“Carla’s music contains the best elements of traditional Appalachian Music, including purity, intensity, integrity, and vivid imagery.”
— Old Time Herald
AWARDS & ACCOLADES
- Merlefest Chris Austin Songwriting Contest 1st Place Winner
- Kerrville Folk Festival New Folk Contest 1st Place Winner
- Flatrock Songwriting Festival 1st Place Winner
- Kentucky Folklife Program Master Artist in Traditional Dance
- Berea College Promise Neighborhood Teaching Artist
- Kentucky Arts Council Teaching Artist Roster
“If you don’t tell your own story, someone else will tell it for you. And you might not like the way they tell it.”
Kentucky is a place about which many stories are told. Those of us from here have confronted the stereotypes, tropes, romanticized ideas, and outright lies told about us our whole lives.
My work tells stories. I believe humans need stories like we need food or air. As a tradition-bearer, I use timeless art forms to push past limiting social constructs, bigotry, and discrimination. Kentucky has a long history of outsiders coming in and telling us how to be. My role is to challenge our culture and create change from within.
I seek to use my art to heal the broken parts of our society by leveraging the ways the arts connect people through our most basic commonalities. My toolbox includes traditional music and dance, original songs, storytelling, collaborative theater, and community-based projects.
My grandmother was my earliest artistic influence. She never graced a stage, but the careful way she turned her hand to all aspects of her subsistence lifestyle in the tiny hollow where she lived, singing all the while, showed me what it means to make an art of life itself. Through watching her, I first observed the paradox that while feminism as an abstract concept isn’t very popular in Appalachia, our communities are held together by strong matriarchs.
My work highlights existing currents of feminism within our culture and seeks to encourage more open support for those on the margins. To achieve this, I center the strengths and lived experiences of women in the pieces I write and the traditional material I choose to present, rather than those of white males.
I also discuss motherhood in my pieces, as it is important to me to model for my children and for other women that art and motherhood can be combined, challenging the idea of “love as sacrifice” that permeates our culture.
Collaborating with other artists has become a vital part of my practice. As a teen in the eighties, I learned to speak Spanish, when Kentucky was seeing its first big wave of immigration from Latin America. The new worlds of friendship and culture that were opened to me planted seeds for art that are blooming now.
Our state and nation are torn by the issue of immigration, and the charged rhetoric surrounding the subject is harming all of us. I created Cornbread & Tortillas as an entry point for exploring, discussing, and celebrating the frontiers between traditional Kentucky and Latinx cultures, and it has become a major part of my practice at this stage of my career. The project involves working with a small group of Appalachian and Latinx artists to create work that is based on our traditional art forms, and which crafts a new narrative for our region and nation with the idea that we ALL have a place at the table.
Carla Gover is an 8th-generation Eastern Kentuckian whose work is rooted deep in the music-making, storytelling lineages of her Appalachian origins, where music is a part of daily life, and where singing goes hand in hand with working. Her maternal grandparents, both traditional singers who lived off the land, provided her earliest foundation in the art forms and rural sensibilities that permeate her work, along with the culture-rich mountain community where she was raised.
As a dancer, she learned the mountain styles of her home through attending community hoedowns and square dances, and furthered her study of clogging, flatfooting, and American percussive dance in the well-known percussive dance ensemble Footworks, led by Eileen Carson Schatz. She was recently selected as a Master Artist in Traditional Flatfoot Dancing by the Kentucky Arts Council.
She has been a full-time artist for the past 27 years, during which time she was recognized as a Master Artist in both Traditional Music and Appalachian Dance by the Kentucky Arts Council, and has toured extensively and performed for thousands of students. Through timeless ballads, socially-conscious originals, banjo, guitar, and traditional flatfoot dancing, her work connects audiences with stories from her family and community to provide a clearer picture of an oft-stereotyped region.
An award-winning singer-songwriter, she has covers by major artists as well as songs in film and documentary soundtracks. She has released 6 albums, the latest of which reached #1 on the US Folk Chart.
Her latest focus has been on creating bilingual collaborative work in English/Spanish that represents the changing face of Kentucky. She is the Artistic Director for the Cornbread & Tortillas Collective of Appalachian and Latinx artists. The eponymous Cornbread & Tortillas Folk Opera she created and directs features music, dance, and theater devised from the life stories of the participants.
Carla also performs with the acclaimed group Zoe Speaks, touring all over the country and performing at such venues as The Kennedy Center, Merlefest, Godfrey Daniels, and The Freight & Salvage. Acoustic Guitar Magazine calls her "one of the 30 essential artists of the next generation." Gover has recorded projects and performed with a bevy of accomplished musicians, including Dirk Powell (Cold Mountain, Van Lear Rose), the legendary Jean Ritchie, fiddler Stuart Duncan, renowned guitarist/banjoist Tony Furtado, mandolin player Mike Compton (O Brother, Where Art Thou?) and many others.
She tours nationally and internationally and is active in community building, multi-disciplinary arts projects in Kentucky and beyond.