Tony Award-winning, North Carolina music legends The Red Clay Ramblers will receive the PlayMakers Distinguished Achievement Award on Feb. 11 at the 24rd annual PlayMakers Ball at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The ball, held at the historic Carolina Inn, is the annual fundraising celebration for PlayMakers Repertory Company, the professional theater in residence in UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences. Proceeds from the event support PlayMakers’ artistic and educational programming.

The ball, with the theme “Diamond and Denim Hoedown,” will feature an award ceremony followed by dining and dancing to the music of the Bill Bolen Orchestra.

Now in their 40th year, The Red Clay Ramblers are a string band whose repertoire reflects their roots in old-time mountain music, as well as country, rock, New Orleans, bluegrass, gospel and the American musical. The band members are Clay Buckner, Chris Frank, Rob Ladd and 1970 UNC alumni Bland Simpson and Jack Herrick. Simpson is Kenan Distinguished Professor of English and Creative Writing at UNC.

They have toured extensively in North America and Europe, as well as Eastern Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa and the Middle East. The Ramblers have been guests on Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion,” appeared with Jay Leno on “The Tonight Show” and with Harry Smith on “CBS This Morning.” They appeared as the onstage band during PlayMakers’ April 2010 production of “Big River.” Herrick also created music for two productions helmed by PlayMakers producing artistic director Joe Haj: PlayMakers’ 2008 season-opener “Pericles” and “Hamlet” (2010) at the Folger Theatre in Washington, D.C.

The Ramblers’ long association with music and theater includes the original New York productions of “Diamond Studs” (1975) and Sam Shepard’s “A Lie of the Mind” (1985). In 1988, they scored Shepard’s film “Far North,” and they performed and appeared in his second feature, “Silent Tongue” (1994). In 1993, Broadway hit “Fool Moon” earned The Ramblers their second Drama Desk nomination for Outstanding Music in a Play. They returned to Broadway twice more (1995, 1998) and received a special Tony Award in 1999. The Ramblers also created the shows “Kudzu: A Southern Musical” and “Lone Star Love: the Merry Wives of Windsor, Texas,” as well as ballets “Ramblin’ Suite” (Atlanta Ballet, Milwaukee Ballet) and “Carolina Jamboree” (Carolina Ballet).

Old North State,” their newest CD, was released in October 2009.  The New York Times says The Ramblers are “a fantasy roadhouse band from a vanished rural America — perfection!”  Playwright Shepard calls them simply “a great American band.”     

Past PlayMakers award honorees include actors David Hyde Pierce, Eva Marie Saint, Faye Dunaway, Louise Fletcher and Billy Crudup, as well as New York Times critic Frank Rich, costume designer William Ivey Long, director Gene Saks and Broadway composer/lyricist Richard Adler.

Ball guests will enjoy a gourmet menu created by Carolina Inn Executive Chef Jim Reale in rooms decorated by McKay Coble, a resident scenic and costume designer with PlayMakers.

For tickets to the ball, contact Lenore Field at (919) 452-8417 or lfield@email.unc.edu. Organizations interested in contributing to the ball should contact Stacy Payne at (919) 962-4846 or shpayne@email.unc.edu. Tables are available for $5,000; each table seats 10 people. Single tickets are $500.

Web site: http://www.playmakersrep.org.

To arrange interviews or for a photo of The Red Clay Ramblers, contact Connie Mahan, (919) 962-5359, cmahan@email.unc.edu.