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‘Roots’ program to feature variety of American music

Steve Keith
After months of anticipation, planning and lots of hard work by its staff and volunteers, the Foundation for Historic Christ Church will open its Smithsonian Exhibition “New Harmonies: Celebrating American Roots Music” with an all-day, live Roots Music Festival in the churchyard at Irvington on Saturday, September 6. 

From 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. musicians will perform “roots music” that exemplifies old and new, sacred and secular, simple and complex, acoustic and electric music that has grown out of American folk traditions. 

Admission is by donation and food will be for sale from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The public is encouraged to bring chairs.

Leading off the festival will be Dennis Zotigh, a Kiowa Indian who is on the staff of the National Museum of the American Indian, and his daughter Alexia. They will sing a tribal song and perform a jingle dress dance and a hoop dance. They will also invite the audience to join them in a round dance/friendship dance. 

The Zotighs will be followed by a choir from the Church of Deliverance in Lively who will sing gospel music, an important and essential element of American roots music.

The Northern Neck Chantey Singers will demonstrate how they sang African-American songs to enable them to haul in heavy purse seines of menhaden in the first half of the last century. The men, who are now in their 70s and 80s, have kept alive the tradition of chantey singing and are a unique addition to the music festival.

Northern Virginian Todd Crowley will play his folk music on his autoharp, an instrument that has been a part of the American musical tradition since the 1880s. Crowley performs at folk festivals throughout the country. He is bringing with him 50 different instruments from autoharp to zither in what he calls his “musical petting zoo” that the public may hold and play, making their own music at this special event.

Representing a different form of roots music and a young generation of performers is “Twistin’ Hay,” a band of five students from James Madison University, who will present Irish music. Band members will play the accordion, whistle, mandolin, fiddle, bodhrán (Irish drum) and guitar.  Their appearance demonstrates that the tradition of honoring the contribution of Irish music is alive and well in today’s youth.

The festival will also feature Steve Keith, familiar to area music lovers, who will blend bluegrass, Irish folk songs, sea chanties and country and western music. He will play the fiddle, banjo, guitar, and harmonica, singing and playing what he calls “real Virginia music.” The public can expect to hear New Orleans blues as well as original songs about sailing and watermen.
Bill and Macon Gurley, Lancaster County residents, will be joined by Gray Granger, a bassist from Richmond. They will perform country, bluegrass and folk music on the fiddle, banjo, guitar and bass. Macon, Bill’s daughter, began performing with her father a few years ago and they are frequently heard at area events. The Foundation for Christ Church is happy that they will add their musical skills and knowledge to the festival.
The final performer will be Stephen Bennett, one of the world’s premier performers on the harp guitar. Bennett will play both his own works and familiar roots music on the harp guitar, a 1930 National steel resonator guitar and a six-string guitar.
Bennett’s performance should be a fitting conclusion to a fascinating, fun-filled, toe-tapping day of American Roots Music. 

posted 09.04.2008

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