The Appalachian String Band Festival in Clifftop, W.VA,  came into its own about 17 years ago, after the longstanding old-time festival in Galax, Va. began picking on long-hairs. “There were animal stalls the hippies usually stayed in,” and when organizers razed them, she said, that sent a message. “We wanted a festival that was comfortable and welcoming. We are the anti-Galax,” said one participant.
“Old time is the counterculture version of Appalachian mountain music,” agreedJimSkelding, who served as country star Martina McBride’s fiddler for four years and now plays with several Virginia-based bluegrass bands. He doesn’t mean that as a compliment.Mr.Skelding is the mirror opposite of Mr.Stagmer: close-cropped, deeply Republican, and bored stiff by old-time music, whose practitioners may be politically progressive, he said, though “they are more conservative in their musical approach than any other musicians, playing only old period tunes where the fiddle plays very structured repetitive solos that offer no creative space to the supporting instruments.”
Mr. Skelding, who would no more join an old-time jam than the Howard Dean Fan Club, also dismissed the sartorial disposition of old timers, calling their omnipresent sandals “Jerusalem cruisers.”All of which is music to the ears of the old timers. “We’re pre-bluegrass,” boasts Mr.Stagmer, and many songs popular with jammers definitely reflect a pre-modern sensibility, including “Squirrel Heads and Gravy” and “Nail the Catfish to the Tree.”Old timers also claim the high ground in the family-friendly competition. Mr. Stagmer asserts that there is much less smoking at old-time festivals, while Ms. Gillespie says that “Galax got to the point where you couldn’t let your kids go to the Porta-potties by themselves,” citing alcohol-fueled fights as a chief concern. Other ambiance differences: no Confederate flags at Clifftop, save on the hats of a couple of trash haulers. Nor is there a noticeable police presence, while officers at Galax patrol through the night.

“Clifftop has probably the most self-policed crowd I’ve seen at a music festival,” said Mr. McClain. Indeed, Mr. Zepp left his entire banjo inventory out overnight, protected only by a thin tarp. Couldn’t someone easily drive off with all your stock? “I guess I have more faith in the human race,” he said, adding that word would get back to him if stolen instruments started popping up at jam sessions. “They are easily traced.”

No festival is without drawbacks — rain, heat, marauding insects, and even a tragic death.  “If you’ve got to go,” noted camper Joseph “Joebass” DeJarnette,  “this is a pretty good place to do it.”


One Response to “Anti-Galax”

  1. howard Says:

    “How the Hippies Ruin’t Hillbilly Music” by Wish Wishnevsky provides a frank, entertaining memoir by one of the hippies.

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