The 2020 Lineup
Square Dance Bands
Workshops (more added daily)
Sue Massek has been performing as a soloist and in a band for more than 50 years. In addition to being a master artist with the Kentucky Arts Council’s Folk and Traditional Arts Apprenticeship program, she has the distinction of being in the first graduating class of the arts council’s Community Scholars program. Her over half century in performing includes nearly 40 years of playing and singing with the Reel World String Band. Sue moved from Kansas to Kentucky in 1976, and her work with the Kentucky Arts Council includes over 30 years as a teaching artist, one year as circuit rider, and three years as a folklorist in residence. She’s been both apprentice and master artist for the Folk and Traditional Arts Apprenticeship program. “The arts council has given me opportunities to hone my skills as an artist and educator and provided what I needed to sustain using music as my main source of income.”
West African Drumming
Drumming is an integral part of Western African tradition. All facets of life are communicated through dance, ceremony and ritual. Joan has been studying these rhythms for many years, including with Master Drummers and Teachers in Conakry, Guinea. She has worked with Masters in the US who brought teachings from Mali and Ghana, as well as with Baba Kenyatta Henry, who studies the traditions of Guinea. Joan relies on the knowing that the rhythms and songs are planted deeply in her DNA.
African drumming workshop is for anyone who wants to learn about African music and culture.
Joan provides drums, but you are encouraged to bring a drum if you have one.
East KY Banjo Styles
John is an award winning artist and banjo player from Floyd County, Kentucky. He attended the Old Regular Baptist Church with his papaw, where he heard him sing the old unaccompanied songs of Zion. He was a Kentucky Folklife apprentice to George Gibson, a banjo player from Knott County, is a regular member of the Lee Sexton Band and the Golden West Cowboys from the Golden West, a Lee Sexton tribute band. He is also a visual artist whose work represents the history and music of East Kentucky.
East Kentucky is home to a variety of banjo styles including overhand, drop-thumb, 2-Finger, and others. Join John Haywood as he weaves through style and repertoire with stories and first-hand knowledge of the tradition. John is a true East Kentucky Master Banjo Player and if banjo is your thing you won’t want to miss this, or even if it isn’t.
Flatfooting & Clogging
Carla Gover is a 7th-generation Kentucky musician, dancer, and songwriter. Onstage, she sings, plays guitar, and showcases the rhythms of Appalachia through flatfooting and clawhammer banjo. Her performances include a mix of the traditional tunes she grew up with as well as her socially-conscious originals. She shares her passion with hundreds of students each year in schools throughout Kentucky, where she teaches Appalachian music, dance, and culture. She has released 5 albums of music, and has toured nationally and internationally, performing at such venues as The Kennedy Center, Merlfest, and The Glasgow Royal Hall. She has won national awards for her songwriting, including Merlefest’s Chris Austin Contest and the Kerrville New Folk Award. Her most recent release with her band, Zoe Speaks, made it all the way to #1 on the National Folk DJ Chart. As a dancer, she learned the mountain styles of her home in Letcher County through attending community hoedowns as well as square dances at the renowned Carcassonne Community Center. She furthered her study of clogging, flatfooting, and American percussive dance as a performer in the well-known percussive dance ensemble Footworks, led by Eileen Carson Schatz.
WV Fiddle Tunes
Hailing from an area with a strong tradition in fiddling is Tessa Dillon, from Saint Albans, WV. She’s been playing fiddle in West Virginia since she was 5 years old. Her driving style has helped her win 1st place at the Vandalia Gathering, Ed Haley Memorial Contest, Surry County Fiddlers Convention, and Elmer Rich Memorial contest, as well as placing 3rd at Clifftop, the Galax Fiddlers Convention and the Grand Masters Fiddle Championship in Nashville, TN. She released her first solo album, titled It’s Hard to Love, in Summer 2018 with Kim Johnson on banjo and Jesse Milnes on guitar. She is happy to be keeping the West Virginia fiddling tradition alive and strong.
For over 20 years, Dena Jennings, D.O. has been a physician, multi-instrumentalist, and facilitator in the field of Conflict Transformation. She was raised in the traditions of Black Appalachians from the Cumberland Gap region of Kentucky—the music, the dance, and decorum of generations of mountain folks. She currently resides in the piedmont region of central Virginia where she practices medicine, and builds gourd instruments on an organic farm in the quiet rural village of Nasons.
The banjo of North America is a legacy of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade that touches all. Jennings builds modern gourd instruments in the Appalachian tradition.The simple gourd has been useful to generations of people around the world as bowls, hats, instruments and tools. At the session, Jennings will use the tools of facilitated conversation, role play, music and dance, to explore integrating the history and culture of tunes you play without disrupting the flow of performance; and address some of the tough issues of old-time, blues and swing in a safe space with your peers.
Wilkerson is an assistant professor of history and southern studies at the University of Mississippi. Her first book, To Live Here, You Have to Fight: How Women Led Appalachian Movements for Social Justice, was published by University of Illinois Press in January 2019, in the Working Class in American History Series. In this book, Wilkerson tells their stories within the larger drama of efforts to enact change in the 1960s and 1970s. She shows Appalachian women acting as leaders and soldiers in a grassroots war on poverty--shaping and sustaining programs, engaging in ideological debates, offering fresh visions of democratic participation, and facing personal political struggles. Their insistence that caregiving was valuable labor clashed with entrenched attitudes and rising criticisms of welfare. Their persistence, meanwhile, brought them into unlikely coalitions with black women, disabled miners, and others to fight for causes that ranged from poor people's rights to community health to unionization.
