Virginia KinFolk: A Celebration of Family Folklife
Whether sung or told, hand-crafted or performed, a group’s Folklife refers to those “arts of everyday life” that signify a tangible sense of traditional knowledge, shared identity, and connection to community. In this year’s Folklife Area, we celebrate our closest and most cherished of communities—the family. Often from within families we pass down work skills, musical styles, crafts, recipes, and shared stories from one generation to the next.
Virginia KinFolk: A Celebration of Family Folklife will feature family bands from a variety of different musical styles on the Virginia Folklife Stage and some of Virginia’s most prominent family businesses and artisans in the Virginia Folklife Crafts Area. The Virginia Folklife Stage and Crafts Area, sponsored by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, are once again produced by the Virginia Folklife Program at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. The Virginia Folklife Program is the state center for the documentation, presentation, and support of Virginia’s rich cultural heritage.
In 2013 The Richmond Times-Dispatch Folklife stage featured:
Saturday, October 12
|12:00-12:45||Elizabeth LaPrelle and Anna Roberts-Gevalt: Family Ballads|
|1:00-1:45||Snyder Family Band: Bluegrass|
|2:00-2:45||Harris Brothers: Appalachian Blues|
|3:00-3:45||The Knicely Family Band: Shenandoah Valley String-band|
|4:00-4:45||From Central Asia to Virginia: Featuring Alash with Ganna, Zana, and Maral Natsag Mongolian Dance with Tuvan throat-singing|
|5:00-6:00||Cheick Hamala Diabate and Family: West African Traditions|
Sunday, October 13
|12:00-12:45||Dry Hill Draggers: Old Time|
|1:00-1:45||Mothers, Brothers, and Sisters: Featuring the Knicelys, the Harris Brothers, Maggie Ingram and the Ingramettes, and Emily and Martha Spencer|
|2:00-2:45||Moore Brothers Band: Traditional and Progressive Bluegrass|
|3:00-3:45||Maggie Ingram and the Ingramettes: Richmond Gospel|
|4:00-4:45||Whitetop Mountain Band: Old time/Country
|5:00-5:45||Holmes Brothers: Blues/Gospel|
Virginia Folklife Stage – Talk/Demo Participants
From Central Asia to Virginia
Ganna, Zana, and Maral Natsag & Alash
Mothers, Brother & Sisters
The Knicelys, the Harris Brothers, Maggie Ingram and the Ingramettes, and Emily and Martha Spencer
Folklife Traditional Crafts Area will feature demonstrations by:
Saturday, October 12:
|1:00||Split Oak Basket Making
|2:00||Irish Flute Making
|2:30||Alfombra (Sawdust Carpet)
|3:00||Vintage Carousel Demonstration
|4:00||Moonshine Still Demonstration|
|5:00||Oyster Shucking Contest
Sunday, October 13:
|1:00||Alfombra (Sawdust Carpet)
|2:00||Corn Shuck Doll Making
|3:00||Mongolian Mask Making
|3:30||Moonshine Still Demonstration
Carousels (amusement rides that consist of a rotating platform with seats for riders) have been built and operated at fairs and gatherings in Europe for centuries. The carousel became popular in America in the mid-1800s, after European wood carvers and painters arrived in the United States. The golden age of the carousel was between 1880 and 1930, when many American companies, including the Dentzel Company, Philadelphia Toboggan Company, and M. C. Illions, made elaborate, hand-carved carousels. Of the many thousands of carousels that were built during this period, fewer than 200 remain in existence today. The oldest operating touring carousel, a 1915 Spillman Engineering wooden model, is owned and operated by Buffalo Brothers Amusements, based in Staunton, Virginia. Brothers Lee and Tommy Harris formed Buffalo Brothers Amusements in 2007 with the goal of reviving the golden age of American traveling carnivals. Along with their father, the Harris brothers operate their vintage-themed amusement rides at events throughout the area. Along with their other vintage carnival attractions, the nearly 100-year-old carousel has been completely restored and maintained by the Harris brothers themselves.
