Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Appalachian String Band Festival

Wow. What a weekend--in one day, at that. I will have several posts to tell you about all the places we went, things we did, and what we saw.

I will start with Camp Washington-Carver and the 20th annual Appalachian String Band Festival. I have always wanted to attend the festival, known to most people simply as "Clifftop" because that is the name of the small community where Camp Washington Carver is located. The camp itself got its name from a combination of George Washington Carver and Booker T. Washington, two black pioneers in agriculture. The camp was established in 1942 as an agricultural camp for black children in West Virginia, and was staffed by teachers from West Virginia State College, one of the state's historically black colleges. In 1978 the camp became of the responsibility of WV Division of arts and culture and is now used for mountain culture events (it can also be rented for private events like weddings, etc).

This was the festival's main stage. Bands and musicians travel from all over the world to compete in the band, fiddle, and banjo competitions. While we were listening, we heard bands from Canada, Missouri, North Carolina and West Virginia; a friend told us that she had heard musicians from Sweden and Japan the day before.

There were many workshops being offered along with the music: basketmaking, rush weaving, flatfoot dancing, stretching for musicians, and others. For children and families, the festival offered art activities, how to swing a lasso, and (ta-da!) storytelling.

I was the storyteller for Saturday, and my post was in the Family Activities cabin. This was a pretty little log cabin with bales of straw for seating. For both the 10a m and the 3:30 pm storytelling programs, the cabin was pretty packed. People came and went--I had told them this was fine with me; in a festival setting like this, people often need to get to different events; all I asked was that if possible they stayed to the end of the story so the audience was not distracted during the telling. Almost everyone did, and the atmosphere was very like telling on the front porch, with family drifting in and out.

Our search for coffee helped us discover the dining area in the main lodge at the camp, called the Chestnut lodge because, I believe, it was constructed from chestnut logs and lumber. The lodge was beautiful outside and in; my outside photos didn't come out so I can't share those, but you can see a picture of the lodge at the WV Culture and History website.

On the large wrap-around front porch, musicians gathered for impromptu sessions. Here renowned musicologist John Cohen waits on the porch before the start of his Master's performance.
The afternoon flatfoot dance class was full; we contented ourselves with observing the fun. Next time, I intend to give it a try.

Never have I been to an event with so many sellers of musical instruments. Many were handcrafted; others sold strings, picks and parts; some focused only on banjos or fiddles. A vendor with thousands of CDs offered everything imaginable in the world of traditional and folk music on CD, cassette or even LP. I dropped more than a few $$$ at his booth and feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to explore these new-to-me songs and singers.

One of the highlights of the day was getting to meet my storytelling friend Bizzy Vunderdink's husband, and spending time talking with the two of them. Bizzy is a ball of energy and a very good storyteller; her husband is a beginning banjo player who was in awe of the musicians he saw performing. He said he was trying to determine his playing level, and had decided that it could best be described as "below grade." Everyone's got to start somewhere, and at least he's started.

The weather was clear and beautiful while we were at Clifftop and we had an absolutely good time. Rain the night before had created some stupendous muddy places attested to by the sight of people in gum boots everywhere. One lady had duct-taped her boots to her jeans to keep them from being pulled off by the mud! Now that's a idea to remember. As we left, the rain started again. I wondered how those parked down over the hill would get out, and heard from a friend today that there was quite a big storm last night, the electricity went out, and there was a right royal mud bog as the RVs tried to pull out this morning. Maybe next year mud-bogging will be added as an attraction?

I heard that attendance was up by 25% this year. I hope the festival continues to grow, and I also hope I can return next year to take advantage of the many classes and music sessions.

As for the mud? Hey, you have not truly visited this state until you've experienced getting hung up!

After we left the festival, we visited Babcock State Park and stopped for dinner at the Glen Ferris Inn. More about both of these later.


Rowan said...

This sounds like a really great event, I love Appalachian mountain music. I was intrigued by your mention of Booker T Washington, was his name the origin of Booker T & the MGs? Or was he actually part of the band? I loved their 'Green Onions' - still do in fact.

Granny Sue said...

Rowan, Booker T. Washington was a black man who became famous as the first head of the Tuskegee Normal School--the first teaching college for blacks. He was born into slavery, became a free man after the Civil War, and his family then moved to WV, where he worked in the salt mines in Malden WV (not far from where I live). You can read about him at wikipedia:


Your description of your storyteling on saturday in the cabin brought it to life. Wish I could have been there. All of it sounds FUN.

Brighid said...

Oh, it sounds terrific, would love to be closer.

Margaret said...

What a wonderful account of your time spent! You must love the fun and interesting places you go and the people that you come in contact with...Sounds like a GREAT event and time...

Anonymous said...

Granny Sue, or anybody, I'm looking for pictures of this years String Band rain and wind and mud activities. Would anybody share some photos please?
Todd Chapman

Granny Sue said...

I missed most of the mud, Todd. I didn't get photos of it either, although I intended to because it was pretty impressive in many areas. The worst of it came after I left, I think.

Anonymous said...

It is a pity, that now I can not express - I hurry up on job. I will return - I will necessarily express the opinion on this question.

Anonymous said...

To think only!

Anonymous said...

In my opinion it only the beginning. I suggest you to try to look in

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