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


You might also like

Community is invited to playground opening at Anson B. Nixon Park

A new playground at Anson B. Nixon Park will be formally opened on June 2 at 1 p.m. The 106-acre park in Kennett Square is opening the first phase of the playground after the Longwood Rotary Club stepped forward

Kennett Square Borough Council approves contract extension for borough manager

Kennett Square Borough Council approves three-year contract extension for Borough Manager Brant Kucera.
Thumb dsc 0850

Honoring Kennett Square’s finest

Kennett Square police officers are recognized for going above and beyond

  • This is a great time to make sure that the students in your house have the most important school ...


  • Debtors Anonymous

    09/07/2015
    06:00PM — 07:00PM

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


  • This is a great time to make sure that the students in your house have the most important school ...


  • Tail Waggin' Tutors

    09/09/2015
    04:30PM — 06:00PM

    This relaxed animal friendly atmosphere allows students to practice the skill of reading. With c...


  • This is a great time to make sure that the students in your house have the most important school ...


  • Warm Season Grass Walk

    09/10/2015
    09:00AM — 12:00PM

    By creating a yard with vegetation that offers food and cover, you can create a refuge for severa...


  • Little Music Makers

    09/10/2015
    11:00AM — 11:30AM

    Every Thursday at the USTC, come Jam Out with… Little Music Makers …a mommy and me music class ...


  • Clutterers Anonymous

    09/10/2015
    06:00PM — 07:00PM

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


  • 64th Brandywine Open House and Kickoff

    09/10/2015
    06:30PM — 08:00PM

    The 64th Brandywine Scouts of the Baden-Powell Service Association (BPSA) will hold their annual ...


  • This is a great time to make sure that the students in your house have the most important school ...


  • This is a great time to make sure that the students in your house have the most important school ...


  • The Chester Springs Studio wood kiln is a two chamber noborigama, constructed in 2014 during a wo...


  • This is a great time to make sure that the students in your house have the most important school ...


  • The Chester Springs Studio wood kiln is a two chamber noborigama, constructed in 2014 during a wo...


  • Steamin’ Day at Auburn Heights

    09/06/2015
    12:30PM — 04:30PM

    Join the Marshall Steam Museum for Steamin' Day, a fun-filled day celebrating local history and l...


  • Taste Kennett Food Tours

    09/06/2015
    01:00PM — 04:00PM

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


  • This is a great time to make sure that the students in your house have the most important school ...


  • Debtors Anonymous

    09/07/2015
    06:00PM — 07:00PM

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


  • This is a great time to make sure that the students in your house have the most important school ...


  • Bird Walks At Middle Run

    09/08/2015
    08:00AM — 10:00AM

    Free! Every Autumn, more than 30 species of warblers pass through this county park and birders ...


  • This is a great time to make sure that the students in your house have the most important school ...


  • Tail Waggin' Tutors

    09/09/2015
    04:30PM — 06:00PM

    This relaxed animal friendly atmosphere allows students to practice the skill of reading. With c...


  • This is a great time to make sure that the students in your house have the most important school ...


  • Warm Season Grass Walk

    09/10/2015
    09:00AM — 12:00PM

    By creating a yard with vegetation that offers food and cover, you can create a refuge for severa...


  • Little Music Makers

    09/10/2015
    11:00AM — 11:30AM

    Every Thursday at the USTC, come Jam Out with… Little Music Makers …a mommy and me music class ...


  • Clutterers Anonymous

    09/10/2015
    06:00PM — 07:00PM

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


  • 64th Brandywine Open House and Kickoff

    09/10/2015
    06:30PM — 08:00PM

    The 64th Brandywine Scouts of the Baden-Powell Service Association (BPSA) will hold their annual ...


  • This is a great time to make sure that the students in your house have the most important school ...


  • Glen Willow Combined Driving Event

    09/11/2015
    08:00AM — 05:00PM

    Come enjoy the excitement, spectacle and thrills of carriage driving at the Glen Willow Combined ...


  • Parents Night Out: Marsh Monarchs

    09/11/2015
    06:30PM — 08:30AM

    Parent's Night Out: Set mom and dad loose to have dinner along Wilmington's Riverfront while you ...


  • Parents Night Out: Marsh Monarchs

    09/11/2015
    06:30PM — 08:30PM

    Parent's Night Out: Set mom and dad loose to have dinner along Wilmington's Riverfront while you ...


  • Mysterious Moths

    09/11/2015
    08:15PM — 10:00PM

    Join insect expert, Alyssa Molin-Graves, and TLC to explore the interesting and mysterious lives ...


  • This is a great time to make sure that the students in your house have the most important school ...


  • Monarchs And More

    09/12/2015
    09:30AM — 11:00AM

    The amazing Monarch and other butterflies are busy in the meadow! With net in hand, search for th...


