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Dulcimer Fest this weekend

By Staff | Mar 11, 2013

The Upper Potomac Spring Dulcimer Fest will hold its showcase concert on Saturday, March 9, at the Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church at 8 p.m., with a concert of Paired Traditions of hammered dulcimer and fiddle, featuring music from New England and Appalachia with two fabulous duos, Bill Spence and George Wilson, from upstate New York, and Baltimore-based, Ken Kolodner with West Virginia fiddler, Joe Herrman.

Although a few dulcimers made their way to the American colonies as early as the 17th century, it wasn’t until the mid-19th century that the instrument came into its own as a popular instrument. In both upstate New York and West Virginia, especially in the logging camps, the dulcimer took the place of the more usual piano because the rugged terrain and primitive conditions made pianos impractical. The clear ringing tones and the strong percussive drive made it an ideal dance band instrument; and dances were frequently held to stave off boredom of the loggers far away from home, earning a living in the camps.

Dulcimers were manufactured in New York, Ohio, Michigan and West Virginia and were sold door-to-door, and found their way to rugged communities in the Appalachian highlands and the logging camps of New England and Michigan. The tunes used for dancing formed the backbone of the instrumental music of those regions and fit nicely on the hammered dulcimer and fiddle and the percussive sounds of the dulcimer make a perfect foil for the strong melodic nature of the fiddle. Tunes from Ireland, Scotland, England and French Canada found themselves included with more recently composed American melodies in the repertoire from these regions. .

This music is played, along with other New England dance traditions from Ireland, Scotland, England and French Canada by hammered dulcimer player, Bill Spence and fiddler, George Wilson. These two musicians form the heart of the New England dance band Fennig’s All-Stars, and they have been entertaining dancers and audiences with their music for over 40 years.

Bill Spence has been a musician for over 55 years, playing banjo, guitar, autoharp and the instrument he is best known for today, the hammered dulcimer. In his high school days he formed a “Skiffle” band in the style of England’s Lonnie Donegan, playing for community organizations and school events. He took up his interest in hammered dulcimer in 1969 when he first met Howie Mitchell at the Fox Hollow Festival in Petersburg, NY. In 1970 he formed a string band named Fennig’s All-Star String Band with musicians living in the Albany, New York area brought together by a folk music organization known as “The Pick’n’ and Sing’n’ Gather’n'”. Their first record of several, “The Hammered Dulcimer”, has sold over 100,000 copies to date. In 1977 Bill and his wife Andy were founding members of a not-for-profit corporation whose mission was to celebrate and nurture traditional music and dance. It’s called Old Songs, and it sponsors a concert series (much like ours at Shepherdstown Music and Dance), workshops and a fabulous three day festival in June.

George Wilson is a talented, multi-instrumentalist and singer with a repertoire that samples a wide variety of traditional and folk styles. As a fiddler, he has over 500 tunes for dancing and listening – tunes from New England, Quebec, Cape Breton, Scotland, Ireland and Shetland. His dynamic fiddling, strongly influenced by Cape Breton and French Canadian styles, has been popular with contra dancers and concert-goers since the late 1970s. Along with fiddling, George explores some of the roots of contemporary folk music by “visiting” some personalities of the past, like the Grand Old Opry’s Uncle Dave Macon as well as the “king of the 12-string guitar” Huddie Ledbetter (Leadbelly).

Ken Kolodner and Joe Herrmann are no strangers to each other either, both have repertoires that are strongly based in the traditional music of Appalachia, and they have worked together over the years at many Upper Potomac events and other festivals, forming a strong musical bond and a dynamic playing style. They will be joined by Ken’s son, Bradley Kolodner, on banjo; Ken and Bradley have recently made a recording together, Otter Creek, which features many of their original tunes.

Ken Kolodner is widely recognized as one of “one of today’s most accomplished, musical hammered dulcimer artists…” (Elderly) and a fine old-time fiddler. As a soloist and in ensembles with Helicon (with Chris Norman and Robin Bullock), Greenfire (with Laura Risk), with fiddlers Elke Baker, Jim Eagan, his son Bradley, and many others, Ken has performed for more than 30 years. Focusing largely on traditional music, Kolodner has often been called one of the most influential players in the U.S. His music has been featured on national broadcasts on NPR, The Thistle and the Shamrock, All Things Considered, the CBC, the Voice of America, German National Radio, Performance Today and countless radio shows.

Joe Herrmann is a singer and multi-instrumentalist who has been making music for over 45 years. He is well-known in traditional music circles for his singing and playing. He co-founded The Critton Hollow String Band with his wife, Sam Herrmann, in 1975, and has toured internationally and recorded eight albums of fine traditional Appalachian music. Joe’s great musicality and patient teaching style make him one of the most popular teachers we have ever featured at our music weekends.

The concert takes place on Saturday, March 9 at 8 p.m. at the Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church. Tickets are $18 adults, $15 seniors and Shepherd faculty, $12 SMaD members, $8 children/students. Shepherd University students get in free with their Rambler ID. For more information call (304)263-2531 or see the web page at smad.us/concerts. This concert is part of the Upper Potomac Spring Music Weekend which offers classes in fiddle and hammered dulcimer in both traditions at a variety of levels. For more information see the web page at http://upperpotomacmusic.info/dulcimerfest/

For more information on the Shepherdstown Music and Dance concert series, see our web page at smad.us.