Musicians, dancers and other Appalachian cultural artisans have flocked to Davis & Elkins College to participate in the Augusta Heritage Center's Summer Sessions program, which will continue through Aug. 11.
"We welcome youngsters to come and participate," Joyce Rossbach, director of the Augusta Heritage Center, said this week. "When they have an interest in it that young, they tend to have a fire for it. We want them to honor the traditions while making them their own."
The summer sessions are divided up by themes per week, and each section focuses on a particular area of study of the Appalachian experience. The sessions explore deep cultural roots in areas such as bluegrass, blues/swing, Irish/Celtic, old time music and crafts/folklore.
Bob Smakula helps a student, George Lilly, rejuvenate an old guitar by fitting a new bone nut on the guitar’s bridge during a musical instrument repair class as part of the Augusta Heritage Summer Sessions program.
Classes focus on subjects including instrument repair, cooking, visual storytelling, blacksmithing, weaving and pottery. Each area of study is instructed by talented real-world professional musicians, dancers and artisans in each of the respective fields.
Augusta kicked off its summer sessions this week by focusing on Cajun/Creole, including jam sessions, concerts, dances and a party featuring Cajun gumbo. This week also looked into early country music culture, exploring the work of Jimmie Rodgers, the Carter Family, Kitty Wells, Merle Haggard, Dolly Parton, George Jones and many others.
Students this week experienced honky-tonk and Cajun dance, string changing and instrument maintenance, Pickin' in the Park, and live performances by professional musicians in the industry.
The students average about four hours of instruction a day throughout the week. They range in talent levels, starting with "From Scratch" (just learning the craft or instrument) to beginner, intermediate and finally advanced. Augusta admits students as young as 12 into their programs.
Rossbach explained that the planning for these sessions is an ongoing year-round process.
"The theme week coordinators are well-versed in their area of interest," she said. "They have connections to people all over the country, including some of the biggest names in their fields.
"It's a small world for them," Rossbach said. "So many of the people in these fields are connected to other people in similar cultures. A lot of the Appalachian roots come from different sources like Irish and Bluegrass cultures, which is why, for example, you may hear a different interpretation of a song in two different genres."
The summer sessions are a prime opportunity for Augusta to showcase its purpose - that is, to document, promote and preserve the traditions of the region.
"We want to celebrate who we are and why we do what we do," Rossbach said. "It's great to see people revert back to their roots."
Augusta features many events open to the public to connect and share Appalachian culture with the community, and to illustrate the point that, as Rossbach said, "it doesn't matter where you go, it's always important to know where you come from."
For more information, visit Augusta's website at www.augustaheritagecenter.org.