May 22, 2007 at 4:35 AMNew River Mills in Hampshire County, West Virginia was a thriving town until the mills shut down during the Civil War. Now it’s a ghost town with only one couple as residents. People from that area and their descendants have a strong sense of history and their roots. Once a year, there is a North River Mills Festival, and descendants of the towns’ inhabitants converge to celebrate. Many of them live in nearby places in West Virginia, but some come hundreds of miles, from places like Kentucky, Missouri, and Connecticut. A major part of the occasion is the front porch band, an informal group of string musicians who gather on the front porch of the old inn and jam, playing old time music. This year, the musicians came from Hampshire County and the metropolitan DC area, and I was fortunate to be one of them.
The only building near the inn which is in active use is the small Methodist church, most of whose members live in the nearby town of Capon Bridge.
A welcome modern convenience was brought in for the day.
The jam took place on the front porch of the town’s inn, which was opened for the occasion.
There were about 20-25 musicians there total, but not everyone played at the same time. The instruments included fiddles, guitars, mandolins, banjos, and one noning instrument, a flute.
This fiddler was obviously not classically trained, but he sounded great.
This fiddler had a great smile and a great style.
This ukulele player sounded awfully good on his Gibson.
In spite of all the bad jokes about banjos, they can sound wonderful when played by a good musician, such as this one.
The man with the guitar and the smile is Wilmer Kerns, musician, historian, and former resident of W Va, who organized much of the festival and all of the music. The young lady is an absolutely fantastic fiddler from W Va.
While we played, we could watch flat-foot dancers who performed when the spirit moved them. Flat-foot dancing, or flat-footing, is similar to clogging, but the knees aren’t raised so the overall effect is less flashy. It is exhibition dancing, done without partners, free form. The dancers get some very stunning effects from ankle movements. They were especially impressive to me because of my ankle weaknesses, injuries, and surgery. The performers made the dancing look smooth and effortless.
Individual musicians took breaks whenever they wanted for such activities as hiking; photography; wagon rides; walking around and enjoying the scenery; socializing; eating hot dogs and homemade fruit pies served by women from the Methodist church in the kitchen of the old inn; and just hanging out.
We were scheduled to play from 10 AM to 2 PM, but the group I went with was delayed by factors beyond our control: highway construction, traffic jams, rain, and an antique store. We didn’t arrive until 11:30 AM, but we stayed until the very last note of the very last tune -- at 7 PM. I got home at 9:30 PM, exhausted but very happy.
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