Archive for the ‘Bluegrass Music’ Category

Folk Life Festival: Day 7 Journal
July 6, 2007

Today I stopped by the folk life festival again. I had actually spent the morning interviewing one of the staff members at the hotel where the participants stay.

The festival was difficult to get to because of the brief afternoon showers but it was still on and when the rain cleared, the Mall filled up again.

I started out in North Ireland end and first went to a pavilion where I learned about North Ireland sports. In North Ireland, they play Gaelic football, which is a lot like handball although you pass it using a volleyball. Unfortunately, because of the rain, the demonstration was closed. There is also just regular football (or as we call it soccer), which Northern Ireland has a team that’s about to go into World Cup qualifying. Members of the coaching staff were on hand to field questions and there was a poster showing us that George Best, the famous Manchester player was actually a North Ireland team member, so they have one very good player, at least. They also have two quarterfinal appearances in the world cup. One staff member lamented to me that, “Folk games are lost in this country. When you ask a kid what games they like to play it’s usually football or baseball and not something like red rover.”

I then went to the music pavilion, where they were doing a dancing demonstration and were looking for volunteers. I don’t know how but I got sucked onto the dance floor for a couple of reels. So if you don’t like dancing and you go to the festival, beware. I’m not much of a dancer of any sort, but this was kind of fun and a decent form of exercise. The instructions for the two dances that I did were so random, I was wondering if maybe the lady just made them up as she went along. In all seriousness, while I doubt she was making them up, I do wonder who made up the rules to these folk dances in the first place. I can understand a folk tune being orally passed on through generations but a folk dance with specific steps and procedures?

I also learned how Irish Whiskey was made.

I then skipped over to the Virginia Pavilion where there was a couple from Senegal showing their farming storage thingie. I can’t remember what it was called, sorry, but it stores food from….on second thought, I can’t remember why they need to store food if there’s no winter. I’ll make an effort to look into it next time I go or better yet you can go patronize the folk life festival and find out why they need to store food above ground if there’s no winter. Or maybe you’re wondering what Africans are doing in the Virginia section of the festival, to which I know the answer: The festival is exploring the Native American, British and West African traditions that contributed to Virginia culture. In this case, the Senegalese farmers at the stand grew peanuts as their cash crop, and peanuts were brought over to Virginia’s plantations from Africa. I did not know this offhand, so don’t feel stupid. I learned this from some Virginia peanut farmers at the stand who showed me how complicated peanut farming is. There are something like 12 grades of peanuts and you can learn more about them at You’ll also get a free pack of peanuts over there.

I then went to an exhibit sponsored by the Mariner’s Museum at Newport News. There website is and they have a full-scale recreation of the USS Monitor and artifacts from the actual ship.

Lastly, I sat down, relaxed and listened to some music. The one act I saw, it took a while for them to set it up, was Brian Fein on the banjo and David Arthur on the guitar, banjo, and accordion. What was interesting was that they both played bluegrass, but Brian Fein is from Patrick County, Virginia and David Arthur is from Kent, England. One thing I learned this week is that England isn’t just a country of violinists but also of fiddlers. An exhibit panel said that fiddle music came to America from England, so it made more sense than I realize that David and Brian are on the same page. The two mostly took turns, though, and each gave a little background on the song before playing them. Brian told us about his personal history and said that one of his ancestors fought along side General Stuart’s Raiders. Both were good musicians, and I was impressed by how David could create such a lively pace when he picked up the accordion.

One more website to give out: This is the heritage trail that’s been created through Southwest Virginia to commemorate Bluegrass music and it has news of all the upcoming concerts in the area if anyone is travelling to that region of the state