ShareThis Page

Inaugural Northern Appalachian Folk Festival in Indiana will focus on region's music, food, crafts

| Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013, 9:12 p.m.
IUP Department of Theater and Dance
Two large-scale, papier-mache puppets based on the traditional comedy and tragedy figures of the theatrical world are handled by student intern Joe York during the 2010 season of the Footlight Players, a summer youth theater program offered at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. York graduated from IUP in 2011 and has returned as a teaching artist. Members of the public will be invited to create similar puppets for a Sept. 6 parade in downtown Indiana that will kick off the Northern Appalachian Folk Festival.
Elizabeth Cravens
Sue Massek
Si Kahn
Jay Smar
Mountain Therapy bluegrass band features (from left) Tim Custer, Ron Dick, Mike Ash and Lonnie Wellman. The group will perform during the inaugural Northern Appalachian Folk Festival in Indiana.
Based in Johnstown, the band Striped Maple Hollow performs a variety of Americana music.
Hannah Harley
Coastal Remedy is an alternative rock band based in Indiana, Pa. Members include (from left) ?Matthew Magill, Adam Hess, Max Bizousky and Matt Snyder.
Female dancers take part in a past edition of the annual Thunder Mountain Lenape Nation Native American Festival held near Saltsburg. This year's event will take place on Aug. 17 and 18.

After a year of work, planning and dreaming, the first Northern Appalachian Folk Festival will be held next month in Indiana.

“The festival has something for everyone,” said James Dougherty, chairman of the event's planning committee. “There will be music, food, arts and crafts, workshops, children's activities, a theatrical production and a parade.”

The festival will take place 6 to 10 p.m. Sept. 6 and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sept. 7 on the 500 block of Philadelphia Street. To start things off, the talents of nationally known folk musicians Sue Massek and Si Kahn will be showcased in a Sept. 5 play performance at the Indiana Theater, 637 Philadelphia St., Indiana.

Massek will portray Sarah Ogan Gunning and will perform her music in “Precious Memories,” a play written by Kahn.

Gunning was one of 15 children born to Oliver Perry Garland, a Kentucky coal miner. She married coal miner Andrew Ogan at age 15 and had four children. When Ogan died 13 years after their marriage, she married Joseph Gunning. Throughout her difficult, poverty-filled life Sarah Ogan Gunning wrote songs that chronicled her experiences. Her music was largely overlooked until folk singers in the 1960s began to record it.

Massek and Kahn both will present sets of live music during the main part of the festival, as they did at the Annual Appalachian Studies Association Conference that was held at Indiana University of Pennsylvania last year.

Dougherty acknowledges that September's festival is an outgrowth of that conference and of IUP's Center for Northern Appalachian Studies, which he heads as director.

“The focus of the center is celebrating the culture and historic traditions of the region,” Dougherty said. “Many people don't know what the region contributed. Some are ashamed to have come from a rural area and think their experiences are not valid.”

The festival itself will begin with a parade of large-scale processional puppets. It will begin at 6 p.m. Sept 6 at The Artists Hand Gallery, in the 700 block of Philadelphia Street, and will proceed with a police escort to the festival area on the 500 block.

The puppets will be created at The Artists Hand by local artists as well as children and anyone from the community who is interested in making one.

Brian Jones, owner of the gallery and chair of the Dance and Theater Department at IUP, is in charge of the puppet parade. He explained, “The processional puppets are made of recycled cardboard and papier- mache. When they are finished, they are mounted on bamboo poles and carried in a parade. The giant characters give a sense of occasion and celebration.”

Jones is inviting those who want to make a puppet to come to the gallery to start fashioning them anytime between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. on Labor Day. Participants will make a puppet based on what they think represents Appalachia. “People making puppets don't have to be artists,” Jones said. “I will help them if they need it.”

The people making them will need to come back on Sept. 4 and 5 to finish them. “The whole process only takes three to four hours,” according to Jones, “but when you are working with papier-mache and paints, you have to allow for drying time.”

Children or anyone else who wants to make a smaller, less complicated puppet, are welcome to come to the gallery on the afternoon of Sept. 6, before the parade.