Inspiring yet sobering, To Live Here, You Have to Fight reveals Appalachian women as the indomitable caregivers of a region--and overlooked actors in the movements that defined their time.
Phil Jamison is a nationally-known dance caller, old-time musician, and flatfoot dancer. He has called dances, performed, and taught at music festivals and dance events throughout the U.S. and overseas since the early 1970s, including more than thirty-five years as a member of the Green Grass Cloggers. His flatfoot dancing was featured in the film, Songcatcher, for which he also served as Traditional Dance consultant.
From 1982 through 2004, he toured and played guitar with Ralph Blizard and the New Southern Ramblers, and he also plays fiddle and banjo. Over the last thirty years, Phil has done extensive research in the area of Appalachian dance, and his book Hoedowns, Reels, and Frolics: Roots and Branches of Southern Appalachian Dance (University of Illinois Press, 2015) tells the story behind the square dances, step dances, reels, and other forms of dance practiced in southern Appalachia. Phil teaches traditional music and dance at Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina, where for twenty-five years he served as coordinator of the Old-Time Music and Dance Week at the Swannanoa Gathering.
Emily Hilliard is the West Virginia state folklorist and founding director of the West Virginia Folklife Program based at the West Virginia Humanities Council. For over the past ten years she has worked with cultural heritage and traditional arts institutions including Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, the North Carolina Folklore Society, the National Council for the Traditional Arts, and Maryland Traditions. She is a 2018 recipient of the Gerald E. and Corrine L. Parsons Fund Award and 2016 recipient of the Henry Reed Fund Award, both from the American Folklife Center.
Hilliard is a co-editor of 55 Strong: Inside The West Virginia Teachers' Strike from BELT Publishing, and wrote the foreword to the new edition of Patrick Gainer's Folk Songs from the West Virginia Hills from West Virginia University Press. Her chapter, “‘The Reason We Make These Deep Fat-Fried Treats,:’ In Conversation with the Rosettes of Helvetia, West Virginia,” is included in the new collection, The Food We Eat, The Stories We Tell: Contemporary Appalachian Tables, out November 2019 from Ohio University Press. She is also a musician and a co-founder of the intersectional feminist record label SPINSTER.
Commonwealth Curiosities: An Ode to Kentucky’s Unique Attractions, Vol I & II
Steven Middleton, a documentarian and instructor of convergent media at Morehead State University, has mapped out 16 of the best roadside attractions the state has to offer in his documentaries, Commonwealth Curiosities: An Ode to Kentucky’s Unique Attractions, Volume I and Volume II.
“All the roadside attractions in Kentucky are operated by natural storytellers,” he says. “They are excited to talk to people who visit. They love what they are doing and when people can share in their passion.”
His fascination with roadside attractions started at a young age. Middleton recalls taking family vacations to an airplane graveyard in Arizona, an alligator attraction in the middle of the desert, and the largest rose bush in the world. For those who don’t have time to visit all 16 roadside attractions featured in his documentaries, here’s a reduced, must-see list curated by Middleton himself.
Described as both “dignified and disarming” by author Bill Friskics-Warren, the new film SEVEN SIGNS focuses on the music, mythology and faith that persist, despite heavy modernization, in the American South. The documentary also marks the directorial debut for J.D. Wilkes, the artist/musician lauded by ALARM magazine as “the closest thing there is to the Ambassador of Genuine, Traditional Southern Culture.” Wilkes also contributes to the chilling “SEVEN SIGNS’” soundtrack... alongside the rawest talent The Delta and Appalachia have to offer. With these strong southern roots, the filmmaker has made a profound, empathetic statement that celebrates the eccentricities and traditions of an increasingly marginalized area of America. Yet it is an area whose cultural identity stubbornly continues to thrive in the underground today. Fresh from a sold out premiere in Nashville, TN, “SEVEN SIGNS” is currently setting up new screenings across the country and is even being solicited to appear throughout the film festival circuit. Soliciting events include: The Raindance Film Festival (the UK’s largest film festival), The FantastiaFest in Montreal, The Deep Blues Music/Film Fest in Wisconsin, and The Backseat Film Fest in Pennsylvania.
Lee and Opal Sexton live in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, farming the land where Lee was raised. Lee is a retired coal miner and a revered banjo legend, a living link to the deep past of American music. Though now in his nineties and hampered by age, Lee continues to perform and teach his distinctive banjo style to a new generation eager to preserve a vanishing cultural tradition.
An immersive meditation on the passage of time and the persistent resonance of place, Linefork follows the daily rituals of an elderly couple living in Kentucky's Appalachian Mountains. Now well into his eighties, Lee Sexton is the last living link to the distant past of a regional American music. A retired coal miner with black lung, Lee and his wife, Opal, continue to farm the land where he was born. Together they face encroaching health concerns and stark economic realities. Recorded over three years, Linefork is an observational film documenting their marriage, their community, their resilience, and the raw yet delicate music of an unheralded banjo legend, linked to the past yet immediately present. Film by Jeff Silva and Vic Rawlings, 96 mins.