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

Thumb_cfks-owners4-620x412

Stronger than yesterday

Members of CrossFit Kennett Square say that the exercise program provides functional fitness for any lifestyle
Thumb_carlin-005

Artist Neilson Carlin prepares image of faith for the world stage

Last January, Carlin was contacted by Bishop John McIntyre to paint a portrait of the Holy Family that would be the central icon for next year's World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.

Police seek bank robbery suspect

Local police are looking for the suspect in a bank robbery that took place in Kennett Square on August 15.

  • Sunday Brunch

    05/22/2015
    11:00am — 02:00pm

    Every Sunday from 11-2PM Continental Buffet, Waffle bar, fresh fruits, Mimosa, Bloody Mary an...


  • The Spayed Club now has THREE transport locations throughout the Greater Philadelphia area -- Pot...


  • Fitness Walks

    05/27/2015
    08:30am — 09:30am

    Turn off the treadmill and forget they gym! Start your day with an invigorating hour-long hike th...


  • Gentle Yoga

    05/27/2015
    05:00pm — 06:00pm

    Reduce the aches and pains of age by increasing your range of motion through the practice of yoga...


  • Join us at Child Guidance's Coatesville Office for an in-depth workshop that will address what is...


  • Hatha Yoga

    05/27/2015
    06:30pm — 07:30pm

    This series of vigorous exercises is designed to strengthen the body and increase flexibility whi...


  • Sunday Brunch

    05/28/2015
    11:00am — 02:00pm

    Every Sunday from 11-2PM Continental Buffet, Waffle bar, fresh fruits, Mimosa, Bloody Mary an...


  • Heuchera: The Perfect Shade Plant

    05/28/2015
    01:00pm — 03:00pm

    Discover one of the most popular perennials for shade gardens. Mt. Cuba Center recently completed...


  • Clutterers Anonymous

    05/28/2015
    06:00pm — 07:00pm

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


  • Heart Health - Preventing Heart Disease & Strokes

    05/28/2015
    06:30pm — 07:30pm

    We will learn how healthier eating habits, a manageable fitness routine and simple stress managem...


  • Sunday Brunch

    05/22/2015
    11:00am — 02:00pm

    Every Sunday from 11-2PM Continental Buffet, Waffle bar, fresh fruits, Mimosa, Bloody Mary an...


  • Annual Avon-Grove Memorial Parade

    05/23/2015
    09:00am — 12:00pm

    Memorial Day is a federal holiday in the United States for remembering the people who died while ...


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


  • Sunday Brunch

    05/23/2015
    11:00am — 02:00pm

    Every Sunday from 11-2PM Continental Buffet, Waffle bar, fresh fruits, Mimosa, Bloody Mary an...


  • Prehistoric Newlin Nature Walk

    05/23/2015
    01:30pm — 03:30am

    Become a time traveler in this exciting walk to explore signs of the Newlin Grist Mill nature par...


  • Philly POPS at Longwood Gardens for Memorial Day

    05/23/2015
    07:30pm — 09:00pm

    The upcoming Memorial Day holiday weekend provides the perfect opportunity for The Philly POPS to...


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


  • Half the Money, all the bottle. Every Tuesday

    05/24/2015
    11:00am — 09:00pm

    EVERY TUESDAY ‎Half the money, all the bottle.1/2 Price Bottle of Wine / Every Tuesday with your...


  • Taste Kennett Food Tours

    05/24/2015
    01:00pm — 04:00pm

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


  • Taste Kennett Food Tours

    05/24/2015
    01:00pm — 04:00pm

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


  • Half the Money, all the bottle. Every Tuesday

    05/25/2015
    11:00am — 09:00pm

    EVERY TUESDAY ‎Half the money, all the bottle.1/2 Price Bottle of Wine / Every Tuesday with your...


  • Monday's are Whiskey nights at Minihane's

    05/25/2015
    05:00pm — 11:00pm

    Whisky is not the same as Whiskey! There is some debate about whether or not Scottish distill...


