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May
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2024
music

Friends and musicians, Larry Bellorín (left) and Joe Troop — musically known as Larry & Joe — will perform Tuesday, May 7, 7–9 p.m., in the Foundry Theater at Antioch College. Tickets are $30 for general admission, and $5 for students. (Submitted photo)

Larry & Joe to bring a ‘most joyous’ fusion to the Foundry Theater

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A melding of sound and tradition promises to ring out from the stage as the Foundry Theater continues its inaugural season of programming with a performance by strings duo Larry & Joe on Tuesday, May 7.

Larry Bellorín and Joe Troop, both currently based in North Carolina, bring a blend of Venezuelan and Appalachian influences to their music, performing on “harp, banjo, cuatro, fiddle, maracas, guitar, upright bass, and whatever else they decide to throw in the van,” according to a press release.

The duo’s upcoming local performance won’t be their first in Yellow Springs: Villagers may remember them as the headliners from The Antioch School’s 2022 Scholarship Gala event.

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The News spoke with Troop this week about how the two musicians — Bellorín, from the state of Monagas in Venezuela, and Troop, from Winston-Salem, North Carolina — found their way into music, found each other and found common ground in the traditional musics of the places where they came of age.

Troop said his musical journey began when he was 14: His older brother, then a student at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, took him for a weekend visit that included a stop at a road-side diner that advertised live music.

“It was 1997, and I sat down literally right in front of Doc Watson and watched him and his family members play music all night,” Troop said, referring to the legendary North Carolina Americana musician.

The night of music was “illuminating” for Troop, who, in short order, picked up a banjo, a mandolin and a fiddle and began “plugging away.” By his freshman year of college at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he had joined a bluegrass band.

“That just set the stage — I wanted to study languages in school, but I wanted to be a professional musician afterwards,” Troop said. “And that’s exactly what happened.”

Bellorín, meanwhile, grew up helping to support his family by shining shoes as a young child. A music educator who heard Bellorín singing as he shined shoes invited him to study at a music school, where he learned to play the cuatro, a four-stringed guitar; by age 11, Bellorín was supporting himself by playing music.

He would later meet Urbino Ruiz, a famous harpist who played Llanera — a traditional music from the border region of western Venezuela and eastern Colombia that features the arpa Llanera, a 32- or 33-stringed harp. Ruiz had come to Bellorín’s home state of Monagas in eastern Venezuela to work in the petroleum industry — “the biggest business in Venezuela,” Troop said — bringing his musical tradition with him.

Bellorín would go on to apprentice under Ruiz, playing Llanera music and becoming a master of the arpa Llanera himself. Later, Bellorín founded Casa Vieja, a music school dedicated to teaching Llanera music.

“He taught hundreds of students and was part of the initiative of bringing Llanera music to Monagas,” Troop said. “He learned from the very best and then was a cultural instigator.”

Troop, by that point, had graduated with an undergraduate degree in Spanish, having spent two years studying in Sevilla, Spain. While there, he met an Argentinian bandoneon musician who played tango, and the two formed a musical duo.

“I met the Argentinian community living in southern Spain, and it greatly influenced me,” Troop said.

After returning to the U.S., touring with a bluegrass band and spending a few years teaching English in Japan, Troop moved to Argentina in 2010, and ended up staying there for a decade. In Argentina, he was both a performer and a music educator, teaching traditional Appalachian bluegrass and old-time music — just as Bellorín was teaching Llanera in Monagas. 

In 2013, Troop formed the band Che Apalache with three of his students, Pau Barjau, Franco Martino and Martin Bobrik, and the four synthesized a “latingrass” sound. The band’s 2019 album, “Rearrange My Heart,” was produced by virtuoso banjo player Béla Fleck and was nominated for “Best Folk Album” at the 62nd Grammy Awards.

“That band had great opportunities,” Troop said. “But the pandemic shut our operation down.”

Back in Venezuela, not long before Che Apalache formed, Bellorín’s successful Casa Vieja began to struggle under an economic and political crisis that has unfolded in Venezuela over the last two decades. In 2012, the school closed, and in 2016, Bellorín, along with his wife and young child, fled mounting poverty and violence in Venezuela for the United States, seeking asylum. Bellorín and his family arrived in North Carolina that year, where he worked construction as a day laborer and, later, found work as a musician, too.

But just as the pandemic and its accompanying restrictions had separated the members of Che Apalache, in 2020, it also put a stop to Bellorín’s music — for a while.

By 2021, Troop was volunteering at La Casa de la Divina Misericordia y Todas las Naciones migrant shelter in Nogales, Mexico, on the U.S.–Mexico border, where he taught music and English to Mexican asylum-seekers. Returning to the U.S., he produced a solo album, “Borrowed Time,” which featured a number of tracks that address issues of human rights and social and ecological justice, including “Mercy for Migrants,” inspired by his time in Nogales. The album includes performances by a number of well-known artists, including Béla Fleck, Tim O’Brien and Abigail Washburn.

“It was quite the year — I met all of these asylum seekers, and then I came to visit North Carolina shortly thereafter,” Troop said. “Then a friend tipped me off that there was an asylum-seeking musician from Venezuela working construction in Raleigh.”

As Troop’s and Bellorín’s paths, which had run parallel in some ways, finally converged, Troop said the two musicians immediately had a “natural curiosity” about their respective musical traditions.

“We’re both kind of arts-first people — there are a lot of people like that in traditional music throughout the world,” Troop said. “You just can’t help yourself.”

On the surface, Troop added, the only commonalities shared by the Llanera and folk-bluegrass traditions in which the two musicians were steeped were the strings — nylon or gut strings producing an “opaque” sound in Bellorín’s music, and steel or phosphate strings ringing more “tinny” in Troop’s.

“I guess you wouldn’t expect those configurations to blend well, but we found that they did,” Troop said. “And I have a lot of understanding and experience of life in Latin America to pull from; Larry has a lot of the same thing in the Appalachian region to pull from. So we just started learning each other’s traditions and a hybrid thing came out of it, and continues to. The fusion has been very, very organic.”

It wasn’t long before Bellorín and Troop became Larry & Joe and began performing in North Carolina, and then elsewhere; one of their first shows outside the state, in fact, was the 2022 Antioch School gala performance.

“Yellow Springs was very early in our career — we barely had a repertoire at that point,” Troop said. “But since then, we’ve played — my Lord — 300 gigs or more.”

Now, Yellow Springs has the distinction of being one of the first stops on a four-month tour bound to include performances of songs from Larry & Joe’s 2023 album, “Nuevo South Train.” The title track — a bilingual song that, like the railroad line its lyrics evoke, shifts in rhythm and speed as it trades off musical traditional styles — represents some of what audiences might expect in terms of sound.

But more than that, Troop said, those attending a Larry & Joe show should expect joy.

“There’s a lot of joy to be found through collaboration with people from radically different worlds,” he said. “That comes, of course, with its challenges — but I think the message that shines through in our specific collaboration is that it’s a most joyous occasion.”

Larry & Joe will perform Tuesday, May 7, 7–9 p.m., in the Foundry Theater at Antioch College. Tickets are $30 for general admission, and $5 for students, and may be purchased in advance at bit.ly/LarryJoeFoundry.

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