Learning from Experience

“Experience without theory is blind, but theory without experience is mere intellectual play.”

Overall, I can thank this class for giving me a larger appreciation for everything Appalachia. Before taking this class I had never taken a course in the school of Appalachian Studies, but I have found few classes as rewarding as this one.

Not only do I appreciate the place I live more, but I have found an entirely new avenue of art and culture that I find joy and pride in. As a result of taking this class, which I took as an elective, I will always have a strong association between my Blacksburg home, or the Blue Ridge as a whole, and the soundtrack that has become my bluegrass education.

I have learned plenty through the textbooks, outside reading, and recordings we have discussed, but books and classrooms do not teach the way real experience can. Early in the class, I decided to come along on a trip down to the beautiful mountain town of Boone, North Carolina.

The trip has been one of the most rewarding in my college experience and was, by all means, a full emersion into Appalachian culture. The clogging, mountain music, sense of family and community camaraderie were felt just as strongly as the ground on which I stood.

I have always seen flatter-footers in my family at weddings, family reunions, and other gatherings, but I had never seen anything like the Green Grass Cloggers. The perfectly synced steps and stomps of the dancers and the smile on the face of one woman (dressed in red) in particular (whose name I am unsure of) made the stage glow. Not that any of the other dancers were any less enjoyable.

The fiddle, loud stomps, and high kicks filled the room with something so undeniably rich in Appalachia heritage. When I closed my eyes I could envision myself in the cellar of some long forgotten pub back in Europe,  in a crowded market during early colonial times, around a fire while at rest as a soldier in the Civil War, and in my grandparents home with all twenty one cousins.

Through actually experiencing bluegrass in the way it was performed at the Fiddler’s Convention, I was able to feel the spirit of my blood line carried through time to the present. No music has ever had the power that bluegrass has shown me, and I can say it proves to be truly timeless. The same joys felt hundreds of years ago can be felt today through performances like I saw in Boone.

On April 18th, I also had the chance to see a band that goes by the name of Welcome to Hoonah. They performed in a bar in the city I call home: Blacksburg, Virginia.

Welcome to Hoonah is a creative fusion of folk, americana, rock, and old country, and some elements of bluegrass influence are undeniable. They incorporate a wide range of sounds from stomp rock with originals like “Poor Molly,” while also being able to slow things down and soften things up with beckoning tenderness in “Sweet Marjorie.”

The band provides a delightfully casual, but articulate sound. The band consists of five talented members who are listed on the band’s Facebook page as follows:

Spencer McKenna, ridin’ the electric neck and wailin’
Jessica Larsen, ratatattin’ the washboard and singin’ along
Chris Eanes, holdin’ down that low end on the bass
Brian McKee, keepin’ it high and tight on the kit
Alex Faught, toetappin’ banjo master

Welcome to Hoonah just happen to also be from Roanoke, VA. The center base of perhaps my entire family. They lay testimony to the fact that although bluegrass has changed, it is transcending the boundaries of genre and, through artists like them, remaining a relevant part of American culture.

Both events I attended this semester provided an awesome time full of smiles hoots and hollers that will hold a place in my memory for years to come.

I have always attached music, especially that which contains elements of bluegrass, to home and family. Watching performers playing traditional music from my bloodline’s past, as well as, performers from my family’s city will invariably hold great value to me. Live performance is by far the best way to fully grasp and understand the entirety of an artists music.

This class has provided a wonderful experience over the last sever month. To me it has been not just a class, but something far greater, an experience.

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