The hills are alive with the sounds of bluegrass
Allegheny Echoes is more than a week-long “camp” of music instruction. It is a living history, a reunion and an inspiration. It only takes one visit to the tents around Marlinton Motor Inn to be bitten by the music bug.
Whether you’ve fiddled around with a musical instrument all your life or you are a newcomer, when the notes of our ancestors flow through the fresh Pocahontas County air, it’s impossible to not want to join in the celebration.
Monica Bing, wife of Allegheny Echoes board of directors president Mike Bing, has attended the camp since its inception and has unofficially become the “Momma Hen” of the group.
“Someone has to run everybody around and keep them in line,” she said. “And somebody needs to be the listener and appreciate all that they do. It’s fun to see the friends every year. It’s like a large family.”
In the 18 years of Allegheny Echoes, Bing has watched some attendees grow into adults and great musicians. Now, they bring their own children, passing on the tradition to the next generation.
“I raised my son Jake around it,” Bing said of the music. “He went to everything. Every festival and for a long time, he thought those people were his aunts and uncles. One day I said, ‘in our hearts they are.’ Now, he’s bringing his daughter, my granddaughter. She danced at the square dance all night which wore Mawmaw out. That’s what happens. That’s the whole point of it. It’s fun, and it’s our heritage, too. These kids learn and they learn to be proud to be from West Virginia.”
The first Allegheny Echoes had 28 students. It is now up to 140. Most students hear about the camp through the grapevine or when they come to Pocahontas County for another reason.
“This is my first time coming,” Pat Parr, of Tennessee said. “I’m up here a lot and so I’ve known about it. I just decided to come this year. It’s great.”
Mixed in among the students are local people taking advantage of the classes, as well. Cass resident John Fitzgerald has enjoyed old-time and bluegrass music for years and finally decided to try his hand at playing the mandolin.
“I wasn’t old enough to come before,” he joked. “I was interested in the music. I know the Bing brothers and I know they put a lot into Allegheny Echoes.”
It’s obvious that when the students and instructors have down time to visit, a sense of humor is definitely a plus.
As Huntington resident Mike Webb strummed an antique banjo for some friends, he explained that he bought the item on Craig’s List.
“It was made around 1890,” he said. “The guy said he found it in his grandmother’s attic and didn’t know what it was worth. He asked me what I thought it was worth and I said, ‘I don’t know, I haven’t seen it. I’ll give you 50 bucks’ and he said okay. I never played banjo, but I’ve wanted to. I thought if anything, I could use it for a canoe paddle.”
Mandolin instructor Pat Shields, of Georgia, offered that the banjo could also be used as a weapon.
In his seven years as an instructor at Allegheny Echoes, Shields has learned that there is no reason to take life too seriously. It’s easier to have fun that way.
“They ran me off a few years and I had to get a green card to get back in here,” he joked. “Basically, I like the informality. You’re on a schedule but it’s Allegheny time. Things happen or they don’t.”
Students and instructors aren’t the only ones who enjoy the week-long music fest. A lot of family members who don’t play instruments come along for the vacation time in the county.
While her husband, Robert, takes guitar lessons, Tawnette Keyser, of Huntington, enjoys the rest of the county.
“We hang out at the pool, we go down on the Williams,” she said. “We go wander around in Marlinton at the little shops and just enjoy the scenery. He just loves the music. This is what he lives for. I’m so terrible. I can’t play anything but I enjoy it. I just like listening. I think it’s good. Even if you can’t play, music is something you enjoy.”
After a week of classes for guitar, fiddle, banjo, mandolin, bass, dobro, vocals and creative writing, students shared what they learned at a concert Thursday at the Pocahontas County Opera House. The following evening, the instructors took the stage and did their thing.
For more information on Allegheny Echoes classes and registration for 2015, visit www.alleghenyechoes.com