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Review, Palestine Workshop And Old Time Music Festival


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Our Palestine concertina workshop, within the larger Palestine Old Time Music and Dulcimer Festival, concluded last night; by all accounts, it was another successful weekend in this wonderful east Texas town. We had sixteen concertina players within an overall festival of perhaps three or four hundred folks; our concertinists played Anglo, English, as well as Hayden, Crane and Jeffries duets. Jody Kruskal and Mark Gilston both led workshops; Jody concentrated on old-time style for both anglo and all systems, and Mark focused on song accompaniment, primarily on the English system.

 

As last year, Jody keyed in on the innate ability of the bellows to provide the appropriate rhythmic background for old time music; ding DINGa ding DINGa is the bellows-driven motor running in the background as buttons are pushed and music is made. We were joined by several beginner walk-ins this year (not all made it into the attached photos), and Jody had a high degree of success getting the newbies each to play both melody and chords to the Tombigbee waltz---in one session. Jody led four separate workshops, and both he and Mark played in our concertina band as well.

 

Harold Herrington was on hand, as usual, giving repair help, but also showing off his very nice, brand new and attractively priced square Anglo. He already has orders for several, and picked up one or two more during the festival.

 

There were five concerts during the two and a half days, with a number of old time and old-style musicians from all over the south...very classy but unassuming people. Mostly banjos (almost all clawhammer style...this is not a bluegrass event), fiddles, dulcimers, mandolins, guitars in various types of string band groupings. A most amazing thing was to see a guy from Brooklyn (Jody of course) bringing the house down with his old-time concertina music, in this most conservative of old time music settings. A standing ovation rewarded both his superb musicianship and his ability to connect with the crowd. At the Saturday concert, during a time slot just before a break, the concertina throng formed a sizeable band and played a very nice old time waltz. With the vamping of a bass English along with that of Jody and our duets and Anglos, and a crisp melody line from the English system and some of the Anglo folks, it sounded like a cross between a calliope and an old Sally Army band. Very well received.

 

Great music sessions in the back rooms and out in the yards. Shape note singing sessions. A bunch of old Baptists in the front hallway belting out old gospel hymns to an ancient and none-too-tuned upright piano. An old-fashioned square dance in the old auditorium.

 

I should mention the organizers of this event...the Wright family, who live in the nearby, even smaller east Texas town of Kennard. The music they look for is of an old, pre-commercial style (not necessarily narrowly "old-time"), played by musically gifted people who are without exception unassuming and just nice folks. Showboats and overly commercial types are not in the target. That---together with the fact that the event takes place in a charming turn-of-the-century former schoolhouse in an equally charming little town just brimming with azaleas, dogwoods and wisteria in full bloom---makes the festival really special. The Wrights operate the festival in a decidedly not-for-profit manner, personally assuming any losses, and applying any overages to the next year. Their many friends help out, making quilts and fine musical instruments to be raffled off to pay for the expenses of performers. This year's event ended on the wedding eve of one of their sons, who along with his wife-to-be and several talented musical friends performed some old timey dance tunes and sang a few hymns; the entire festival throng had been invited to attend the wedding the next day, in the lush spring landscape of the red sandy hills at their home place.

 

I've been to many music festivals, and none have matched the charm of this one. We concertina folks have been made most welcome for four years now, and we will definitely be back. One other thing---a small victory, perhaps---the Wright patriarch, Jerry Wright expressed a yen to try out the concertina, to see if he could 'get any music out of it'. I'll be heading out in coming weeks to his place, to loan him an Anglo and pass on a few tips. Concertinas making a return to heartland American culture? Perhaps, one tiny step at a time.

 

Pictures:

1. Group, front row, L to R: Mark Gilston (EC), Caroline Kerley (A), Nancy Bessent (EC), Harold Herrington (Anglo builder), Jody Kruskal (A), Dan Worrall (A, EC).

Back Row: Gary Coover (JD, A), Jim Bayliss (HD), Steve Mills (HD), Jerry Barton (A), Earl Richards (A), Troy Young (A), Kurt Braun (CD). Many thanks to all attendees!

 

2. Earl Richards and Gary Coover, trading concertinas.

 

3. Harold, with his new square Anglo.

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Edited by Dan Worrall
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There is nothing like the Palestine Festival! The town, the musicians, the food, the flowers, the company and the music were all outstanding.

 

Many thanks to Dan, the Wrights, Mark, Jody and all of the other fine folks and musicians who showed up.

 

I can't wait until next year.

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Thank you Dan for bringing together such a nice bunch of concertina players. Palestine was fabulous, yet again. It really is a special festival, unlike any other I’ve attended. So much happened in 2 1/2 days and yet things never felt too rushed. Slow and steady seems quite natural in east Texas. Perhaps the character of east Texas culture had something to do with that.

 

Folks in Palestine had no problem reminding me over and over that I was a Yankee Northerner, practically a foreigner with my funny accent... yet they did so with a twinkle in the eye, gentle humor, genuine courtesy and a strong sense of pride and pleasure in making me feel very welcome.

 

On the last night, I met up with four local old-time players having their own private session. They reluctantly let me play with them and were quite skeptical about the concertina. They had never before heard a concertina player do the music justice. As we got to some serious tunage, it felt to me like a small victory over musical preconceptions. We played for a few hours, trading tunes and in the end I made four new friends.

 

As for the workshops, it was a fun challenge for me to teach a group with such a wide range of abilities and experience, not to mention all the different concertina systems represented. I hope that everyone learned something of value.

 

Kurt, you are right. One of the highlights was the food. The BBQ was great and the Mexican superb.

 

We missed you Jim and Rhomylly. Perhaps next year?

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Great! We'll warm up some beer, just for you, Chris. :rolleyes:

Make sure it's nice and flat, won't you?

 

Actually all but one folk event in America that I have attended was dry, which is quite a shock to the English folky, I can tell you. Good to hear that Palestine might be another exception.

 

Chris

 

PS That one exception was a largely successful attempt to recreate the atmosphere of of an English folk club, with floor singers and booze and raffle and everything, in Washington DC.

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We missed you Jim and Rhomylly. Perhaps next year?

 

Ah, it sounds like heaven, even if it was just Texas. It was just a problem of too many weekends away this spring; my dogs barely recognize me. Next year I'm putting Palestine at the top of the list.

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Great! We'll warm up some beer, just for you, Chris. :rolleyes:

Make sure it's nice and flat, won't you?

 

Actually all but one folk event in America that I have attended was dry, which is quite a shock to the English folky, I can tell you. Good to hear that Palestine might be another exception.

 

Chris

 

 

Well......not exactly. Beer at Palestine might occur only in sessions outside, and would be carefully and very discreetly hidden in a brown paper sack. This is the Bible Belt, of course!

 

We did hear this joke from a local Baptist fellow who attended some of the concertina workshops:

 

--How do you keep your Baptist fishing buddy from drinking all your beer when out on the lake fishing?

 

--Next time, take two Baptist fishing buddies.

 

All in fun. But not to worry....the restaurants and bars around there will slake any thirst.

 

Dan

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