Matthew Weaver is ready for the next step
Published 12:00 am Friday, November 18, 2011
By Katie Scarvey
Matthew Weaver is in a good place these days with his music career.
Actually, he’s in a lot of good places. He works as the music director at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Salisbury, a job he’s had for more than a dozen years. He spends most of the week in Boone, taking and teaching classes at Appalachian State University. And when he can, he’s traveling to share his music.
And oh, the places he’s been.
This past April, for example, he performed on the stage at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, fulfilling a lifelong dream. Weaver, who just turned 39, says it’s taken him 10 years to get his foot in the door in Nashville, but now, it’s firmly planted and he’s hoping to stride on in.
“It was very humbling, to stand in the sacred circle where the legends have stood for 85 years,” he said. “I grew up listening and playing bluegrass all my life, reading so much on the history of bluegrass music, and attending a university so immersed in that culture.”
It still amazes him that people from “all across the world” heard him play on the world’s longest-running live radio show.
Within a week after he performed, he had received more than 1,000 emails. It took him a little while, but he answered every one, he says.
Weaver is getting ready to graduate in December, earning a degree in Appalachian studies with a concentration in bluegrass, country and Appalachian music.
Besides taking classes to fulfill his degree, Weaver is also teaching courses in Appalachian music and fiddling.
“I love the university,” Weaver says, adding that the school has heartily embraced him. The weekend he was at the Grand Ole Opry, for example, the school held a listening party in his honor.
His Grand Ole Opry appearance has certainly upped Weaver’s visibility and sweetened his prospects.
He’s currently in discussion with several different record labels, while continuing to produce and release his music independently.
In fact, he has a new CD coming out, “I Have a Friend.” It’s a mixture of country, folk and bluegrass, he says. He collaborated with his best friends, Ben Young and Stephen Metz, with whom he’s started a music publishing business.
Weaver fans will have their first crack at the CD at his upcoming concert Sunday, Dec. 4. The Rowan County Concert Association is presenting “An Afternoon with Matthew Weaver and Friends” at Catawba College’s Keppel Auditorium. Weaver’s “friends” for this concert include Trevor McKenzie, Rebecca Jones, Owen Margolis, Brandon Holder and Dave Grubb.
Weaver is excited about the event. “We are actually recording our first live concert video,” he says, which has always been a dream of his. By spring, the show will be available on both DVD and CD.
Weaver just learned that he won two first place awards for his performances at this year’s North Carolina State Fair, as pianist and instrumentalist of the year.
“It shocked me,” he said. “There were a lot of talented people there.”
The Granite Quarry Civitans honored Weaver this past October at their annual Fiddlers’ Convention. He used to watch in the audience as a young boy and later entered and won some awards at the convention, he says. “But I never dreamed that I’d be included on their roll of honor,” he says. “I was touched by that.”
Many people locally know Weaver through his appearances in numerous Piedmont Players productions, especially the “Smoke on the Mountain” series, but also through musicals like “Pump Boys and Dinettes.”
In that show, he recalls, he “got to get down on the piano” and play in the style of Jerry Lee Lewis.
“Right in the middle of the show we did this ‘rock the house’ number,” he recalls.
A woman from the audience — obviously stirred by Weaver’s performance, ran up on stage, hopped on Weaver’s lap, kissed him and then disappeared.
“I thought, ‘Dang, I feel like Elvis Presley,” Weaver says. “It was a shock, but a nice shock.”
Sometimes, Weaver’s exuberance on stage leads to interesting things happening. Once during a big show — he can’t remember where — he was in his element, playing the piano. He has a bad habit, he says, of tilting the piano bench so it’s balanced on just two legs. At this particular show, “the whole piano bench collapsed on stage” and he went “rolling across the floor,” Weaver said.
He laughed with the audience, continued to play and got a huge standing ovation.
Although Weaver spent the first 10 years of his life in the Poconos in Pennsylvania, he considers himself a North Carolina boy who loves the south. In fact, when he daydreams about standing on stage and receiving a big award someday, he’ll be doing it as the “hometown boy from Salisbury,” he says.
“I’m so thankful for the overwhelming support from this county and the people of Salisbury,” he says. “My life has been enriched and blessed and touched. I run into hundreds of people who’ve seen me perform somewhere. This county has just supported their hometown boy. I’m proud to be from Salisbury and Rowan County and always do my best to represent our area.”
He moved to Salisbury with his parents in 1982.
His family was musical, he says. His great uncle Tommy headed up a family band, and Weaver grew up listening to everything from country to bluegrass, gospel and hillbilly.
He began playing piano at 3 and says it’s still his “main love.”
What may shock people about Weaver is that he’s never had any musical training in his life, he says. He taught himself how to play the piano by listening to a lot of record albums, including Floyd Cramer.
“I listened to the radio or records constantly,” he says.
“Music floats in my head 24 hours a day.
“I still can’t read music,” he says. “To me, physics is a whole lot easier to learn than reading music. Give me a sheet of music and it just gets in the way — it’s a hindrance.”
What Weaver has that a lot of musicians don’t have — at least to the extent he has it — is an ear.
“I admire people who do read music,” he says, “but I feel there’s a lot of people confined inside the box.”
Weaver is something of an anomaly. Dr. Charles Isley, professor emeritus of music at ASU, has worked with tens of thousands of students, Weaver says, and has told Weaver he’s the only one who can do what he does without any training.
At his Dec. 4 concert, the audience will be treated to a mix of bluegrass, country, gospel, folk and Appalachian music, including some Weaver originals — and even get to see some old-time Appalachian dance demonstrations, he says.
Weaver isn’t exactly sure what the future holds for him, but he’s excited and optimistic.
“Right now, I’m taking it one month at a time. There are so many doors opening.”
He notes that by the end of this year, he will have 400 performances under his belt. Next summer, he’ll be traveling to England to perform.
And performing is what he loves, more than anything. He loves to touch people with his music, he says.
“I get so happy when I’m playing. I’m more me, more comfortable when I’m on stage than off stage.
“I love to play, I love to see people smile, I like to sing songs that are heartbreaking, love to see people have a nice bawl and squall and cry,” he says.
Weaver’s musical influences include Hank Williams and Dolly Parton.
Dolly Parton is his particular hero, he says, noting that every year at Sacred Heart he sneaks a Dolly Parton ornament on the church’s tree.
Weaver was thrilled that when he was in Nashville last year for the 85th birthday celebration for the Grand Ole Opry, he got to see Dolly jump out of a cake. Standing only a few feet away, the sight gave him heart palpitations, he says.
Weaver worked on and off for six years at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. but unfortunately, he says, never managed to meet Dolly during that time.
Weaver does have a big Dolly Parton connection, though. He’s friends with Pearl Hoffner, whom he calls “Mama Pearl.” She was Dolly’s personal cook for many years, and Weaver met her through friends in the late 1990s.
Pearl and her daughter Dee are going to be attending the Dec. 4 concert, Weaver says.
“I have so much admiration for her and her music. She grew up in poverty and has given so much back.”“An Afternoon with Matthew Weaver and Friends,” will be held at 3 p.m. Dec. 4 at Catawba’s Keppel Auditorium.
Tickets are available at the Rowan County Visitor Center, Salisbury Belk, Literary Book Post and Frost Bites. Tickets can also be ordered online at www.rccamusic.com.
Tickets are $20 for adults and $5 for students. Call 704-633-1474 or 704-636-0181 for more information.
There will also be CD party at the Literary Book Post, 110 S. Main St., from 6-8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 16. Weaver will sign CDs and perform.