Skip to main content

Old-time music lives again through the Orpheus Supertones

02/12/2014 02:24PM, Published by ACL, Categories: In Print, Arts+Entertainment


From left: Kellie Allen (guitar, vocals), Clare Milliner (fiddle, vocals), Pete Peterson (banjo, guitar, vocals) Walt Koken (fiddle, banjo, & vocals), and Hilary Dirlam (bass).



By John Chambless

Staff Writer

The high, mournful cry of a fiddle has been a constant in American music since before there was an America. Passed from musician to musician, songs that were rooted in the hardships of rural life were either handed down through the generations, or they were lost.

Clare Milliner and Walt Koken have spent their lives playing the old-time music that predates bluegrass, and their dedication paid off with the 2011 publication of “The Milliner-Koken Collection of American Fiddle Tunes,” a mammoth 888-page book that captures the exact notes of 1,404 fiddle tunes, so that future generations can open it up and breathe new life into tunes such as “Sallie's Got Mud Between Her Toes,” “Peacock Rag” or “Possum on the Rail.”

Milliner and Koken, who live in Avondale, are the heart of the Orpheus Supertones, a five-member band that will perform at the Kennett Flash on Feb. 15. They're joined by Kellie Allen and Pete Peterson, who play guitar and banjo, respectively. Peterson playes a Supertone banjo. Koken plays an Orpheum, which led to the name of the band. Hilary Dirlam, whose musical career began in the 1960s, plays stand-up bass.

“Old-time music is for dancing and its songs are for lifting us above our burdens,” Koken writes on the Mudthumper.com website. “Our music gives relief from the everyday burdens of modern life, and an insight into a simpler time, with a glimmer of hope for us all.”

The seemingly limitless repertoire of songs shared among the five band members is a rich legacy, but the countless number of songs that are lost – faded away because no one wrote them down or recorded them – is a constant reminder to Milliner and Koken that a large part of American music will never be heard again.

Mudthumper Music is an independent CD label formed in the 1990s when Koken began producing recordings of his solo banjo playing. The name originated from a band in which Walt had played in the 1960s in Ithaca, N.Y., called the Busted Toe Mudthumpers. Through the website, fans of old-time music can buy CDs of the Orpheus Supertones playing slow laments of loves and lives lost, or high-spirited dance tunes that have been filling dance floors for generations.
Old-time music works its magic whether it's being played by a solitary fiddler, or a band that locks into a groove and doesn't let go. The interlaced, intricate music arose from generations of musicians learning the songs from others and then changing the tunes to suit their own playing abilities. If they relied on their memories, sometimes the lyrics changed, or the songs got shorter or longer. In their book, Milliner and Koken had to get as close as possible to what the original songs sounded like. In most cases, that quest was a difficult one. 

“The book is a snapshot of what music was like in our history before radio and bluegrass,” Milliner said. “Music changes over time. It changes with our culture as musicians put modern inflections on the tunes. We wanted to capture the past before the style, nuances and flavors of the old-time musicians fade away.”
In concert, the Orpheus Supertones are a relentless force, and their decades of musical experience shine through. A review in The Eureka Times Standard said, "The band displays a familiarity that draws the audience in right off the bat. … Don't be fooled by the just-folks, easy demeanor. These people are take-no-prisoner, downright hot musicians."
The Orpheus Supertones have produced three CDs, all on the Mudthumper label. They are six-time prize winners in the prestigious traditional string band competition at the Appalachian String Band Festival, and have won numerous prizes at other old-time music contests. Individual members have won ribbons in fiddle, banjo, bass playing, and vocals. Each band member is also a seasoned teacher, offering workshops in old-time fiddle, banjo, guitar, upright bass, singing, vocal harmony styles, fiddle/banjo duets, band arrangements and the work of particular old-time sources.
True to the folk roots of their music, the Orpheus Supertones play without pretense or fancy equipment, as if they were gathering for a barn dance at a neighbor's farm. Their concerts take the audience back to a time when a community shared its joys and sorrows the same way – by dancing.

The Orpheus Supertones will perform at the Kennett Flash on Feb. 15 at 8 p.m. Opening the show will be the folk duo Attractive Nuisance. Tickets are $15 in advance and $19 at the door. Visit www.kennettflash.com.


Like what you're reading? Subscribe to Chester County's free newsletter to catch every headline



kennett square kennett flash concert orpheus supertones


  • The Galer Estate family invites you to join our Wine Club, a community of members who enjoy fine ...


  • Children’s I-Spy Birding

    05/28/2016
    09:00AM — 10:30AM

    The last Saturday of the month from 9am-10:30am. Join local birding expert and environmental edu...


  • Herp Search

    05/28/2016
    02:00PM — 04:00PM

    With Gary Stolz, Naturalist Saturday, May 28th from 2:00PM-4:00PM Location: Bucktoe Creek Prese...