For communities on Virginia’s Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula, the oyster fishery was perhaps the largest and most influential industry from the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s. Men and women employed by the industry worked a variety of jobs, from boat cook, captain, and crew, to shore-based scow gangs and shuckers. Shucking in particular provided many employment opportunities for African Americans throughout the Chesapeake region. Sisters Deborah Pratt and Clementine Macon Boyd, whose parents met while working in one of the many small oyster houses that dotted the Northern Neck coastline, are two of the top shuckers in the world, each capable of deftly opening two dozen oysters in less than three minutes. Though the oyster industry has declined since the mid-1990s, shucking remains a highly competitive sport. Deborah and Clementine have each won the prestigious Virginia State Oyster Shucking Championship held every year in Urbanna and the National Oyster Shucking Championship in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, where they earned the right to compete in the International Oyster Opening Championship in Galway, Ireland. The two sisters have battled it out in three epic contests on the Virginia Folklife Stage at the Richmond Folk Festival, with Clementine pulling off the upset in the first match, and Deborah taking the next two.
The flute has long held a prominent place in traditional Irish music, but for many years, Irish musicians used flutes primarily designed for the classical tradition. This began to change late in the 1970s, when several master flute makers began to design instruments specifically for performers of traditional Irish music. Among these pioneering masters is Patrick Olwell, who produces world-class wooden flutes from his shop in an old, 1920s bank building in the tiny town of Massies Mill in Nelson County, Virginia. Musicians are famously wedded to their instruments, and the strongest bonds are built by those who actually know and develop a working relationship with their instrument makers. The wait for one of Patrick's flutes is nearly six years, and he builds each instrument with a particular player in mind. His flutes are owned by some of Ireland’s finest musicians, including Seamus Egan, Matt Malloy, and the late Frankie Kennedy. Patrick’s son Aaron, an accomplished musician in his own right, has apprenticed with his father and in the shop, and now makes exquisite instruments himself. They typically travel to Ireland to deliver the coveted instruments to their new owners in person, often joining these players in a spirited music session.
Franklin County, Virginia, has long been known for the production and sale of moonshine, or homemade corn liquor. Distilling—the technique of boiling a fermented mash of milled grain and then cooling the alcohol-laden steam back into a liquid—has been practiced for thousands of years around the world. By 1620, just thirteen years after the settlement of Jamestown was founded, Virginia colonists were distilling corn on the James River. The English, Germans, and Scots-Irish who settled the western Virginia backcountry in the 1700s all brought with them traditions of turning fruit into brandy and grains into whiskey. The difference between a legal distiller and a moonshiner, or bootlegger, is basic: the moonshiner chooses not to license his distilling operation or pay taxes on his whiskey. Once a booming industry, peaking during the era of prohibition, moonshining has been shrinking in the Virginia Blue Ridge. While the life of the moonshiner is often romanticized in popular culture, the reality of the illegal whiskey trade is far from pleasant. The work involves hard manual labor, and penalties for operating a moonshine still can include jail time and the loss of vehicles and real estate. Jimmy Boyd, of Franklin County, is a former locally acclaimed moonshiner as well a fine clawhammer banjo player who cofounded the Dry Hill Draggers, one of the most beloved old-time bands in Virginia. Joining the Boyd family this year is Lane Rakes, the “Official Moonshiner Mountain Man of Franklin County” and an expert at telling stories about making moonshine.