  • Monarchs And More

    09/12/2015
    09:30AM — 11:00AM

    The amazing Monarch and other butterflies are busy in the meadow! With net in hand, search for ...


  • The Chester Springs Studio wood kiln is a two chamber noborigama, constructed in 2014 during a wo...


  • Second Saturdays

    09/12/2015
    10:00AM — 04:00PM

    Join us on the Second Saturday of each month for special programming in our native plant gardens....


  • Secret Gardens of West Chester

    09/12/2015
    10:00AM — 03:00PM

    Now in its eleventh year, Barclay Friends is hosting an exclusive walking tour of 14+ private gar...


  • Trees of Newlin Nature Walk

    09/12/2015
    10:00AM — 12:00PM

    Discover the unique trees of Newlin on this walk that explores big trees, old trees, rare trees, ...


  • Mattress Sale Fundraiser

    09/12/2015
    10:00AM — 05:00PM

    High Quality Mattresses at great prices and for a great cause!


  • Explore a loose and contemporary approach to Spontaneous Plein Air Painting. Workshop with Georga...


  • Food Truck Festival

    09/12/2015
    12:00PM — 05:00PM

    Calling all Foodies!!! Join us on Saturday, September 12th from 12:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m. for a Food...


  • Victory for the Headwaters

    09/12/2015
    12:00PM — 08:00PM

    Victory Brewing Company (Victory) will host Victory for the Headwaters, a daylong celebration and...


  • Hootenanny Hoedown

    09/12/2015
    05:30PM

    Our 4th annual Hootenanny features a fantastic list of conservation minded partiers, delicious fo...


  • Sweet Sweet Music

    09/12/2015
    07:00PM

    An Evening of Fabulous Entertainment and Sweet Indulgence in a Landmark Venue to Benefit Chester ...


  • Milburn Orchards Grandparents Weekend Festival

    09/12/2015
    10:00AM — 05:00PM

    Grandparents get in FREE when accompanied by their grandchildren! Fall Festivals include unlimit...


  • This is a great time to make sure that the students in your house have the most important school ...


  • The Chester Springs Studio wood kiln is a two chamber noborigama, constructed in 2014 during a wo...


  • Taste Kennett Food Tours

    09/13/2015
    01:00PM — 04:00PM

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


  • Milburn Orchards Grandparents Weekend Festival

    09/13/2015
    10:00AM — 05:00PM

    Grandparents get in FREE when accompanied by their grandchildren! Fall Festivals include unlimit...


  • This is a great time to make sure that the students in your house have the most important school ...


  • Join us for a golf outing at Broad Run Golfer's Club. Event proceeds help to prevent and end fam...


  • Ready to Read

    09/14/2015
    10:30AM — 11:00PM

    Join our storyteller for book readings, songs, rhymes and crafts. From Monday, September 14 - Mo...


  • Tail Waggin' Tutors

    09/14/2015
    04:30PM — 06:00PM

    This relaxed animal friendly atmosphere allows students to practice the skill of reading. With c...


  • Meet & Greet Dharma

    09/14/2015
    05:00PM — 06:00PM

    Meet Dharma, a sweet German Shepard that is super smart! All are invited to meet her (without ap...


  • Debtors Anonymous

    09/14/2015
    06:00PM — 07:00PM

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


  • This is a great time to make sure that the students in your house have the most important school ...


  • Bird Walks At Middle Run

    09/15/2015
    08:00AM — 10:00AM

    Free! Every Autumn, more than 30 species of warblers pass through this county park and birders ...


  • Tail Waggin' Tutors

    09/15/2015
    04:30PM — 06:00PM

    This relaxed animal friendly atmosphere allows students to practice the skill of reading. With c...


  • Meet & Greet Lizzy

    09/15/2015
    05:00PM — 06:00PM

    Meet Lizzy, a Pembroke Welsh Corgi show dog champion! She is affectionate, smart and works at th...


  • Kids Book Club

    09/15/2015
    06:00PM — 07:00PM

    Read or listen to a book of your choice and join us to talk about it with the group. Bring a fri...


  • This is a great time to make sure that the students in your house have the most important school ...


  • Tail Waggin' Tutors

    09/16/2015
    04:30PM — 06:00PM

    This relaxed animal friendly atmosphere allows students to practice the skill of reading. With c...


  • Where Good Sleep Begins Workshop

    09/16/2015
    06:30PM — 08:30PM

    Banish Bedtime & Naptime Battles with The Sleep Lady's Gentle Method. Every parent knows getti...


  • This is a great time to make sure that the students in your house have the most important school ...


  • Little Music Makers

    09/17/2015
    11:00AM — 11:30AM

    Every Thursday at the USTC, come Jam Out with… Little Music Makers …a mommy and me music class ...


