Thursday, June 30, 2011

Music in the Mountains: Allegheny Echoes

The peaceful roadside park in my last post was a stop on the way to our real destination: Allegheny Echoes in Marlinton, WV for the culminating concert by all the master musicians who taught classes during the week of workshops. It's a three-hour drive from home to Marlinton, but worth every minute--and the scenery alone along the way is worth the drive.

I was introduced to Echoes by poet Kirk Judd who teaches the creative writing classes for the workshops. In 2005 I won second place in the WV Writers annual contest, in the Emerging Writers category. That week was an awakening for me. I'd heard of Echoes before but had no idea of what it was really like. I wrote and wrote while we were there, and several of those poems went on to win awards in later writing competitions.

What I also discovered was another family. The people who run Echoes and those who attend quickly welcomed me into their fold, and I was hooked. I stayed up til the wee hours every night that week, listening, listening, listening, and writing, writing, writing. The music played sometimes until the sun came up; no one wanted those days to end. It was magic, pure and simple.

I returned two years later for the vocal class, learning, or trying to learn, to sing harmony. It was fun, but I snuck away for one afternoon and joined the writing class for a trip to the resting place of Edden Hammons and his family. The Hammons unknowingly preserved some very old music and language because it was just part of their lives in their remote mountain home. They were recorded,thankfully, and the Smithsonian has archived their work as well as made it available on CD. Dwight Diller is currently producing a DVD about the Hammons. To travel to their gravesides and contemplate what their life was like in the surrounding mountains--a hardscrabble life by all accounts, but one they accepted and enjoyed--was food for several more poems and some good photos.

Last year I was the creative writing master for Kirk's class, joining them for an afternoon at a riverside cabin to write and talk about writing. Again, the creative energy I discovered that afternoon fed me for several months. It also left me hungry to return. Since our finances this year are not really settled down due to my retirement, and since I sorely needed my Echoes "fix," we made the drive Friday to touch base once more with this creative "family," listen to their good music, and catch up on their lives. And I knew I would stay up until the music stopped.

The concert was fantastic. From the elderly Charlie Loudermilk's excellent playing to the fiddles of Chance McCoy and Jake Krack to the banjo of Tim Bing and his brother Mike's mandolin, the guitar of Robert Shafer, Pete Kosky's singing, Kirk Judd's poetry, Bob Shank's "manjo" (big baritone banjo, I think it was), John Blisard's performance of a Pocahontas county tune and an original tune...the list goes on and on. The concert is free (donations are accepted) and many local folks attend so that the Marlinton Opera House was standing room only.

Afterwards we returned to the Marlinton Motor Inn for the evening jams. I had asked permission to do so because the evenings at the motel are not open to all--but we were more than welcome, and beds were even found for us when we learned there were no vacancies. What a family. The music played on and on, old tunes like Sally Gooden, Ducks on the Pond, Going Across the Blue Ridge Mountains, and many others, and original songs by Pat Shields and others.

As the night wore on, the musicians drifted off one by one, until by 4:00 am there was a group of perhaps 20 still playing and listening. At 5:00 am, only two musicians and myself were left on the porch to watch the sky begin to lighten. I fell into bed, clothes and all, and slept like a stone until a banging on the door at 11:30 am rousted me out. Fun? Believe it. Tired? Absolutely! But worth it, completely worth it.

We had to jump up and leave quickly, though because I was due in Charleston to help with the WV Writer's table at the FestivALL event going on that day, so we said our farewells and left, with many a backward look.

Be it resolved: Next year we will be there for the entire week.


Gingerbreadshouse7 said...

Sounds like you all had a grand ole time...wish I was able to travel more..I'd like to have been there for that.

Chip "Rocket Man" Allen said...

I'm adding this to my things to do file. It's only about 3 hours away. I always did love bluegrass and mountain music, even during my long haired hippy days. We're hoping the heat holds off for this year's Fiddler's Convention down in Galax, VA and Graham Fest at Major Graham's Mansion near Ft. Chiswell, VA. High heat and humidity aggravates my COPD but I always push the envelope as much as possible to enjoy some great music and people.

Granny Sue said...

Gingerbread, if you like mountains, good people, and old-time music, Allegheny Echoes is amazing. Of course, traveling gets more complicated when income is limited and the body says "no!"

Chip, it's an amazing week. If you are interested in writing or learning to play an instrument, it's a great place to go. Heat and humidity aren't usually an issue in Pocahontas county--most places there don't even have air conditioning because the temps stay pretty cool in the summer, rarely getting up to 90.

Brighid said...

It sounds like great fun. So glad you got to go and spend time with friends.

John "By Stargoose And Hanglands" said...

Looks like we were both posting about good, old-fangled music at pretty much the same time.
"There's a circle of friends singing in harmony,
Holding each note as the darkness descends,
The song in our hearts will last till eternity,
Time slips away
But the song never ends
In a circle of friends.

Rowan said...

Sounds like a fabulous event to attend - I don't write but I could sit and listen to mountain music with its fiddles and banjos for hours.

wvsimplicity said...

Wow, what a night. Would have loved to been there. Good mountain music sends chills thru my body. I feel it in my blood. A connection of some sort to my ancestors. So glad you were able to be there and enjoy the fellowship of friends and good times:)

Granny Sue said...

John, those last two lines are perfect :"the son never ends in a circle of friends." True words, cousin.

Brighid, this was one of the goals for retirement--to have more time to do things like that. The trick is figuring out how to afford it, esp with gas prices like they are. But for me this is like medicine, good medicine.

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