June 30, 2009

Poor Benny

I'll get back to posting in the weekly theme format soon, but I wanted to write about Poor Benny before I moved on. I got their album as a gift recently and was very impressed. They have a true old-time sound; nothing flashy, no embellished solos, and not super polished. In the liner notes of the albums it says they have worked with renowned old-time player Bruce Greene, and it shows. If you get a chance to see them or buy the album, you should do it.

Here's a description of the band from their website:
Poor Benny plays old-time string band music with Clayton Schanilec, fiddle, Corey Mohan, banjo and Dave Furniss on guitar. The Poor Benny repertoire includes traditional fiddle tunes, vocal numbers from such legendary performers as Uncle Dave Macon, Charlie Poole, and Clarence Ashley, as well as traditional percussive dance.
Check out their website to hear a few tunes. Here are a few videos of them playing out.

And for the dancing fans out there:

Credits: Video from YouTuber eleventeentimes

June 27, 2009

YPM Edition 5D: West Virginia Festivals

Notes from Yew Piney Mountain Edition 5D: West Virginia Festivals

The final entry in my series on WV festivals is on the West Virginia State Folk Festival in Glenville, WV. Everyone I've heard refer to it just calls it the Glenville Folk Festival.

Anyway, this is one of the smaller festivals as well, but there are lots of great players that have played there, including Dave Bing, Joe Dobbs, Lester McCumbers, Buddy Griffin, and Dave O'Dell. I really like these smaller festivals that feature mostly people from the area. You get a real sense of the unique repertoire of central West Virginia and of how people play the tunes. Everywhere does it a little differently.

Like the Jackson's Mill Festival, it has struggled in recent years with attendance, especially when compared to Clifftop. For the sake of the towns that support these smaller festivals and for the music they preserve, I hope they recover.

Anyhow, here are a few clips from Glenville. First up is Lester McCumbers, a relatively well-known old-time player from West Virgina.

Next, the video quality is poor, but the sound is worth it. Here's Gerry Milnes playing "Give the Fiddler a Dram."

Credits: Videos from YouTubers YewPiney and 1angolier

June 25, 2009

YPM Edition 5C: West Virginia Festivals

Notes from Yew Piney Mountain Edition 5C: West Virginia Festivals
Continuing with the theme for this week of West Virginia' s music festivals (or gatherings, in some cases), let's take a look/listen at Vandalia. This event takes place in Charleston, right on the capitol grounds. There are lots of competitions for each instrument, and one thing I think is unique about it is you have to be a West Virginia resident to participate. Cuts out that riff-raff.

There is also a lie telling contest, which you can listen to here.

Goes without saying there is also lots of good music. Here's a few recent clips from the festival. I don't know the names of the tunes in this first video. I do know based on an unfortunate weekend that involved boredom, TBS, and Titanic, that when Leo takes Kate below deck to go to a real party with the Irish, they're playing this tune, just faster. Don't tell anyone about the Titanic reference.

The next video here features mountain dancing. The description of the video says, "People can say what they want about WV - this was a good time!"

Videos from YouTubers dantompkins and wrandyrice
Photo from Vandalia homepage

June 23, 2009

Quick Note

Just a procedural note here. I couldn't figure out how to make the comments dialogue show up before, but after some experimentation with my template, it looks like it's back. So feel free to leave comments any time. I check almost daily so I'm likely to get back to you quickly if you have a question or anything like that.

June 21, 2009

YPM Edition 5A: West Virginia Festivals

Notes from Yew Piney Mountain Edition 5A: West Virginia Festivals

I was out all last week so I wasn't able to move forward with new content. I'm all back to normal now.

My theme this week is kind of a follow up of my extensive post on the Jackson's Mill Jubilee in Weston, WV.

Since the news came out that the Jubilee might not happen in 2009, lots of people have mobilized to try to keep it alive. It looks like something will happen this year... it will probably just look very different.

There are lots of opinions and strong emotions about the Jubilee and its survival (for one account of recent actions, read this letter to the editor written by Dave Miller of the WVU Extension Service). To give an extremely cursory view, there is disagreement about how (and whether) the Jubilee should change to attract new people and new ideas.

