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Bereans Celebrate Traditional Music

October 26-29 -- Bereans, along with the rest of the world, were extended an invitation to the 32nd Annual Celebration of Traditional Music. Traditional music is an old style passed down through generations, and, whether it be slow country ballads, blues or up beat bluegrass, the music always returns to the people.

Various performances from the Celebration of Traditional Music

The weekend of festivities kicked off with John McCutcheon and Malcolm Dalglish’s performance at the Thursday evening convocation in Phelps Stokes Chapel. Friday's entertainment featured a jam session and open mic performance, led by local musicians Donna and Lewis Lamb.

On Saturday, CTM-goers participated in an instrument playing workshop, with instructors for the fiddle, banjo and guitar disciplines. Attendees also enjoyed a lively concert that featured many well known artists, some of whom had performed at previous Celebrations and a new group, Mariachi Mi Mexico. The crowd sat eagerly hanging on every word as the artists described sitting with friends and family members learning the traditional songs they have since perfected. The concert opened with Donna Lamb, a guitarist, singing traditional ballads. All of her songs told a story, and she added details to each story by speaking on her life and the experiences that acquainted her with particular songs.

Next to the stage was Nat Reese, a performer who played a blues-style guitar. His first song spoke of an old sharecropper in a now-deserted area, and the struggle of moving on to an unknown location. The jewel of his performance was his song “Too Many Bad Habits,” which he jokingly stated to be a summary of his life: “A song that summarizes my life? Any good country or love ballad. Take gospel and country, and you have life,” said Reese. “I was born into music. I had an open void that music filled. My mother filled it with spirituals, like “God Bless the Broken Road,” and it has developed into this (music career).”

After a quick lunch break, the concert resumed with a Mariachi Mi Mexico, a traditional Mariachi band. The band moved the crowd with slow rhythmic ballads that exuded the soul of Latin America. The band traveled through the many genres of traditional Mariachi stylings, eventually allowing audience requests. None could have imagined the result when an audience member requested the Appalachian toe-tapper “Rocky Top.” After a quick group consultation, Mariachi Mi Mexico successfully performed a Latin rendition of the Tennessee masterpiece.

Another highlight of the Celebration was the symposium led by Fred J. Hay. Hay works as a librarian in Appalachian State University’s W. L. Eury Appalachian Collection. He has also been guest editor on several issues of the Black Music Research Journal, including the special issue on Black Music in Appalachia entitled “Affrilachian Music: Black Musicians and Black/White Musical Exchange in Appalachia.” The topic of the symposium was the works and contributions of African Americans to Appalachian music and life. He conducted the symposium by playing musical excerpts and showing artwork from prominent artists of the past.

As the evening came to a close, Celebration participants gathered in Phelps-Stokes Chapel for the Concert of Festival Musicians. Sue Massek opened the performance with her repertoire of traditional country ballads, which set the mood for the next act. Greg and Emily Beasley, a father-daughter team, graced the room with their gentle country duets. Emily, who is a mere 12 years old, led a couple of the songs herself. Next to the stage was the legendary Reese, who led the crowd in the rousing song, “I’m Not Gonna Throw it Away.” Reese was followed by Berea College’s own Bluegrass Ensemble with their stand out performance of Bob Dylan’s “Man Gave Names to All the Animals.”

After a short intermission Berea senior Jake Krack and his Whoopin-Hollar String Band took the stage. With upbeat rhythms and harmonies, they energized the crowd with their small-town bluegrass sound. The concert ended with Mariachi Mi Mexico performing a set of romantic songs derived from polka rhythms as well as the traditional “sones,” a style that originated in Mexico.

The Celebration weekend was one of learning, sharing and keeping tradition. Participants enjoyed the fellowship and connectedness experienced in sharing songs across generational and cultural boundaries. The Celebration’s atmosphere of camaraderie can be summed up in a quote from Nat Reese: “Love your children, love your neighbors and love your friends. Whatever they say that’s heart-hurting, just smile at them. And if you make it to glory before I do, save a seat for me.”

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