Traditional music was being played on several stages Saturday by longtime performers and some just starting out, eager to learn from the more experienced musicians.
A Laura Boosinger-led morning workshop at the Mayes Pit seemed to stress the importance of handing down the skills needed to play the music heard at MerleFest.
“Who better to be carrying on the tradition than Laura Boosinger,” said Happy Traum, emcee for the Mayes Pit. Ms. Boosinger is an award-winning performer focusing mainly on traditional music from the Southern Appalachian region.
She was joined by Brian McDowell, a 20 year-old banjo player from Canton, and Robert Bowlin, a fiddle player originally from Arkansas.
The three talked about how they learned to play instruments in between playing traditional fiddle tunes. Ms. Boosinger and McDowell pointed out there are “tons of musicians to learn from in western North Carolina.” Bowlin said there were not so many in Pochanotas, Ark., but many members of his family had played so he learned that way.
Ms. Boosinger shared stories of how traditional tunes became known such as “Little Margaret,” a Celtic tune with a scary storyline which was spread by a traveling salesman who heard the story from a little girl and then began playing the song.
Peter Rowan’s performance from 5:30-6:15 p.m. Saturday drew a large crowd for the final performance for the day at the Traditional Stage. Rowan, a bluegrass singer and songwriter for over five decades, was joined by his band.
Many of the enthusiastic crowd wandered over to the near-by Wilkes Acoustics’ Pickin Place with four jammin’ areas….bluegrass, traditional, anything goes and hands on.
Around 80 people including on-lookers and performers were clustered around the bluegrass tent at 7 p.m. Saturday, said Ron Pack, a volunteer with the Wilkes Acoustic Society from State Road.
He said musicians had been gathering under the tents until 11 p.m. most nights of MerleFest and a few days before. The jammin’ areas opened last Monday.
Lynn Swaim, bass player from Elkin, was playing under the tent Saturday night with several others including her son, Jimmy Wagoner, a senior at Elkin High School. She said her son was “bit by the bluegrass bug” at a young age through her late husband’s family bluegrass festival, the Swain Family event in eastern Wilkes. Lessons under Larry Skipper of Wilkes and opportunities to play at MerleFest at the Little Picker Stage have encouraged his love of the music.
While always a fan of bluegrass music, Mrs. Swaim decided she wanted to learn to play the bass 10 years ago. Frequent visits to MerleFest and the Wilkes Acoustic Folk Society meetings have helped both Mrs. Swaim and Wagoner with their music, they said. Both are members of the group.
Mrs. Swaim, a leader of the bluegrass jam session, encouraged people with their instruments to take an active part with the music being played. She particularly encouraged Sarah Symore of Lenoir, an 11 year-old who has been playing the fiddle since she was 6. Earlier Saturday, she had played at the Plaza Stage along with her band, Sweatbriar Jam.
All three agreed the opportunity for pick-up music at MerleFest was great, as well as the opportunity to learn from more experienced musicians.
Wagoner, a recipient of the Duncan Elliott Memorial Scholarship awarded by the Wilkes Acoustic Folk Society, was particularly thinking about the impact of music on his life with graduation looming just months away. He is considering enlisting in the Air Force, but plans to keep playing the guitar.
Two years ago he attended a music program at Warren Wilson College through the Wilkes Acoustic Folk Society’s scholarship where he learned more about traditional music. Besides being his first trip away from home, it also intensified his love for bluegrass music.
“This music has been growing for over 180 years...listen there is a heartbeat to it,” said Wagoner, gesturing to the musicians playing under the bluegrass tent.
“We’ve got to keep it going.”