Despite all the differing opinions, one thing is for certain: the Jubilee needs people to attend if it is going to survive. The wife (and by extension me, but really it's her) are in the process of trying to figure out what we can do to help. One thing I think we can do is beef up the Jubilee's web presence. Right now the primary website has the information you need on it, but you don't get a great sense of exactly what you're in for if you wanted to get out to the Jubilee.
The Jubilee is a celebration of the rich heritage of Appalachia through historic and contemporary events. Over 200 musicians play "old time" music throughout the four day Labor Day event. Over 200 heritage craftsman display and demonstrate their wares in the barn area of the Mill, boyhood home of Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson. There are historic reenactments and an encampment provided by the Appalachian Rangers Muzzleloading Club allow Jubilee visitors to catch a glimpse of central West Virginia life in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. There are glassblowing, woodchopping, and turkey calling demonstrations. West Virginians' contemporary heritage is celebrated through both the Fine Arts Exhibition and Photo Show. Central West Virginia's finest artists and photographers exhibit their works for Jubilee visitors. More traditional shows include the ever-popular Quilt Show and Needlearts Show. The Jubilee hosts the West Virginia Pie Baking Contest, heritage dancing, children's heritage games and more.
All of these activities are indeed there, and quite worth it I might add. But there isn't any media you can consume, no discussion board, not even any photos on the website. There are a lot of things that we could do to bring in more people to the Jubilee, and increasing its web presence is one of the most important, I think. Contrast the Jubilee's webpage with that of the much more popular Clifftop Festival. There are photo galleries, CDs to purchase (and, importantly, sample online) and an invitation to join their Facebook group. That's not why one festival is attended better than the other, but it sure doesn't hurt.

The sad thing is, I had recently purchased some recording equipment and a video camera to add to the Jubilee's media cache... but you know, now this happened. Not to worry, if the Jubilee happens this year, I'll be there, and do my best to document it myself.

So, the music. I mentioned that you can see some of the best musicians in North America play at the Jubilee. One of those is fiddler Bobby Taylor. At the last Jubilee, right before he played, I remember he said, "Well, it's Jubilee time again... thank God!" To me that kind of emphasized how much the festival means to those who attend. Bobby plays with multiple ensembles throughout the day, and is usually outside playing as well.

Unfortunately, there aren't too many videos of him playing that I can find. Here a few resources that I can find.

You can purchase and/or stream free samples of his tunes here.
You can here a sample of another tune, I believe it is a live recording, here.
You can see his discography and tour info at his website here.

That's the best I can do right now. Here is kind of an old video, before the days of YouTube if you can believe it, of him standing outside the barn, playing 'Billy in the Lowground' at the 1997 Jubilee. I can't identify everyone in the video, but the banjo player is Dave O'Dell, who has quite an impressive repertoire of old-time music as well.

Credits: Video from YouTuber cartoonhepcat

June 16, 2009

Check back next week!

Hello Everybody:
Just a quick post here. I'm out doing part of my real job out in Lincoln, Nebraska. And let me just say, Lincoln is awesome. Little Brown Jug Stringband is from here but unfortunately will not be overlap with my short time here. Blast!

Anyway, I don't have much time this week because of this job, but it ends Saturday and I'll be back to posting like normal. So check back on Sunday or Monday for new content.

As always, thanks for reading.

June 11, 2009

YPM Special Edition

Hey everybody. I just got news that my favorite West Virginia music festival, the Stonewall Jackson Jubilee, will be canceled for 2009. It's an understatement to say that I'm extremely disappointed/depressed about this.

On my other blog, I wrote a lengthy piece about the festival and thought it would be appropriate here.

Here's my post copied in full:

If you know me, or if you've clicked around on my profile, you know that beyond geography and education, my real passion in life is old-time music.

I come from Appalachia where music is always nearby, and my in-laws (The Samples Brothers) are pretty well-known in West Virginia.

Old-time music is a great communal experience. The tunes are public domain, the community is always eager to teach, it's social... it's just fun.

Pretty much every state has one or more old-time festivals where people get together in the early summer or fall. West Virginia is particularly good about preserving its cultural heritage through traditional music and crafts festivals. Some of the more well-known festivals are Clifftop, Vandalia, and Augusta Heritage.

One of the lesser known festivals in the state is the Jackson's Mill Jubilee (officially the Stonewall Jackson Heritage Arts and Crafts Jubilee). The connection to Stonewall is that the site is his boyhood home, back when the state was still part of Virginia. The mill and some of the structures are still there, and today it's the site of a 4-H camp.

Since 1974, my in-laws and many of West Virginia's (and North America's, quite frankly) finest traditional musicians have spent Labor Day weekend playing music and buying and selling crafts at the Jubilee. It has always been smaller than some of the other festivals, but that was part of its charm. For many families that have been with the festival since the beginning, it's kind of like Christmas in September.

Interest and attendance have slowly dwindled since peaking in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Every year there was talk of having to drop the festival all together. In 2008, with the economy completely in the gutter, attendance was down... way down. Immediately it became difficult to finance the operation through gate admissions.

