Laura and I went to the October Old-Time week at the Augusta Heritage Center, located at a small college in West Virginia, and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. The Old-Time week consists of 5 days of classes, followed by a week-end fiddler's reunion. This year, classes were offered in guitar, banjo, fiddle, and dulcimer. Class size was small, with about 10 students. Morning classes were followed by an afternoon seminar taught by fiddlerÕs J.P. Fraley, Melvin Wine, Paul David Smith, and other faculty.
Evenings featured dances and jam sessions. Along with just over 100 musicians, there were about 50 attendees at the concurrent Elderhostel; they took classes in Appalachian culture and music and basketry, and help fill out the dances. We attended a film on superstitions and witchcraft that had been produced by Augusta, a lecture by banjo player Dwight Diller, and a poetry reading by Doug VanGundy.
The music classes emphasized the traditional instrumental music of the mountains of West Virginia, including tunes left by the Hammonds family. The West Virginia sound features model tunes, a surprising number of ornaments (grace notes), and a slower tempo than other southern fiddle music. Dwight Diller said that the old-timers worked all day and then walked to the dance, so they weren't looking for the aerobic exercise of an up-tempo set. Many tunes are crooked (they donÕt consist of repetitions of two 16 measure parts). Some tunes are amazingly crooked!
I took an intermediate fiddle class from Doug VanGundy, who focused on tunes played with the fiddle in non-standard tuning. Laura took guitar from Pam Lundy, who taught chord structure and base runs. We both found our instructors knowledgeable and engaging.
The weekend "Fiddler's Reunion" showcased many traditional area musicians, who played and sang on an indoor stage. We enjoyed the old-time jams with musicians who had come for the weekend from the surrounding area and nearby states.
Attendees can stay in the college dorms; we opted to rent a room in the nearby motel. The festival is in Elkins, West Virginia, about a 3 hour drive south of Pittsburg. It's a very small town, with a couple of good restaurants and several not so good, but we found it to be one of the friendliest places we've every visited. The food in the college cafeteria is fair. The fall colors seemed spectacular, but we were told we had missed the peak. The week started with 80 degree weather and finished with snow.
I highly recommend this festival. This particular week is not the place for someone who wants to learn songs (i.e. music with words), however, Augusta offers a series of week-long events during the summer, including Vocal, Irish, Old-Time, Cajun, Blues, French-Canadian, etc. Some of these have many more students. This year, the tuition for Old-time week was $355. For more information see: www.augustaheritage.com or call 1-800-624-3157.
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