Inaugural Indiana folk festival focuses on region's music, food, crafts
After a year of work, planning and dreaming, the first Northern Appalachian Folk Festival will be held next weekend 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.
Several 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 County.
The Kids Alley will be open from 10:45 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 7 at the corner of Fifth and Philadelphia streets. 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 Sept. 7 at three Indiana establishments — Spaghetti Benders, Upstairs at The Coney and the Brown Hotel. Dougherty said the workshops will include beekeeping, gardening, songwriting and local archaeology and history.
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.
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 event. One committee member, however, isn't waiting that long. Betty Hedman, the owner of Smicksburg Pottery, 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.”
For details, visit northernappfolkfest.org.
Jeanette Wolff is a freelance writer.
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