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Band Helps Women's History Month Get Reel

As part of Berea College's celebration of Women's History Month, the five-woman group the Reel World String Band brought their humor, their unique bluegrass style and their sociopolitical message to the college on March 2.

The Reel World String Band.

In a convocation titled Women in Music: Five Women of Bluegrass, the Reel World String Band played a varied selection of songs, ranging from traditional folk songs and fiddle tunes to songs written by the band members themselves. They used old time music, tight vocal harmonies, skill and wit to tackle topics such as coal mining, slavery, feminism and environmental issues, and still kept the audience tapping their feet.

The Reel World String Band has been performing for 29 years, and four of the women, Bev Futrell (guitar and harmonica), Karen Jones (fiddle), Sue Massek (banjo) and Sharon Ruble (bass) are original members of the group. The newest member, keyboardist Elise Melrood, has been performing with the band full-time since 1996. For years, the band and their music have been a constant presence at folk festivals, benefit concerts and picket lines across the nation, as well as occasional tours overseas.

The March 2 convocation was a return to roots for two members of the band. Jones and Ruble met while attending Berea College from 1969 to '73. Jones told the audience that it was great to be back for convocation, and added jokingly, "I'm still catching up on the ones I missed when I was here!"

One of the songs performed by the band was a rebuttal to traditional folk songs where the woman or girl meets a tragic end. The band had been thinking about all the songs that had endings similar to "[and then he] pushed her in the river and she drowned," and decided to write a song where the female character was not a victim. "No more songs where the lady always dies," they sang. "Little Omie's done got wise."

Other songs performed by the band included "Shady Grove"; "Harriet Tubman; "Come All You Coal Miners" by Sarah Ogan Gunning, a coal miner's wife and member of the coal mine labor movement; "Boom in Appalachia"; "Spittin' Out the Coal"; "Wild Women Don't Get The Blues", which was written by a blues composer named Ida Cox in the 1920s, "Even before we were a band!" exclaimed one of the band members.; "Gone Camping"; and more, including some Irish fiddle tunes.

Anyone interested in catching future performances by the Reel World String Band can find more information at the website linked below.

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