Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Washboard Festival

A friend posted it on Facebook: The Logan (OH) Washboard Festival was happening this weekend.

A washboard festival? Really? Yes, really. Logan, Ohio is the home of the last washboard manufacturer in the US, the Columbus Washboard Company. I was surprised to learn that not only are washboards still being made, they're being made just an hour or so from my home.

Unfortunately we had a priority yesterday that could not be ignored: during the heavy rains Thursday our roof sprung a big leak. So that was on top of the to-do list. Larry started work on it Friday, finding the source of the trouble and getting together materials. Saturday was repair day. I wanted to leave bright and early for the festival but that wasn't to be: the roof had to come first. I picked berries--red and black raspberries, strawberries, cherries and currants--and made my favorite Cherry Berry jam while I waited for him to finish.

We did not leave until four in the afternoon. That meant we missed the tour of the washboard factory and the historic Bowen house, but we arrived in time to see part of the parade, wander the streets and listen to some great music. We knew not one soul there, but that didn't matter; the atmosphere was friendly and welcoming and everyone seemed to be relaxed and enjoying themselves. For children, there were free rides at the carnival. Free! Whoever heard of such a thing? There was a beer garden for adults, many vendors selling crafts and good food. We sampled the churned ice cream. Delicious.

The best part of the evening was the music. Robin Lacy and his band DeZydeco were a high-energy start to the evening, singing old favorites with a zydeco beat and tossing beads into the crowd. The lady beside me, easily 10 or 15 years older than me, rocked right along with them, arms in the air and singing along. She caught some beads too.

Washboard musicians were everywhere, Here, musicians line up to get on stage after DeZydeco for a group act with the next band.

The Buffalo Ridge Jazz Band followed with some good riverboat and ragtime sounds--and onstage with them for the last part of their show was the group of washboard players of all types and descriptions. Some had bells on their washboards, some had coffee cans, one had a hubcap--anything that could add a rhythmic note to the music.

My favorite of the washboard players was Newman Taylor Baker (known as NTB), who came to the festival from Brooklyn, New York. It was difficult to see him playing due to the arrangement of the stage, but here's the best photo I could get.

Later I asked NTB how he found this festival , and he said he'd been buying his washboards (note that plural) from the Columbus Washboard Company and heard about it through them. His style was unlike anything I'd ever seen, although he assured me that people in the south have been doing it for years: playing with 12-gauge shotgun shells on their fingers instead of the traditional thimbles. He played seated, with the washboard on his lap like a dulcimer, and he added a cymbal and other sounds to his playing. You can see and hear his playing on this Youtube clip. He also plays with a group called the Ebony Hillbillies. You can read more about NTB on his blog NTB/Singing Drums.

I hope we see him again at next year's festival, if not before--and perhaps as a featured performer. He'd certainly be a fine addition to their lineup.

In the course of conversation with NTB I mentioned that I was a storyteller and he asked if I happened to know a lady named Regina who was a friend of his in New York. Such a small world--I did know Regina, having met her at the Sharing the Fire storytelling conference  in Albany last year, and we've been Facebook friends since that time. Connections, they're everywhere.

The last band we heard was the Juggernaut Jug Band, from Louisville, KY. I had heard this group before when they came to Kanawha county as part of a summer reading program some years ago. Imagine someone who cam play a harmonica, washboard, and five or six other instruments all at the same time! And he sounded right good on the nose flute too. This group is as fun to watch as they are to hear; the pre-song discussion on this video (including a bit about the Kama Sutra, no less, and a little nose flute) is a good example of their eclectic style.

So next year? Oh yeah, this festival is on our calendar already. I even have a washboard that I used to mess around with. It was actually the one I used in our pre-electricity days. I painted it up and started learning to play it; then one of the legs broke. My father fixed it for me but I've never played it since. Maybe it's time to get it out again.

Copyright 2012 Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.


annie said...

Sounds like you had a great time! It is a small world sometimes. Would love to go myself some time!

megan said...

That NTB YouTube clip is amazing. You gonna be taking up the washboard anytime soon, Ms. Susanna?

Michelle said...

I would love to go! This looks like so much fun to me!

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