  • Brad and Dad Duo At Kreutz Creek

    05/28/2016
    07:00PM — 10:00PM

    Come join us for a night of wine and Music May 28th at the Kreutz Creek Wine Tasting Room in West...


  • The Galer Estate family invites you to join our Wine Club, a community of members who enjoy fine ...


  • Debtors Anonymous

    05/30/2016
    06:00PM — 07:00PM

    In D.A., our purpose is threefold: to stop incurring unsecured debt, to share our experience wit...


  • The Galer Estate family invites you to join our Wine Club, a community of members who enjoy fine ...


  • Pajama Storytime

    06/01/2016
    06:30PM — 07:30PM

    Wednesdays at 6:30 PM - Join us for an evening of stories, songs, crafts, and fun to end your day...


  • Pro-Act's Family Education Program

    06/01/2016
    07:00PM — 09:00PM

    When someone is addicted to drugs & alcohol, the diease affects the entire family. Each month PR...


  • The Galer Estate family invites you to join our Wine Club, a community of members who enjoy fine ...


  • Drop in on Nature

    06/02/2016
    09:30AM — 12:00PM

    oin TLC for our Drop-In on Nature Playgroup! This program is designed for children 0-Kindergarten...


  • Clutterers Anonymous

    06/02/2016
    06:00PM — 07:00PM

    Clutterers Anonymous℠ (CLA℠) is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strengt...


  • The Galer Estate family invites you to join our Wine Club, a community of members who enjoy fine ...


  • Children’s I-Spy Birding

    05/28/2016
    09:00AM — 10:30AM

    The last Saturday of the month from 9am-10:30am. Join local birding expert and environmental edu...


  • Herp Search

    05/28/2016
    02:00PM — 04:00PM

    With Gary Stolz, Naturalist Saturday, May 28th from 2:00PM-4:00PM Location: Bucktoe Creek Prese...


  • Brad and Dad Duo At Kreutz Creek

    05/28/2016
    07:00PM — 10:00PM

    Come join us for a night of wine and Music May 28th at the Kreutz Creek Wine Tasting Room in West...


  • The Galer Estate family invites you to join our Wine Club, a community of members who enjoy fine ...


  • Downingtown Fine Arts Festival

    05/29/2016
    10:00AM — 05:00PM

    The work of 40 professional artists from all over the United States will converge upon Downingtow...


  • Taste Kennett Food Tours

    05/29/2016
    01:00PM — 04:00PM

    Taste Kennett Food Tours, creators of memorable, unique and fun food experiences, offer three-hou...


  • Twistback Center For The Arts Inaugural Spring Arts Wine and Music Festival will be held on the T...


  • The Galer Estate family invites you to join our Wine Club, a community of members who enjoy fine ...


  • Debtors Anonymous

    05/30/2016
    06:00PM — 07:00PM

    In D.A., our purpose is threefold: to stop incurring unsecured debt, to share our experience wit...


  • The Galer Estate family invites you to join our Wine Club, a community of members who enjoy fine ...


  • The Galer Estate family invites you to join our Wine Club, a community of members who enjoy fine ...


  • Pajama Storytime

    06/01/2016
    06:30PM — 07:30PM

    Wednesdays at 6:30 PM - Join us for an evening of stories, songs, crafts, and fun to end your day...


  • Pro-Act's Family Education Program

    06/01/2016
    07:00PM — 09:00PM

    When someone is addicted to drugs & alcohol, the diease affects the entire family. Each month PR...


  • The Galer Estate family invites you to join our Wine Club, a community of members who enjoy fine ...


  • Drop in on Nature

    06/02/2016
    09:30AM — 12:00PM

    oin TLC for our Drop-In on Nature Playgroup! This program is designed for children 0-Kindergarten...


  • Clutterers Anonymous

    06/02/2016
    06:00PM — 07:00PM

    Clutterers Anonymous℠ (CLA℠) is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strengt...


  • The Galer Estate family invites you to join our Wine Club, a community of members who enjoy fine ...


  • Kennett/Unionville Relay for Life

    06/03/2016
    06:00PM — 08:00AM

    At Relay For Life events, communities across the globe come together to honor cancer survivors, r...


  • The Galer Estate family invites you to join our Wine Club, a community of members who enjoy fine ...


  • On June 4th, 2016, The Octorara School District will be hosting the 2nd Annual Octorara Angels Ra...


  • PurpleStride Delaware 2016 - 5K Run/Walk

    06/04/2016
    08:00AM — 12:00PM

    PurpleStride Delaware is back and better than ever! This year, our 5K run and family-friendly wal...


  • Chester County Blues Barbecue

    06/04/2016
    02:00PM — 07:00PM

    The 7th Annual Chester County Blues Barbecue once again comes to Wyndsor Farm in beautiful northe...


  • Herp Search

    06/04/2016
    05:00PM — 07:00PM

    Don’t miss this opportunity to explore the interesting world of the mysterious Reptiles and Amphi...


