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Northern Appalachian Folk Festival grows in 2nd year

| Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, 6:12 p.m.
Joe Grushecky
Joe Grushecky
Bruce Siskawicz | The Dispatch
Marching up Philadelphia Street in Indiana to kick off the First Annual Northern Appalachian Folk Festival on Fri. Sept. 6 spelling out F-O-L-K are from left Michael Powers, Heather Powers, Jim Lydick and Michael Hood who are all from Indiana except Lydick, who is from Climer.
Bruce Siskawicz | The Dispatch
Marching up Philadelphia Street in Indiana to kick off the First Annual Northern Appalachian Folk Festival on Fri. Sept. 6 disguised as a barn is Henry powers, 11, of Indiana.
Bruce Siskawicz | The Dispatch
Marching up Philadelphia Street in Indiana with a large puppet to kick off the First Annual Northern Appalachian Folk Festival on Fri. Sept. 6 is Brian Jones of Indiana.
Jim LaFontaine
Members of Cornsilk, an Indiana-based folk group, include (from left) Susan Wheatley, Lea Masiello, Annette Bernazzoli, Louise Bem and Terri Koenigsberg.

More than 1,000 people came to downtown Indiana last year for the very first Northern Appalachian Folk Festival. Among the attractions were a parade of larger-than-life puppets, vendors and musicians with connections to the history and culture of the northern Appalachian region.

This year, festival planners hope to attract an even larger crowed by featuring more artists, crafters and food vendors and by offering a larger main stage for a lineup of entertainers that includes Pittsburgh rock stalwart Joe Grushecky as the headliner.

The festival officially opens Sept. 5, starting off with the main street parade. Hours that day will be from 4 to 9 p.m. On Sept. 6, the festival runs from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. All activities will take place in the 500 block of Philadelphia Street, and all are free and open to the public.

While music will be featured both days, the second day will have some added attractions — various workshops held in downtown businesses and a Children's Alley offering kid-oriented activities.

The Center for Northern Appalachian Studies at Indiana University of Pennsylvania is presenting the festival with help from local organizations and businesses.

Jim Dougherty, a sociology professor at IUP and director of the center, is one of the festival founders and chair of the event's steering committee. He said the festival grew from IUP playing host to the national conference of the Appalachian Studies Association in 2012.

“This is something that Indiana has needed for quite a while,” said Judy Holliday, a local musician who's a fellow member of the steering committee. She noted a previous arts-related festival in downtown Indiana was last held in 2006.

There is a major difference between the Northern Appalachian Folk Festival and festivals held in the past. NAFF is more of a regional celebration rather than one dedicated solely to local artists and performers.

“Us branding ourselves as being regional, that makes us different” than some other area festivals, said Dougherty. The Indiana festival is also meant to provide an educational foray into the area's northern Appalachian roots.

All of the music performers, artists and vendors are required to have roots in northern Appalachia, a region that is defined by the southern counties of New York, the majority of counties in Pennsylvania (everything west and north of Harrisburg), the eastern panhandle of Maryland and the northern panhandle of West Virginia.

Brian Jones of The Artists Hand Gallery in Indiana organized one of the highlights of last year's festival — a parade along Philadelphia Street that featured towering puppets with a folk art theme. He's on board again this year to reprise that spectacle.

This year's festival also will feature a larger main outdoor stage and an expanded art fair along Philadelphia Street, with artists both local and regional offering everything from jewelry to paintings to furniture.

Several vendors from the Indiana Farmers Market will be among those participating in the festival.

“We want to showcase our region; we want to bring people into the downtown,” said Dougherty. “We want to have an all-ages show, from kids to senior citizens, that would bring the university and the community together in a positive way.”

“This is the second year, and the festival has already generated a lot of buzz, a lot of excitement for a lot of different artists, whether visual arts or performance arts,” said Holliday.

There are 17 bands slated to perform either on the main stage or one of two other Indiana sites — The Artists Hand Gallery and Brown Hotel.

Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers will take to the main stage at 9 p.m. Sept. 5. Dougherty, who taught Grushecky's daughter in a class at IUP, helped make that contact.