  • Catch living history as the Mohican Base Ball Club (Mohican BBC) of Kennett Square play a exhibit...


  • Debtors Anonymous

    05/25/2015
    06:00pm — 07:00pm

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


  • Half the Money, all the bottle. Every Tuesday

    05/26/2015
    11:00am — 09:00pm

    EVERY TUESDAY ‎Half the money, all the bottle.1/2 Price Bottle of Wine / Every Tuesday with your...


  • The Spayed Club now has THREE transport locations throughout the Greater Philadelphia area -- Pot...


  • Fitness Walks

    05/27/2015
    08:30am — 09:30am

    Turn off the treadmill and forget they gym! Start your day with an invigorating hour-long hike th...


  • Gentle Yoga

    05/27/2015
    05:00pm — 06:00pm

    Reduce the aches and pains of age by increasing your range of motion through the practice of yoga...


  • Join us at Child Guidance's Coatesville Office for an in-depth workshop that will address what is...


  • Hatha Yoga

    05/27/2015
    06:30pm — 07:30pm

    This series of vigorous exercises is designed to strengthen the body and increase flexibility whi...


  • Sunday Brunch

    05/28/2015
    11:00am — 02:00pm

    Every Sunday from 11-2PM Continental Buffet, Waffle bar, fresh fruits, Mimosa, Bloody Mary an...


  • Heuchera: The Perfect Shade Plant

    05/28/2015
    01:00pm — 03:00pm

    Discover one of the most popular perennials for shade gardens. Mt. Cuba Center recently completed...


  • Clutterers Anonymous

    05/28/2015
    06:00pm — 07:00pm

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


  • Heart Health - Preventing Heart Disease & Strokes

    05/28/2015
    06:30pm — 07:30pm

    We will learn how healthier eating habits, a manageable fitness routine and simple stress managem...


  • DFVA Greenville Summer Art Show

    05/29/2015
    10:00am — 07:00pm

    An impressive group of over thirty outstanding professional artists from the Brandywine Valley ar...


  • DFVA Summer Art Show

    05/29/2015
    10:00am — 07:00pm

    An impressive group of outstanding professional artists from the Brandywine Valley area will exhi...


  • Sunday Brunch

    05/29/2015
    11:00am — 02:00pm

    Every Sunday from 11-2PM Continental Buffet, Waffle bar, fresh fruits, Mimosa, Bloody Mary an...


  • PurpleStride Delaware 2015 - 5K Run/Walk

    05/30/2015
    08:00am — 11:00am

    The Delaware Affiliate of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network is hosting its third annual Purple...


  • PurpleStride Delaware 2015 - 5K Run/Walk

    05/30/2015
    08:00am — 11:00am

    PurpleStride 2015 is a 5K run and family friendly walk. The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network is b...


  • Multi-Family Yard Sale in Oxford

    05/30/2015
    09:00am — 03:00pm

    Electronics, tools, baby clothes, toys, kitchen, bath, bedding, decorations, crafts and so much more


  • CLAY MONOPRINTING WITH MITCH LYONS

    05/30/2015
    10:00am — 04:00pm

    CLAY MONOPRINTING WITH MITCH LYONS Level: All levels, Limit: 10 students Instructor: Mitch Lyon...


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


  • DFVA Greenville Summer Art Show

    05/30/2015
    10:00am — 07:00pm

    An impressive group of over thirty outstanding professional artists from the Brandywine Valley ar...


  • DFVA Summer Art Show

    05/30/2015
    10:00am — 07:00pm

    An impressive group of outstanding professional artists from the Brandywine Valley area will exhi...


  • OA-BEST Expo

    05/30/2015
    10:00am — 02:00pm

    FUN FOR ALL! The Chester and Lancaster County communities have always been tied deeply to the ro...


  • Sunday Brunch

    05/30/2015
    11:00am — 02:00pm

    Every Sunday from 11-2PM Continental Buffet, Waffle bar, fresh fruits, Mimosa, Bloody Mary an...