Moonshine Exhibit: http://www.blueridgeinstitute.org/moonshine/
The traditional skill of making baskets from white oak is hundreds of years old and involves an in-depth study of the grain structure of the tree. Each white oak tree behaves differently, so basket makers must work with hundreds of trees to gain an intimate understanding of the nuances of the wood. Clyde Jenkins, known as one of the finest basket makers in the country, began making split-oak baskets at age eleven. Clyde grew up in the Shenandoah Mountains, where he still lives, and learned this unique craft from older members of the community. As a young man, Clyde worked for the Department of the Interior and was stationed at Shenandoah National Park, where he practiced stonework and other building crafts. It was there that Jenkins honed his craft as a basket maker. His fine basketry work was recognized by Colonial Williamsburg, and he soon became its primary basket supplier. Clyde has shared his love of basket making with his family, including his son, his brother, and his wife, Mary Lou Saurs. Clyde teaches basket making across the country and has demonstrated his talents at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, the National Folk Festival, the Highlands Festival, and many others. He has showcased his talents at the Richmond Folk Festival on several occasions, last year demonstrating one of his other passions, the grafting of heirloom apple varieties.
Alfombras de arracin, or rice carpets, are created in Guatemalan cities and villages during Holy Week. Using dyed sawdust, rice, dried beans, and other vegetable materials, teams of artists create a carpet depicting scenes from the Passion and other religious images as part of Good Friday activities. Built in the hours before Good Friday services, these carpets are destroyed as the celebrants and congregation walk through them to enter the church—reflecting, it is surmised, the destruction of Christ’s “earthly body” just before the crucifixion. Each carpet is a unique creation, carefully developed by the artistic team during the days leading up to Holy Week. The images and techniques employed are drawn from a repertoire of traditional religious iconography and long-held community practices. The carpets can extend as far as 150 feet long and 12 feet wide. Ubaldo Sanchez, the principal artist of the alfombra-making group Alfo-Conce, lives in Arlington, Virginia, and learned the tradition from his older brother Enrique and other family and community members in Guatemala before he immigrated to the United States at age fourteen. Each year, Alfo-Conce creates an alfombra at Saint Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Falls Church, Virginia. They also have created celebratory carpets throughout northern Virginia and Washington, D.C., including one in honor of Pope Benedict XVI. In 2008, Ubaldo participated as a Master Artist in the Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Program, helping to pass this unique art form along to future generations in his community.
Native Americans likely introduced settlers in Southwest Virginia to a version of corn-shuck doll making. The art of “corn-shuckery” resonated with many Appalachians, who were already accustomed to handcrafting most of their clothing, tools, and even toys. Ganell Marshall, widely known as one of the finest masters of this increasingly rare art form, made her first corn-shuck doll in 1960. Like most Appalachian households, Ganell’s was resourceful and self-sufficient. Ganell’s mother, known in her community as “Mother Marshall,” practiced a variety of skills to support her family, including spinning, vegetable dyeing, and quilting, to name just a few. In the early 1940s, Mother Marshall made her first corn-shuck doll, and it wasn’t long before she was known throughout Southwest Virginia as “The Shuck Lady.” Ganell has proudly followed in Mother Marshall’s footsteps, making dolls that have been displayed in Colonial Williamsburg, the Smithsonian, and the White House. Ganell has shared her talents with her siblings, and recently apprenticed her niece Sarah in the Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Program.
Elizabeth LaPrelle, of Rural Retreat, Virginia, comes from a musical family and has become one of the most powerful ballad singers of her generation, reinvigorating the traditional Appalachian ballads that came to America from Scotland and Ireland as early as the seventeenth century. Anna Roberts-Gevalt grew up in Vermont, but now lives in Southwest Virginia, where she has immersed herself in Appalachian fiddling traditions. Anna and Elizabeth play together regularly and have created a multimedia performance that includes traditional storytelling, dance, and “crankies.” A crankie consists of a long swath of decorated fabric or paper that is rolled up on both ends like a scroll. The scroll is installed in a box, and a storyteller slowly unwinds, or cranks, the scroll as she relates the narrative. One part of the scroll—or one scene from the story—is visible in the frame at a time. While the pairing of family stories and Appalachian ballads with the crankie is unique to Anna and Elizabeth, crankies, or “moving panoramas,” enjoy a long history, and were among the most popular entertainments of the mid-eighteenth century in the United States and abroad.
