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Itâ€™s time to start making plans for the 2013 summer session of Allegheny Echoes, scheduled for June 23-28 in Marlinton, WV. Once again the lineup of instructors includes a mixture of returning favorites and some new faces. Early registration can save you money. Anyone signing up before June 1 receives a $50 discount. Also, West Virginia residents get a $25 break.
AE, celebrating its 17th year, again offers a full range of old-time and bluegrass instrumental classes along with a popular singing class taught by Pat Plunkett and Val Mindel. Also Kirk Judd returns as the lead instructor for the creative writing program. For the second consecutive year AE will partner with the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace Foundation (PSBBF) to offer our writing students an opportunity to attend a foundation workshop and tour the Buck birthplace home and museum.
Most instructors of the various traditional instruments are well known to returning participants. Students sign up for their popular classes year after year. But as in every AE summer session, changes are made to appeal to other interests and to offer a chance for long-timers to try something a little different.
New this summer is a tenor banjo class taught by Frank Murphy of Australia by way of Ireland. Frank met the Bing Brothers during one of their tours. Frank has competed and won at all levels of the All Ireland banjo championships. He recently has played with The Bing Brothers at festivals in Australia.
Pat Shields has taught back-up guitar the past couple of sessions at AE. This summer he switches to old-time mandolin. Pat became a Musician in Residence for the West Virginia Arts and Humanities Council in 1976 in Braxton County and in Mineral County in 1978. In this capacity he was fortunate to play with West Virginia greats Melvin Wine, Sloan Staggs, Andy Boarman, Woody Simmons, Wilson Douglas, Phoebe Parsons and many others. He has been involved in a number of old-time and bluegrass bands playing mandolin and guitar, most recently with the Georgia Mudcats, a North Georgia based string band.
David Oâ€™Dellâ€™s familiar face has been absent from recent AE workshops but he returns this summer to teach the Appalachian dulcimer. David began playing banjo at 14 and evolved into one of West Virginiaâ€™s best-known old time musicians. A multiple winner of first-place prizes for both banjo and dulcimer at the Vandalia Gathering, he appears throughout West Virginia at fairs and festivals. He currently plays with the band â€śKanawha Traditionâ€?and promotes old time music by producing recordings of West Virginia musicians.
Dennis Hall is another newcomer to the AE summer workshops. Hall, who will teach back-up guitar, is the leader and one of the original members of The New Ballardâ€™s Branch Bogtrotters. The band came together in 1985 at a fiddlersâ€?convention in Fries, VA when a handful of musicians got together to play a little music and, before long were playing competitively as a band. They chose their name partly in homage to The Bogtrotters, a well-known Galax-area band that played in the 1930s and partly from the creek that runs past Dennisâ€™s front door. They have won many prestigious competitions over the years.
In another change, multi-instrumentalist Ben Townsend, who taught clawhammer banjo last summer, will teach intermediate/advanced fiddle. As a member of both The Fox Hunt and Old Sledge, Ben has traveled across the country and around the world spreading his take on West Virginia old-time music and has shared the stage with acts varying from Ralph Stanley to the Henry Girls of County Donegal Ireland to the Taiko drummers of Yamagata Prefecture, Japan.
Also returning is Bob Shank, who often teaches hammered dulcimer and is considered West Virginiaâ€™s finest on that instrument. Bob, also an outstanding clawhammer banjo player, will work with beginner banjo players. As a member of Hickory Wind, Curmudgeon, The Percolators and the Big Otter Orchestra, Bob has played in over 30 states, toured Europe, played The Kennedy Center and has shared the stage with Bill Monroe, Earl Scruggs, Ralph Stanley, Jimmy Martin, John Hartford and the Dirt Band.
Unfortunately, AE has some sad news to report. We lost a beloved family member when Charlie Loudermilk, 78, passed away shortly before Christmas. Charlie along with Junior Spencer, his best friend and fiddle partner of more than 60 years in their band, Mudhole Control, had been the final masterâ€™s act every year of AEâ€™s existence since its beginning in 1997. Their Friday workshop always was packed and the enthusiasm ran high. Never more so than their final AE appearance last summer when it was clear that Charlieâ€™s failing health made it unlikely that he would be able to perform again.
At last summerâ€™s AE students again came from coast to coast. The Marlinton Motor Inn was filled to capacity and additional locations were used to house participants. About 60 young people received scholarships and for the first time, several scholarships were given to some folks past the age of 65. Age is no limit to those trying to learn at AE.
During Fridayâ€™s final concert at the Marlinton Opera House the music was flowing to an attentive audience when, shortly before intermission, a violent thunderstorm struck. Power was lost, but because AE is totally acoustic, the performers finished the evening. No one left. Rain was pouring down as folks tried to leave and a group of volunteers with umbrellas escorted people to their cars. Streets were flooded, and the trip back to the Marlinton Motor Inn was dicey because of fallen trees and limbs. The motel remained without power through the night, but the jams never stopped until the very wee hours. In the morning we learned that what at first appeared to be a violent local storm was widespread across the state. With the news coming from car radios, we learned that multiple roads out of Marlinton were blocked. U.S. 219 back to I-64 at Lewisburg was passable, but barely.
Power was out across the state. One problem affected many of those who were to drive home that Saturday; they had planned to get gas and none was available because the pumps lacked electricity. Those who did leave ran the risk of running out of gas. Trips home to Virginia and Ohio were dicey as gas pump after gas pump remained shut down. Most managed to find gas after long drives. Several people stayed an extra night at the motel and were fortunate the following morning when the store next door got a generator and sold ten gallons each to drivers.
The storm, later identified as a derecho, had begun near Chicago, spread out like a fan as it roared eastward and created massive havoc. It rumbled to the Atlantic Ocean, leaving most of Virginia, Washington, DC, and southern Maryland without power for almost a week. Many areas of West Virginia spent several weeks in the dark. Because a severe heat wave struck immediately after the storm, people were miserable as the temperatures high the high 90s and lower 100s daily.
Hereâ€™s hoping the 17th annual AE has no party crashers.