Friday, July 20, 2012

Allegheny Echoes: Memories Echoing

 Allegheny Echoes is a week of music and creative writing workshops held near Marlinton, West Virginia for the past 16 years. The worshops were the brainschild of old-time musicians Mike and Tim Bing and writer Kirk Judd. The group wanted to create an atmosphere that would immerse participants in the music and culture of West Virginia in a setting that encouraged creativity and learning. Based at the Marlinton Motor Inn, classes are held outside in tents with views of the surrounding mountains or in a variety of locations in the town of Marlinton.Each day offers a presentation by a Master in a different area: creative writing, old-time or bluegrass music, or specific instruments.

One of the popular features of Echoes is the Wednesday Night Wild Meat Feast. The meats vary from year to year. This year, the meats included bear, venison, clams, wild turkey, lamb and a few others I can't remember. The cooks are class instructors and their friends who volunteer and work for hours to prepare a smorgasbord of fine food. My favorites were the Maryland clams and the turkey, both cooked to perfection.

While the cooks worked, there were jams going on everywhere.

 Author Jim Minick, who was the featured Master for the evening, enjoyed the food too.

 Jim's presentation of his work was one of the highlights of Echoes for me. His writing is rich and thoughtful, detailing life on his blueberry farm in southwestern Virginia and the challenges and joys of rural living as well as the potential for living a more environmentally friendly lifestyle. I bought two of his books and read them both within a week of Echoes.

Junior Spencer

Honoring the elders of our culture is a significant focus for the week;  Junior Spencer and Charlie Loudermilk (they call their group Mudhole Control--I love that name) were the featured Masters on an afternoon when the temperature was over 100 degrees. That didn't stop the music! And on the mountain with the breezes blowing, we all sat and listened willingly to these two men who have been playing together for longer than most of us have been living.

 Charlie Loudermilk

The day following the performance by these two gentleman, the "next generation" of Mudhole Control was onstage. This group includes sons and relations of the Charlie and Junior, the passing down of the music another cultural tradition that is exemplified by these excellent musicians.

Again, temperatures soared into the upper 90's and over 100, but as you can see, the tent was packed and the musicians played on.

One of the real highlights of the week is the Student Concert on Thursday night. Each class is offered time to perform onstage. My dulcimer class chose not to perform; we were more focused on learning the basics of many tunes and did not feel we had any one ready for performance. Larry's banjo class, minus the other man who also took the class, did perform, playing Old Joe Clark. I was so pleased to see Larry up there, and he says he was perfectly comfortable. His instructor, Ben Townsend, was a pleasure to get to know. Ben is a member of the popular old-time group Foxhunt, which is a group of young guys playing old music in a unique style of their own. You can hear Foxhunt here.

Larry, pickin' and grinnin'. This class taught the old-style clawhammer banjo as opposed to the bluegrass style of picking.

And after the concert, a lot of jams, listening, and talking back at the motel. And a few high jinks, too, like lifting someone with this hand worked but I'm not sure how. I'm not identifying the accessories to this crime!

At the Friday night Masters Concert, the Opera House in downtown Marlinton was packed. Kirk Judd led off the evening with one of his stellar poems, accompanied by Mike and Tim Bing and Danny Arthur.

Then, suddenly

That monster storm of June 29th blew in and the lights went out. Emergency lights came on and since it was pretty terrible outside and we were inside 18-inch thick walls, the audience just stayed while the bands played on. It was an awesome concert, even without lights and sound systems, probably one of the best I've attended.

As we left the Opera House, we realized what a terrible storm had passed through. Trees were down everywhere, power lines were lying in the road, things were tossed around and we saw some damage to homes. We made a safe trip back to the motel, and the rest of the night was music without lights--a very good time despite no electricity.

We packed and left for home the next morning. Even though there were already stories of gasoline shortages, we had no problem, stopping at this little country store and filling up.

Damage was everywhere along the way home. We saw many scenes like this one:

It was an eventful week, filled with music, re-connections with old friends and making new friends, hearing words that cut deep as the poets and writers read their work. And all around us the mountains, weaving their magic, making even the hottest day cooler with their green-ness and soft breezes. We learned a lot; Larry  continues to practice his banjo and I now understand much more about my dulcimer. I've not been as good about practicing but will get to it as soon as these busy storytelling days are over.

Next year, maybe I'll take banjo myself!

Copyright 2007 Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.


Nanjemoy Nana said...

I straight up loved reading this. It sounded like a wonderful time and I really am looking forward to hearing Larry play!! Good for him!! I'm glad you guys were somewhere safe during that storm too. Shoot! I think you were the safest of our whole family!! 18 inch walls!! They sure don't build like tat anymore :)


How fun this event sounds. Nothing like being around talent like that. Would love to be there sometime.
Heard the storm there was rough. Happy you were safe. And had your hubs with you!

Chicken Wrangler said...

Sounds like great fun!

Amy said...

This sounds like a great event, especially the music. I picked up a bowed psaltery this year at Tamarack. I better start practicing!

Granny Sue said...

The music was outstanding. I couldn't get enough of it, often staying up til nearly dawn just listening.

Amy, I hope you can learn to play your psaltery. I think the sound of them is lovely. A lot of tuning with all those strings, I would imagine.

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