The Tsam is an ancient Buddhist ritual performed by skilled dancers wearing elaborately ornamented costumes and masks. It was first introduced in Mongolia at the beginning of the eighth century when the Indian saint Lovon Badamjunai arrived to sanctify the first Tibetan Buddhist temple. The Buddhist Tsam performance is a secret and subtle ritual, the meaning of which is often known only to Buddhist monks. In the 1930s, the Communist government banned the Tsam, but it has been revived by a number of Mongolian-born artists, including Gankhuyag Natsag, a mask maker and visual artist who was born in Ulaanbaatar. Early in Natsag's childhood his parents, famous masters of traditional Mongolian handcrafts, introduced him to the fine art of handcrafting dance masks, a critical aspect of the Tsam ritual. Ganna, as he is known, is now a resident of Arlington and helps to keep the Tsam tradition alive within the city’s growing Mongolian community. He has passed on the tradition of mask making and the accompanying dance to his children, Zanabazar and Maral Gankhuyag. His son, known as Zana, attends George Mason University and studies theatre, while his daughter Maral is in seventh grade. Both practice Mongolian traditional dance.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch Folklife stage Performers
Over the course of their fifty-year career, the Holmes Brothers, of Virginia’s Middle Peninsula, have been performing a joyous and moving blend of blues, gospel, soul, rhythm and blues, rock ‘n’ roll, and country. Brothers Sherman and Wendell Holmes were raised in Christchurch, Virginia. Their schoolteacher parents fostered the boys’ early interest in music as they listened to traditional Baptist hymns, anthems, and spirituals as well as blues music by Jimmy Reed, Junior Parker, and B. B. King. Sherman studied composition and music theory at Virginia State University before heading to New York City. Eventually, with Sherman on bass and Wendell on guitar, the duo formed The Holmes Brothers band in 1979 with drummer Popsy Dixon. Over the years, The Holmes Brothers have played and recorded with many of the brightest stars of blues performance. With their deeply soulful singing, uplifting harmonies, and unsurpassed musicianship, the Holmes Brothers blend Saturday night roadhouse rock with the gospel fervor and harmonies of a Sunday morning church service.
Cheick Hamala Diabate was born into a griot family in Kita, Mali. In West African tradition, the griot is a male troubadour-historian whose hereditary role is to preserve and share the history, genealogy, and oral traditions of his people, as well as providing advice and practicing diplomacy. As a child, Diabate learned to play the n’goni, a stringed instrument which is the precursor to the American banjo. His knowledge grew to include the history of Mali, passed down in his family for more than 800 years. Though Diabate plays the traditional trio of griot instruments—the n’goni, kora (gourd harp lute), and balafon (wooden xylophone)—he also embraces the panoply of sound he discovered in America. Like many American string players, including Bela Fleck with whom Diabate has collaborated and performed, Diabate was intrigued by the similarities between the n’goni and the banjo. Seeking to mesh the two instruments, Diabate collaborated with banjo player Bob Carlin on From Mali to America, which earned a Grammy nomination for Best Traditional World Music Album in 2007. While many American musicians have traveled to West Africa or picked up the n’goni—thanks in part to Diabate’s introductions and instruction—few African musicians have engaged the banjo the way Diabate has.
Songsters Reggie and Ryan Harris were born into a musical family and community in Lenoir, in the foothills of western North Carolina, an area uniquely rich in blues with Appalachia, and have been picking and singing since they were small children. Reggie started playing guitar when he was six years old, and was picking the banjo and playing at house parties and picnics in the community by age ten. Ryan became an excellent singer, working with a jazz band. In the late 1980s, Reggie and Ryan formed the Harris Brothers duet. The brothers were initially inspired by hearing the traditional music played by their father and uncle, cousins, and other family members. Their repertoire includes blues, mountain music, jazz, country, and rock ‘n’ roll. They have performed together at many local and regional venues and festivals such as the Blue Ridge Music Center, MerleFest, Hickory Fest, the Wayne C. Henderson Music Festival, and have shared the stage with musicians including Vassar Clements, Bobby Hicks, David Holt, Peter Rowan, and David Grisman.