Grushecky, who has been part of the Pittsburgh music scene since the 1970s, has collaborated on stage and in the recording studio with friend Bruce Springsteen. Springsteen produced and contributed vocals to Grushecky and the Houserockers' 1995 album, “American Babylon,” and joined the band during a special concert this past May in Pittsburgh.

The Indiana festival lineup also will include Cumberland, Md.-based bluegrass band Grand Ole' Ditch; acoustic duo Honey Spine from western New York; and Kim and Reggie Harris, a folk and gospel duo from upstate New York. Traveling from central Pennsylvania will be folk duo Simple Gifts, Celtic group Cormorant's Fancy and bluegrass outfit Trains, Moonshine and Jesus.

Several other Pittsburgh-area bands are slated to perform, including soul-rockers Backstabbing Good People and bluegrass purveyors the Shelf Life String Band. Also appearing will be Well Strung Bluegrass of Slippery Rock; Johnstown‘s Tree, with its combination of Celtic and bluegrass sounds; old-time musicians Up in the Batten House; and folk-rockers NewLanders.

Bringing an especially local flavor to the festival will be Indiana-based Cornsilk, set to perform at 6 p.m. Sept. 5 at The Artists Hand Gallery. The group plays traditional and original folk music, including songs written by members Susan Wheatley and Lea Masiello about life in Indiana County and the general region of Northern Appalachia. The Cornsilk roster also includes Terri Koenigsberg, Annette Bernazzoli and Louise Bem, and the group's array of instruments includes guitar, mandolin, mountain dulcimer, hammered dulcimer, banjimer (a mountain dulcimer with a banjo head), recorder, tin whistle, Celtic harp and concertina. The group's gigs include local benefits and dances, with Wheatley serving as an accomplished “caller” for contra and square dances.

On the second day of the festival, various workshops will be held at downtown business locations.

“So you'll have music going on out in the streets, and then there will one-hour workshops in the bars and restaurants,” said Dougherty.

Among the workshops will be a presentation on “Wild Weeds in Indiana” by Cindy Rogers of the Evergreen Conservancy. Participants will take a walk around town to view some weeds and learn about their uses in folklore. “Roots and Hollers,” a documentary film about the harvesting of ginseng in the Appalachian Mountains, will be screened. Topics for other programs include dry stone masonry; historical methodology in iron and stone; and the making of moonshine.

There will also be workshops on bees and a presentation on famed environmentalist Edward Abbey, who was born in Indiana.

Though times have not yet been announced, festival workshops also will include a demonstration of weaving with presenter Cheré Winnek-Shawer at Spaghetti Benders; a seed-saving demonstration with master gardeners Kay Snyder and Lisa McCann; and a look into the life and music of Stephen Foster at Indiana's Coventry Inn. String musicians will be invited to bring their fiddles for “The Legacy of Fiddler Joe,” named for a late fiddler from Ernest.

Deb Beisel will lead a soap-making demonstration at Spaghetti Benders. Pre-registration is required for this two-hour, hands-on workshop and is limited to six participants age 18 or older. It is possible for clothing to be ruined, so old clothing is recommended with long pants and closed shoes required. To register and for more details, e-mail

One of the highlights of Children's Alley will be the fiddling of young Julia Varris of Punxsutawney. The 14-year-old will provide music for square dancing. There will also be storytelling, a juggler, tae kwon do and dance performances, and arts and crafts activities.

The Children's Alley, once again presented by the Evergreen Boys and Girls Club of Indiana County, will be in operation from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 6.

Also planned is the unveiling of an historical marker at IUP to commemorate the intersection of two Native American paths on the university campus — the Catawba and Kittanning trails. The IUP Native American Awareness Council has sponsored the marker, which likely will be unveiled after the IUP home football game. Festival participant Bear Creations, a group from Albrightsville specializing in Native American music, dance and culture, may take part in the presentation.

NAFF planners used a fairly new way of obtaining some of the funds needed for this year's festival, raising $5,000 in online donations through a Kickstarter website campaign.

Additional money was raised in an event at Spaghetti Benders that featured an auction and guest bartenders.

Further donations are being sought through private individuals and businesses, and sponsorships are still available.

NAFF has grown much in just one year, Holliday said, noting there are indications it could grow even more.

She noted those who expressed interest in participating but didn't make it into the festival this year will be on the call list for next year's event.

For more information, visit

Gina DelFavero is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2915 or

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