SHEPHERDSTOWN – This weekend, Shepherd University will be brought to life by the sounds of the Appalachians, both in those on campus enjoying the weekend with the family and in the 25th anniversary showcase of the Appalachian Heritage Festival.
“I’m a little in shock because I don’t feel like I’m that old, like ‘How did I do that for 25 years?'” Festival director Rachael Meads said with a laugh. .
This year’s lineup features three talented musicians as the main acts with “The Music Legacy of the Carter Family of Virginia” and a performance by Linda Lay and Springfield Exit at 2 pm at Reynolds Hall on Saturday. Then, at Reynolds Hall at 3:30 pm, John Morris for “A Conversation with Traditional Artist John Morris”. The demonstration concert at the Butcher Center Plaza at 7 pm will feature both Lay and Morris as well as local artist Dana Foddrell with “Freedom Songs of the Civil Rights Movement”.
Masks are mandatory for both performances inside Reynolds Hall, and admission is free in the light of the Family Weekend.
The three main artists bring their own roots in Appalachian music while proving the interweaving of all traditions to form what is loved by the region.
“Appalachian culture is almost like a tapestry,” Meads said. “It is woven from the threads of each of these cultural traditions: the indigenous peoples, the African-American traditions born of slavery, all the traditions of migrants, all the first American settlers.
“They’re woven into the warp of this tapestry – under, over, under, over – and you can’t really, if you’re going to pull and look at a shape, whether it’s bluegrass or the old days, all cultural traditions region, if you try to pull that thread out of one of those traditions, it just tears things up, ”Meads added. “There is no way for us to separate them because they are so inseparable from each other, and this interconnection is so apparent and rich.”
Morris is an award-winning violinist, banjo player, guitarist and songwriter who has always resided in Clay County. He was recognized in 2020 by the National Endowment for the Arts with the National Folklife Fellows Award, the organization’s highest honor for someone in folk art. Meads said the opportunity for those in attendance to interact and learn from a legendary and talented artist of his caliber is wonderful.
Foddrell will focus on a more localized culture, examining the traditional African-American songs heard from his childhood in a church in Charles Town and how these songs gained global weight during the days of the civil movements.
Meads said much of Appalachian culture is forgotten because it was born out of wrestling songs, directly related to slavery and these songs became the soundtrack of the civil rights movement over time. .
“It was in his DNA,” Meads said of Foddrell.
Meads shared that Foddrell is excited to share the music, commenting that the young people in her church have the connections and lessons to these songs she has already made.
Lay is originally from the Winchester, Virginia area and grew up virtually at the Carter Family Fold, the homestead of Jeanette and Joe Carter, which has helped her to forge her musical roots.
“Linda has a voice that’s just amazing,” Meads said. “She’s a predecessor to Alison Krauss, the beautiful bluegrass voice, but she can also hit you in the guts with a song that makes you feel deeply.”
Meads is thrilled to share such a diverse group of musicians, who make deep connections with regional culture, with community.
“We offer you a sample of three very different musical forms with different origins and roots, but I think it will be a great concert experience,” said Meads.
The festival was originally born out of the time Meads spent in class, his first two-year team teaching the Appalachian Culture course at Shepherd, making him realize the lack of connection the local students had with the area and with them. negative feelings of being a West Virginia that stem from popular cultural stereotypes. The festival has become a way to highlight the beauty and importance of Appalachian heritage for those in the region and those looking to learn.
“One of the things I noticed at the time was teaching this class for the first time, I had a lot of students from West Virginia who had a connection to the rest of the state because “They’re from our East Panhandle area, which is really different. I also saw a lot of students apologizing where they were from,” Meads said.
She said if you asked these students where they were from, they’d say, “West Virginia, but it’s more like Maryland,” or they’d say how tired they are of West Virginia jokes, feel despised because of the house and mountain images.
“We have to get this back somehow,” Meads said, she thought. “There was a huge misconception. When people thought of culture, they thought of it in terms of, “They are behind” or our history is not something to celebrate. But in a lot of ways, there’s a ton of really important story.
This first festival saw some great classics, but Meads thought it would be a one-time event, something that makes her laugh 25 years after more than two decades of honoring traditions.
“Once that was done, the community response was, ‘Please keep doing this. I learned so much from this. I didn’t know the banjo was an African instrument. I didn’t know there was multiculturalism in the Appalachians. I thought we had Scottish music and Irish music, ”she said. “It became a fire in my guts.”
Since then, the festival has been able to host greats like Jean Ritchie, Hazel Dickens Ralph Stanley and Mike Seegar, but it has also been able to be a carpet of laughter and a performance space for younger generations looking to perpetuate the sounds of the past, like Jake Krack and Chance McCoy.
“People could see this was a living, continuing story,” Meads said. “We’re so much bigger than that (the stereotype). If you don’t have the Carter family and Jimmy Rogers and those traditions, you don’t have country music, you don’t have rock n ‘roll.
Meads said festivals like Shepherd’s allow people to appreciate Appalachian culture and reframe mindsets, highlighting the weight and importance the region has had on American culture. The festival and others like it also highlight the diverse roots of West Virginia, with locals coming from so many other places.
“We’re not all white, Scots-Irish,” Meads said. “We are not all 100% that. Our heritage is shaped by the history of slavery and African American history and the history of immigrants from the British Isles and other stories of immigrants, Swiss, German, Italian, all people from Europe from the east.
With this, the culture of the region has become what it is today, this tapestry of traditions that has come to establish itself as new forms of art.
“It’s really exciting for me to see this interconnection,” Meads said.
For more information on the event or to find out more about the artists, visit the website the festival web page To www.berger.edu and clicking on the Performing Arts Series at Shepherd option under the Visitors tab.