Southwest Virginia and Northwest North Carolina have become a veritable hotbed for family bluegrass bands, and the Snyder Family Band of Lexington, North Carolina is quickly emerging as one of the finest. The band features siblings Zeb, Samantha, and Owen Snyder, with backup from their father Bud on upright bass and from their mother Laine on harmony vocals. Samantha Snyder has become an award-winning fiddler as well as a top-notch singer and songwriter. In 2008, at age nine, she became the youngest winner of the prestigious Fiddler of the Festival at Fiddler’s Grove, North Carolina, and carried the adult fiddle contest at the Galax Old Fiddlers’ Convention in 2011. Zeb Snyder, now eighteen, won the South Carolina Guitar Championship at RenoFest in Hartsville, South Carolina, and won the adult guitar competition at the 2011 Galax Old Fiddlers’ Convention. Seven-year-old Owen makes special appearances on guitar or vocals. Together, the Snyder Family Band has been tearing it up at regional and national festivals, including a much celebrated performance at the 2013 Merlefest.
Elizabeth LaPrelle is one of the most powerful ballad singers of her generation, reinvigorating the traditional Appalachian ballads that came to America from Scotland and Ireland as early as the seventeenth century. Raised in Rural Retreat, Virginia, Elizabeth attended old time fiddlers’ conventions and sang harmonies with her family, who taught her traditional singing styles and encouraged her to seek out the area’s rich ballad tradition. Elizabeth went on to apprentice with such prominent ballad singers as Shelia Kay Adams and Ginny Hawker, intern at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, and now performs and teaches throughout the United States. Anna Roberts-Gevalt grew up in Vermont, playing classical music on violin and viola. After working at Appalshop in Whitesburg, Kentucky, she received a grant from Berea College to record oral histories of some of the female fiddlers in their archive. She eventually settled in Southwest Virginia, where she met Elizabeth. Together, Anna and Elizabeth play regularly and have created a multimedia performance that includes traditional music, puppets, storytelling, dance, and “crankies”—a long scroll housed in a TV-sized box. Pictures on the scroll can be “cranked” or unfurled to illustrate a song or story. Recently, Anna and Elizabeth have begun hosting the much acclaimed Floyd Radio Show.
Tsam is an ancient Buddhist ritual performed by skilled dancers wearing elaborately ornamented costumes and masks. The Tsam was first introduced in Mongolia at the beginning of the eighth century when the Indian Saint Lovon Badamjunai arrived to sanctify the first Tibetan Buddhist temple. The Buddhist Tsam performance is a secret and subtle ritual, whose meaning is often known only to Buddhist monks. In the 1930s, the Communist government banned the Tsam, but it has been revived by a number of Mongolian-born artists, including Gankhuyag Natsag, a mask maker and visual artist who was born in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Early in his childhood, Natsag’s parents, famous masters of traditional Mongolian handcrafts, introduced him to the fine art of handcrafting dance masks, a critical aspect of the Tsam ritual. Ganna, as he’s known, is now a resident of Arlington, helping to keep the Tsam tradition alive within the city’s growing Mongolian community. Ganna has passed the tradition of mask making and the accompanying dance onto his children, Zanabazar and Maral Gankhuyag. His son, known as Zana, just finished high school and will attend George Mason University in theatre, while his daughter Maral is in seventh grade. Both practice Mongolian traditional dance.