  • Clutterers Anonymous

    09/17/2015
    06:00PM — 07:00PM

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


  • Teen Book Club

    09/17/2015
    06:00PM — 07:00PM

    Read or listen to a book of your choice and join us to talk about it with the group. Bring a fri...


  • This is a great time to make sure that the students in your house have the most important school ...


  • Eye Spy In The Forest

    09/18/2015
    09:30AM — 11:00AM

    Let’s play Eye Spy in the forest! Nests, toads, salamanders, mushrooms, leaf piles …what will w...


  • This is a great time to make sure that the students in your house have the most important school ...


  • Thresholds of Chester County Seeks Volunteers

    09/19/2015
    08:30AM — 04:00PM

    Thresholds of Chester County is a nonprofit organization that teaches decision making tactics to ...


  • Walk for Life

    09/19/2015
    09:00AM — 11:30AM

    Join us for a day at the park! Enjoy a 2.5 mile walk through the lovely Anson B. Nixon park in Ke...


  • The Chester Springs Studio wood kiln is a two chamber noborigama, constructed in 2014 during a wo...


  • Free! Monarch Migration Celebration

    09/19/2015
    12:00PM — 04:00PM

    Celebrate one of nature's wonders…the great Monarch butterfly migration! Encounter live butterf...


  • Farm to Fork

    09/19/2015
    06:00PM — 09:00PM

    This year’s Farm to Fork highlights the abundance of the season while honoring the important role...


  • Share a piece of Johnny Appleseed's Birthday cake, then pose and take pictures with the birthday ...


  • This is a great time to make sure that the students in your house have the most important school ...


  • The Chester Springs Studio wood kiln is a two chamber noborigama, constructed in 2014 during a wo...


  • Taste Kennett Food Tours

    09/20/2015
    01:00PM — 04:00PM

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


  • Catch a ride on Coverdale’s hay wagon for a fun fall hayride through the preserve. Hop off at a...


  • Butterflies At Bucktoe

    09/20/2015
    02:00PM — 04:00PM

    Explore the beautifuln Bucktoe Creek Preserve in search of Monarchs, Swallowtails, and Fritillari...


  • Come join Lee Peterson, author of “Peterson’s Field Guide to Wild Edible Plants of Eastern/Centra...


  • Share a piece of Johnny Appleseed's Birthday cake, then pose and take pictures with the birthday ...


  • This is a great time to make sure that the students in your house have the most important school ...


  • Ready to Read

    09/21/2015
    10:30AM — 11:00PM

    Join our storyteller for book readings, songs, rhymes and crafts. From Monday, September 14 - Mo...


  • Tail Waggin' Tutors

    09/21/2015
    04:30PM — 06:00PM

    This relaxed animal friendly atmosphere allows students to practice the skill of reading. With c...


  • Debtors Anonymous

    09/21/2015
    06:00PM — 07:00PM

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


  • This is a great time to make sure that the students in your house have the most important school ...


  • Bird Walks At Middle Run

    09/22/2015
    08:00AM — 10:00AM

    Free! Every Autumn, more than 30 species of warblers pass through this county park and birders ...


  • Backyard Explorers

    09/22/2015
    10:30AM

    Tuesday, September 22 at 10:30 AM, Ages 3 – 5, registration required. There’s so much to discove...


  • Tail Waggin' Tutors

    09/22/2015
    04:30PM — 06:00PM

    This relaxed animal friendly atmosphere allows students to practice the skill of reading. With c...


  • This is a great time to make sure that the students in your house have the most important school ...


  • Green By Nature Preschool: Coolest Creatures

    09/23/2015
    09:30AM — 11:00AM

    They can climb walls, lift 500 times their own weight, fly thousands of miles - even though the...


  • Tail Waggin' Tutors

    09/23/2015
    04:30PM — 06:00PM

    This relaxed animal friendly atmosphere allows students to practice the skill of reading. With c...


  • Autumn Equinox Hike & Campfire

    09/23/2015
    06:00PM — 07:30PM

    Welcome the coming of autumn! We will head to the Hawk Watch to scan the skies for soaring rapt...


  • This is a great time to make sure that the students in your house have the most important school ...


  • Little Music Makers

    09/24/2015
    11:00AM — 11:30AM

    Every Thursday at the USTC, come Jam Out with… Little Music Makers …a mommy and me music class ...


  • Clutterers Anonymous

    09/24/2015
    06:00PM — 07:00PM

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


  • This is a great time to make sure that the students in your house have the most important school ...


  • Moonlit Stream Stroll

    09/25/2015
    06:00PM — 08:00PM

    Adults it's your turn to stroll along the White Clay Creek with Director Bern Sweeney Ph.D., as y...


Chester County High School Sports