  • Explore Native Orchids

    05/30/2015
    01:00pm — 03:00pm

    Discover what makes native orchids so special. Join Smithsonian’s orchid expert Tom Mirenda as he...


  • Pawty at the Preserve

    05/30/2015
    03:00pm — 07:00pm

    Join Canine Partners for Life at Pawty at the Preserve, as we celebrate 25 years of creating life...


  • Multi-Family Yard Sale in Oxford

    05/31/2015
    09:00am — 03:00pm

    Electronics, tools, baby clothes, toys, kitchen, bath, bedding, decorations, crafts and so much more


  • CLAY MONOPRINTING WITH MITCH LYONS

    05/31/2015
    10:00am — 04:00pm

    CLAY MONOPRINTING WITH MITCH LYONS Level: All levels, Limit: 10 students Instructor: Mitch Lyon...


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


  • Half the Money, all the bottle. Every Tuesday

    05/31/2015
    11:00am — 09:00pm

    EVERY TUESDAY ‎Half the money, all the bottle.1/2 Price Bottle of Wine / Every Tuesday with your...


  • Taste Kennett Food Tours

    05/31/2015
    01:00pm — 04:00pm

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


  • Taste Kennett Food Tours

    05/31/2015
    01:00pm — 04:00pm

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


  • Half the Money, all the bottle. Every Tuesday

    06/01/2015
    11:00am — 09:00pm

    EVERY TUESDAY ‎Half the money, all the bottle.1/2 Price Bottle of Wine / Every Tuesday with your...


  • Monday's are Whiskey nights at Minihane's

    06/01/2015
    05:00pm — 11:00pm

    Whisky is not the same as Whiskey! There is some debate about whether or not Scottish distill...


  • Debtors Anonymous

    06/01/2015
    06:00pm — 07:00pm

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


  • Half the Money, all the bottle. Every Tuesday

    06/02/2015
    11:00am — 09:00pm

    EVERY TUESDAY ‎Half the money, all the bottle.1/2 Price Bottle of Wine / Every Tuesday with your...


  • Wilmington Handbell Ensemble Concert

    06/02/2015
    07:30pm — 08:15pm

    Presents our spring concert program, "March On"


  • Gentle Yoga

    06/03/2015
    05:00pm — 06:00pm

    Reduce the aches and pains of age by increasing your range of motion through the practice of yoga...


  • Hatha Yoga

    06/03/2015
    06:30pm — 07:30pm

    This series of vigorous exercises is designed to strengthen the body and increase flexibility whi...


  • Sunday Brunch

    06/04/2015
    11:00am — 02:00pm

    Every Sunday from 11-2PM Continental Buffet, Waffle bar, fresh fruits, Mimosa, Bloody Mary an...


  • Clutterers Anonymous

    06/04/2015
    06:00pm — 07:00pm

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


  • 5th Annual Twisted Vintner

    06/04/2015
    06:00pm — 09:00pm

    Concordville - Chadds Ford Rotary's fundraiser to support local charities includes Wine, Beer and...


  • Sunday Brunch

    06/05/2015
    11:00am — 02:00pm

    Every Sunday from 11-2PM Continental Buffet, Waffle bar, fresh fruits, Mimosa, Bloody Mary an...


  • On June 6th, the Avon Grove High School Football Team will be hosting a community yard sale. Tab...


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


  • Sunday Brunch

    06/06/2015
    11:00am — 02:00pm

    Every Sunday from 11-2PM Continental Buffet, Waffle bar, fresh fruits, Mimosa, Bloody Mary an...


  • 2015 Chester County Blues Barbeque

    06/06/2015
    02:00pm — 07:00pm

    The Chester County Blues BBQ is an annual event sponsored by the Coventry Lions Club featuring re...