Richmond has been recognized for generations as a “gospel town,” with a vibrant tradition of African American gospel groups and choirs, and one of its most legendary figures is Evangelist Maggie Ingram. Born July 4, 1930, on Mulholland’s Plantation in Coffee County, Georgia, Maggie worked in the cotton and tobacco fields with her parents. She began playing the piano and singing at an early age, developing a great love for the church and the ministry of the Gospel. Sister Maggie Ingram and the Ingramettes soon became a singing group sought after for appearances throughout Florida. Maggie moved her family to Richmond in 1961, where she worked in the home of Oliver W. Hill Sr., the prominent civil rights attorney who had represented the Virginia plaintiffs in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case. With her children, Maggie began a prison ministry, partnering with the Mt. Gilead Baptist Church in the 1970s. The Ingramettes have since become gospel icons in Richmond and have received numerous awards, including the prestigious Virginia Heritage Award in 2009. Maggie was awarded a doctor of music from Virginia Triumphant College and Seminary in 2011. Most recently, the Virginia Folklife Program produced a much anticipated live recording of Maggie Ingram and the Ingramettes, which received the Independent Music Awards Fan’s Choice for 2012 Gospel Album of the Year.
“Old time” is an ensemble-based, hard-driving music form which has inspired dancers across southern Appalachia for generations. One of the epicenters of old-time music is the small community of Whitetop, Virginia, home of the Spencers, a family band that has entertained audiences for more than forty years. The band was started by the renowned fiddler and instrument builder Albert Hash in the 1940s. Albert was later joined by his brother-in-law, master fiddler Thornton Spencer, and Thornton’s wife, singer, banjoist, and music instructor Emily Spencer. The three also founded an old time music program at Mt. Rogers School, a small K-12 public school in Whitetop, which has taught countless numbers of children to play old time music, and has received both regional and national attention for its uniqueness. The Whitetop Mountain Band continues today with Thornton and Emily, their daughter Martha, and friends Jackson Cunningham, Debbie Bramer, and Ersel Fletcher. Their spirited and joyous performances make the Whitetop Mountain Band one of the most beloved old-time dance bands in the country.
Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley has long been fertile ground for the development of old time and bluegrass music, and the Knicely Family have been one of the most prominent musical families in Rockingham County for generations. Multi-instrumentalist A. O. Knicely was a staple at area barn dances in the 1930s. His son Glen soaked up this music as a child, and along with his wife Darlena, passed this tradition on to sons David, Danny, and Neil. Danny has become one of the most respected and versatile multi-instrumentalists of his generation, collaborating with prominent musicians in the U.S. and abroad. He has won many awards for his mandolin, guitar, fiddle, and flatfoot expertise, including first place in the mandolin contest at the prestigious Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Danny is also musical director for the Mountain Music Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to serving traditional musicians worldwide. While the family rarely performs together, they are regularly found jamming at fiddlers’ conventions and other musical gatherings across Virginia.
Franklin County, Virginia may be best known as the source of some of the finest moonshine in the country, but it is also a hotbed of old time string band music. In the late 1970s, a group of neighbors and friends got together to play the music which had been passed down in the area for generations. Most of these gatherings were in the Dry Hill and Ferrum areas of Franklin County. Some of the musicians were falling behind on their timing one day while playing and having some fun, and one spectator commented that he was going to call the group the “Dry Hill Draggers.” Banjo player Jimmy Boyd and his brother Billy Boyd started the official Dry Hill Draggers band in 1981. The group has flourished, even as some of the former members have passed on, and now counts three second-generation players among its members, including Jimmy Boyd’s sons Jaime and Stacy. The Draggers have a particularly driving old-time beat which is irresistible to dancers, and they are popular performers at the Blue Ridge Folklife Festival every year, as well as at the Galax Old Fiddlers’ Convention where they’ve garnered awards in the best old-time band category.
For those who fear that bluegrass and other traditional genres of American music are lost on today’s youth, you need only to listen to young hot shots like the Moore Brothers Band, from Hickory, North Carolina. The Moore Brothers learned their craft by sitting at the feet of masters of the music at the Galax Old Fiddlers’ Convention. From their first stage appearance in 2007, this group has embraced blues, gospel, bluegrass, jazz, and even swing into their sound. The youngest Moore brother is Isaac, age eleven, who is already one of the finest flatpickers in the region. The Moore Brothers represent a remarkable resurgence in traditional mountain music, and along with many other young bands, have helped to allay fears that this music is in danger of dying out anytime soon.