. (Formerly The Fiddle Puppet Dancers.)

Since that time he has expanded his love and knowledge of dance to include Appalachian clogging, tap, various styles of step dancing, hamboning, flatfooting.

Matthew recently moved back to his home state of Virginia, after nearly nine years of teaching, performing, and touring full time with Footworks. During this time, he traveled with the group to the England, Scotland, Wales, Canada, Finland, and across the US, as well as in the London production of Riverdance.

Matthew Olwell

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Purgatory Mountain

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Photos on this page courtesy of Michel Bozzani