Jones studied processional puppetry with Pittsburgh artist Cheryl Capazutti and has been making them for 10 years. “I've done them at summer camps for kids and at an art fair in State College,” he said. “I've wanted on occasion to do the puppets in Indiana and the festival seemed like a good one.”

“The strongest aspect of this year's festival will be the music,” Dougherty said.

The nine groups set to perform will offer something for every musical taste.

In addition to Kahn and Massek, they include: local Indiana band Coastal Remedy, which plays alternative rock; The Well Strung Band, bluegrass; Jazzam, jazz and power-funk; Striped Maple Hollow, folk, bluegrass and country; The Rowan Cunningham Band, bluegrass and Americana; The Mountain Therapy Bluegrass Band, bluegrass; Wisaal, featuring Indiana native Will Cicola, Mediterranean fusion; Trains, Moonshine and Jesus, bluegrass.

The bands were all paid for with sponsorships solicited throughout the community.

Kids Alley is an area of the festival that will bring the Appalachian heritage to children in the form of music, dance, games and crafts under the direction of Lauri Schiffbauer, the director of the Evergreen Boys and Girls Club of Indiana.

The Kids Alley will be open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 7 at the corner of Fifth and Philadelphia street. According to Schiffbauer, there will be ongoing games, arts and crafts and free peanuts for the children along with some specific programming.

At 11 a.m., Heidi Wettlaufer will have square dancing and games for 6- to 8-year-old children. She will offer the same experiences to children age 9 or older at 1 p.m.

Jay Smar, who teaches history through music and folklore, will perform with his banjo, mandolin and violin while also teaching clogging at noon and 2 p.m.

There will be a variety of workshops scheduled throughout the festival at three Indiana restaurants — Spaghetti Benders, The Coney Island and The Coventry Inn. Dougherty said the workshops will include beekeeping, gardening, weaving, wild mushrooms and wildflowers, but the times and locations of each have not yet been set.

Dougherty explained that the Appalachian Region of the United States is vast, but the focus of it tends to be more on the south. He is hoping the Northern Appalachian Folk Festival will help to change that.

“The northern tier of the Appalachian region includes 56 of Pennsylvania's 67 counties, all of West Virginia, eastern Ohio, three counties in Maryland and 14 in southwestern New York. That area was defined by the Appalachian Region Commission, a federal agency founded by President (Lyndon B.) Johnson in 1964 as part of his War on Poverty,” Dougherty said.

The IUP Center for Northern Appalachian Studies opened in the fall of 2007. Dougherty is responsible for bringing the center to IUP and has been its director since it opened. “It took me 10 to 15 years of trying to get it here,” he said. The center is funded totally by grants.

Dougherty's hope is that the festival will take Appalachian studies out of the academic arena and into the community. “We are trying to break down the barrier between town and gown,” he said, noting the all-volunteer planning committee includes numerous representatives from the college as well as the community. “It's been a real experience. We're reinventing the wheel and connecting the community and IUP.”

Along with bringing education and entertainment to the community, Dougherty is expecting the folk festival to boost the economy of the area. He noted that the Appalachian Studies Association Conference in 2012 resulted in out-of-town people spending an estimated $179,725 in the Indiana area.

When the festival is over, the planning committee will take a month off, then begin working on next year's festival. One member, however, isn't waiting that long. Betty Hedman is the owner of Smicksburg Pottery and a member of the committee. She is already working toward having an artist's market as part of the festivities next year.

Dougherty has high hopes for the future of the festival. He would like to see the construction of an outdoor stage and an indoor performance area. “I don't know where they would be,” he said. “We've considered Smicksburg. The idea is to have them in the community, not at IUP.”

He would also like the festival to have a physical home that could house working space for staff and volunteers as well as concerts, workshops, classes, rehearsals and exhibitions for the public.

“We would like to have an educational outreach and a major in Appalachian studies at the college,” he added. “All that will be difficult and what we're envisioning isn't going to happen overnight.”

Jeanette Wolff is a freelance writer.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.