Aside from gate admissions, a big source of revenue for the festival has been to rent a space to artists and crafters. In the past, festivals like the Jubilee were the best place to get those handmade traditional products. Now, with gas expensive and attendance at festivals down, it's more worth it for a crafter to stay home and sell on sites like Etsy or other web stores. For those same reasons, it's more worth it for consumers to stay at home and just order online.

As if those two financial difficulties were not enough, the traditional financier, WVU-Extension, has also had to make budget adjustments, and we all know how the arts tend to fare during budget discussions.

These three blows, all related to the recession in their own way, finally took the Jubilee down this year. As the Weston Democrat reports:
In an emergency session Monday night, the board of directors of the Stonewall Jackson Heritage Arts and Crafts Jubilee made a difficult decision. Following a lengthy and sad and sober discussion, they overwhelmingly voted to cancel this year’s Jubilee, an event which has been held over Labor Day weekend at WVU-Jackson’s Mill for the past 35 years. The decision came five days after Jubilee president Debra Walker received a letter from David Miller, Associate Provost, West Virginia University Extension, saying that they would be bowing out of the event. After contacting his office two more times, they found out that the $50,000-$75,000 financial sponsorship of the Jubilee as promised by him in a meeting in January would not be forthcoming.
Most of the recession stories I've read thus far have not pertained to me. I don't own property or a house. I don't have investments. I don't work in the financial industry. It's hard to put into words, but this one stings. This disrupts a significant cultural heritage event, it means family and friends won't be getting together, and it could speed up the decline of traditional culture in Appalachia.

On the one hand, my post here is a personal story about the recession... something that almost everybody has. On the other hand, I think there is something here that people beyond my personal sphere can appreciate.

While we celebrate how the web decentralizes and democratizes the arts, how it opens up shops to more customers for more crafters, we also need to be aware of what we're giving up. People getting together means something. Being able to do a custom search on Etsy is nice, but not if it comes at the expense of actual craft shows. Being able to download music and see videos online about old-time music is nice, but not if it means the death of festivals.

I realize that the closure of the Jubilee has more to do with the recession than with the internet. But the internet does play an undeniable role in the revenue generated from the crafters. Some people paid admission just for that. When then crafters stopped coming, rents went down, and so did admissions.

In reality, Etsy and actual craft shows will co-exist, they may even bolster each other. But the benefits will likely accrue in particular places. The Portlands of the world, the Bostons, the Albuquerques, they'll be fine. People live there already, they don't have to go out their way; in academic terms, they benefit from agglomeration effects. The Westons of the world, the places that are harder and more expensive to get to, the small towns... they will likely suffer. It's good for the customer, it's good for the seller, but it's not good for the community in those instances.

That's why geography will continue to matter in the digital age. Instead of the internet bringing about the "death of distance" like many people expected, the internet increases the relevance of place. Paradoxically, since some communication and economic activity can be diffused by using the web, some communities will be left out. Geographic differences will be more pronounced. When it comes to communal experiences, distance will matter even more.

We need to ask ourselves if a "flat world" is what we truly want. Part of the beauty of art is being able to interact with the artist. The joy of music is best appreciated live; this is especially true of old-time music, which is an experience that cannot be downloaded. As I've said many times on here, I love the internet, I'm not one to denounce change just because it's different. I do think, however, that the way we think about the digital age needs to be more grounded in reality. That reality should include places that are left out; god knows there are lots of them.

The music and arts in Weston will survive, no doubt, but they will take a severe blow this year. It's been hard news to take. Hopefully next year it will be back, and hopefully it will be able to pick up where it left off.

Here I can show you what you're missing, but it's just a crude facsimile. This is more of an experience than it is a audio/visual exercise. Nonetheless, here's a taste from the 2008 Jubilee. In what I hope was not their last performance there, here's my in-laws playing through their set.

Photo Credit: Creative Commons license "attribution-noncommercial-no derivative works" from Flickr user SpoiltCat

YPM Edition 4C: Old-Time in Canada

Notes from Yew Piney Mountain Edition 4C: Old-Time in Canada

Erynn Marshall, from Victoria BC, is one of the most highly regarded old-time fiddlers in North America.

You can hear more of her stuff on MySpace, here streaming MP3s and read press releases here, and hear samples of her with the Haints here.

She is also very involved in many West Virgina old-time music festivals has a tremendous wealth of knowledge of music from that area.

Here she is playing in a West Virginia festival (Clifftop) and playing a West Virginia tune (from French Carpenter).

Credits: Video from YouTuber YewPineyMountain