  • June Barn Dance

    06/04/2016
    08:00PM — 10:00PM

    Experience the culture in agriculture at Coverdale Farm Preserve's Saturday barn dance! Bluegrass...


  • The Galer Estate family invites you to join our Wine Club, a community of members who enjoy fine ...


  • Steamin' Days at Auburn Heights

    06/05/2016
    12:30PM — 04:30PM

    Join us on the first Sundays, June through November for Steamin’ Days at Auburn Heights, when the...


  • Birthday Bash at Auburn Heights

    06/05/2016
    12:30PM — 04:30PM

    In today’s disposable culture, it is not very common for anything to celebrate its 100th birthday...


  • Taste Kennett Food Tours

    06/05/2016
    01:00PM — 04:00PM

    Taste Kennett Food Tours, creators of memorable, unique and fun food experiences, offer three-hou...


  • The Galer Estate family invites you to join our Wine Club, a community of members who enjoy fine ...


  • Debtors Anonymous

    06/06/2016
    06:00PM — 07:00PM

    In D.A., our purpose is threefold: to stop incurring unsecured debt, to share our experience wit...


  • The Galer Estate family invites you to join our Wine Club, a community of members who enjoy fine ...


  • Selling American Innovation

    06/07/2016
    07:00PM — 08:00PM

    Join Tom Marshall, founder of Friends of Auburn Heights Preserve, as he shares stories from his l...


  • The Galer Estate family invites you to join our Wine Club, a community of members who enjoy fine ...


  • Pajama Storytime

    06/08/2016
    06:30PM — 07:30PM

    Wednesdays at 6:30 PM - Join us for an evening of stories, songs, crafts, and fun to end your day...


  • Pro-Act's Family Education Program

    06/08/2016
    07:00PM — 09:00PM

    When someone is addicted to drugs & alcohol, the diease affects the entire family. Each month PR...


  • The Galer Estate family invites you to join our Wine Club, a community of members who enjoy fine ...


  • Drop in on Nature

    06/09/2016
    09:30AM — 12:00PM

    oin TLC for our Drop-In on Nature Playgroup! This program is designed for children 0-Kindergarten...


  • Clutterers Anonymous

    06/09/2016
    06:00PM — 07:00PM

    Clutterers Anonymous℠ (CLA℠) is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strengt...


  • The Galer Estate family invites you to join our Wine Club, a community of members who enjoy fine ...


  • The Galer Estate family invites you to join our Wine Club, a community of members who enjoy fine ...


  • The Galer Estate family invites you to join our Wine Club, a community of members who enjoy fine ...


  • Race to Beat POTS 5K

    06/12/2016
    10:00AM — 11:30AM

    Kennett Square will be home to a walk and run to raise awareness for Postural Orthostatic Tachyca...


  • Taste Kennett Food Tours

    06/12/2016
    01:00PM — 04:00PM

    Taste Kennett Food Tours, creators of memorable, unique and fun food experiences, offer three-hou...


  • Join St. Anthony’s Church as we celebrate the art, culture, traditions and excitement of the Rena...


  • oin St. Anthony’s Church as we celebrate the art, culture, traditions and excitement of the Renai...


  • The Galer Estate family invites you to join our Wine Club, a community of members who enjoy fine ...


  • Debtors Anonymous

    06/13/2016
    06:00PM — 07:00PM

    In D.A., our purpose is threefold: to stop incurring unsecured debt, to share our experience wit...


  • The Galer Estate family invites you to join our Wine Club, a community of members who enjoy fine ...


  • The Galer Estate family invites you to join our Wine Club, a community of members who enjoy fine ...


  • Pajama Storytime

    06/15/2016
    06:30PM — 07:30PM

    Wednesdays at 6:30 PM - Join us for an evening of stories, songs, crafts, and fun to end your day...


  • Pro-Act's Family Education Program

    06/15/2016
    07:00PM — 09:00PM

    When someone is addicted to drugs & alcohol, the diease affects the entire family. Each month PR...


  • The Galer Estate family invites you to join our Wine Club, a community of members who enjoy fine ...


  • Drop in on Nature

    06/16/2016
    09:30AM — 12:00PM

    oin TLC for our Drop-In on Nature Playgroup! This program is designed for children 0-Kindergarten...


  • Clutterers Anonymous

    06/16/2016
    06:00PM — 07:00PM

    Clutterers Anonymous℠ (CLA℠) is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strengt...


  • The Galer Estate family invites you to join our Wine Club, a community of members who enjoy fine ...


  • The Galer Estate family invites you to join our Wine Club, a community of members who enjoy fine ...


  • Medicinal Plant Walk

    06/18/2016
    09:00AM — 12:00PM

    Saturday, June 18th, 2016 from 9:00AM-12:00PM Location: Bucktoe Creek Preserve (432 Sharp Road, ...


Chester County High School Sports