  • Sustainable Splurges: A Feast for the Senses

    06/06/2015
    06:00pm — 08:00pm

    Enjoy delicious, locally made foods – wine, chocolate, honey and cheese – while roaming an exclu...


  • 150th Anniversary Civil War Reconciliation Ball

    06/06/2015
    06:00pm — 10:00pm

    Dinner, Dancing and an Auction! Reconciliation Ball to Commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the e...


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


  • Half the Money, all the bottle. Every Tuesday

    06/07/2015
    11:00am — 09:00pm

    EVERY TUESDAY ‎Half the money, all the bottle.1/2 Price Bottle of Wine / Every Tuesday with your...


  • Steamin' Day at Auburn Heights

    06/07/2015
    12:30pm — 04:30pm

    Join the Marshall Steam Museum at Auburn Heights for the first Steamin' Day of the season! New fo...


  • Taste Kennett Food Tours

    06/07/2015
    01:00pm — 04:00pm

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


  • Taste Kennett Food Tours

    06/07/2015
    01:00pm — 04:00pm

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


  • Mt. Cuba Center Plein Air Workshop

    06/08/2015
    09:30am — 03:30pm

    Appreciate the intricacies of painting outdoors as you interpret the beauty of Mt. Cuba Center's ...


  • Half the Money, all the bottle. Every Tuesday

    06/08/2015
    11:00am — 09:00pm

    EVERY TUESDAY ‎Half the money, all the bottle.1/2 Price Bottle of Wine / Every Tuesday with your...


  • Monday's are Whiskey nights at Minihane's

    06/08/2015
    05:00pm — 11:00pm

    Whisky is not the same as Whiskey! There is some debate about whether or not Scottish distill...


  • Debtors Anonymous

    06/08/2015
    06:00pm — 07:00pm

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


  • Mt. Cuba Center Plein Air Workshop

    06/09/2015
    09:30am — 03:30pm

    Appreciate the intricacies of painting outdoors as you interpret the beauty of Mt. Cuba Center's ...


  • Half the Money, all the bottle. Every Tuesday

    06/09/2015
    11:00am — 09:00pm

    EVERY TUESDAY ‎Half the money, all the bottle.1/2 Price Bottle of Wine / Every Tuesday with your...


  • Fitness Walks

    06/10/2015
    08:30am — 09:30am

    Turn off the treadmill and forget the gym! Start your day with an invigorating hour-long hike thr...


  • Mt. Cuba Center Plein Air Workshop

    06/10/2015
    09:30am — 03:30pm

    Appreciate the intricacies of painting outdoors as you interpret the beauty of Mt. Cuba Center's ...


  • Gentle Yoga

    06/10/2015
    05:00pm — 06:00pm

    Reduce the aches and pains of age by increasing your range of motion through the practice of yoga...


  • Hatha Yoga

    06/10/2015
    06:30pm — 07:30pm

    This series of vigorous exercises is designed to strengthen the body and increase flexibility whi...


  • Mt. Cuba Center Plein Air Workshop

    06/11/2015
    09:30am — 03:30pm

    Appreciate the intricacies of painting outdoors as you interpret the beauty of Mt. Cuba Center's ...


  • Sunday Brunch

    06/11/2015
    11:00am — 02:00pm

    Every Sunday from 11-2PM Continental Buffet, Waffle bar, fresh fruits, Mimosa, Bloody Mary an...


  • Clutterers Anonymous

    06/11/2015
    06:00pm — 07:00pm

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


  • Mt. Cuba Center Plein Air Workshop

    06/12/2015
    09:30am — 03:30pm

    Appreciate the intricacies of painting outdoors as you interpret the beauty of Mt. Cuba Center's ...


  • Sunday Brunch

    06/12/2015
    11:00am — 02:00pm

    Every Sunday from 11-2PM Continental Buffet, Waffle bar, fresh fruits, Mimosa, Bloody Mary an...


  • Enjoy a night out with friends at Mt. Cuba Center! Unwind as you sip wine and create garden maste...


Chester County High School Sports