Clifftop and Kentucky 2012

My vacation finally worked for Clifftop, the Appalachian String Band Music Festival (here on Facebook). It is held yearly at Camp Washington-Carver. H and I had discussed whether to go right until the day before. I am glad we decided to go.

By the time we arrived in West Virginia, it was near sunset. We did not want to reach Clifftop and then have to set up camp in the dark. An overnight stay in Charleston, West Virginia let us rest. We tried to go to Charleston Town Center to eat. Navigating and parking were confusing, and the clock ran out. Instead, we found Pies and Pints. It turned out to be a nice spot with good pizza.

We made it to Clifftop early on the first official day. The serious attendees start arriving the weekend before, but it was not an option for us. The campgrounds were packed when we arrived, and many people have fairly elaborate camps. We found a clear shady spot for our little tent. A few folks put together a program, A Medicine Show @ Clifftop, based on Good for What Ails You, a compilation of music from the medicine shows. The blog Old Time Party has this post on the collection. I caught one of the organizers wearing a Pink Anderson t-shirt a few days later standing in line for food. I said that I had watched a documentary on blogged Peg Leg Sam, a running partner of Anderson. I regret not catching his name as he had great knowledge of music in South Carolina. H and I bounced in and out of that session. I was lucky enough to catch three times blogged Henry “Ragtime Texas” Thomas‘ “Railroadin’ Some” featuring one fellow on quills and guitar.

In part, I was on a mission for Mississippi music. I met blogged Harry Bolick. I found his interview on the Mississippi Arts Hour on Mississippi Public Broadcasting. Bolick told me that the twice blogged 1939 recordings of Mississippi folk music were based on previous work in 1936. He is planning to release a book on Mississippi fiddle tunes. I look forward to it. I briefly met Jack Magee. I got to meet some Mississippi and Louisiana old-time players.

The festival has a culture that is extremely strange and open in many ways. We saw the strange bowed dulcimer. I figured it out when listening to Harry Bolick’s interview. NPR personality Paul Brown won the senior division fiddling contest. He also made and gave away drinks at the release for a book about old-time accompaniment, Old-Time Backup Guitar: Learn from the Masters. This post on Old Time Party has more about the book. An old friend from CSHL messaged me, and we got to meet for the final night band competition. The charging station for cell phones and batteries was behind the maintenance shed. Hundreds of dollars of electronics, not to mention thousands of dollars in instruments, were left in the open.

First time attendance was hard, though. In old-time sessions, fiddlers lead. We were new to the festival. Instead, we spent much of our time playing together and listening to the many jams. I hope to return and to increase my own playing next time.

My friend from CSHL spends a good amount of time in West Virginia with his girlfriend who lives there. We asked for recommendations on what to do on our way back. We were not up for whitewater rafting, but we found other good spots. We visited the New River Gorge Bridge, an engineering marvel, and then drove over it into Fayetteville. We had breakfast at Cathedral Cafe were everyone appeared young and adventurous. Then we stopped at the Mystery Hole, a spot modeled on old roadside tourist traps billed as a gravity anomaly. It was worth the stop.

We spent some time in Lexington, Kentucky. I got to see the campus of UK. We had supper at Willie’s Locally Known and saw a bluegrass jam session featuring quite a few original songs. We had a fine breakfast the next day at Josie’s.

Our trip back through Kentucky was leisurely. We drove through the horse country around Lexington. It was beautiful. Partly in line with the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, we visited distilleries, Woodford Reserve and Buffalo Trace. The Woodford Reserve tour cost a little money, but it was the best. We saw every segment of the manufacturing process except bottling. The crowd at Buffalo Trace was younger and loud, but the tour was still enjoyable. One fellow pouring samples at Buffalo Trace saw my t-shirt with favorite Mississippi John Hurt. He told me that he saw Hurt play in New York in the 1960s.

We headed on to Louisville. I thought a musical diversion would be fun, and we found Guitar Emporium. I had fun testing out some excellent old Martins. We walked around the neighborhood, evidently called the Highlands. There were some great shops including the Leatherhead. It had terrific boots. Barbecue dinner at Mark’s Feed Store topped off a good evening in the area. The next day we visited Jim Beam, impressive for its enormous scale.

The trip took us to places we had never been. I do not know when I will be able to return to Clifftop although I hope to become a regular. Many people go year after year. They see old friends and visit over tunes. Becoming one of them would be a good investment of time.

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Michael M. on August 11th 2012 in General, Live, Music

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States.