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Ryan & Brennish Thomson

Updated Feb 2, 2024

The Eighth Annual Appalachian String Band Music Festival, July 30-August 3, 1997

Camp Washington-Carver, Clifftop, West Virginia

by Ryan Thomson

This old timey music party has the reputation for being the premier event of its type. Everywhere in the USA that I've traveled this year I've overheard conversations during the old time southern jams about folks looking forward to "Clifftop." Fortunately I was already in West Virginia at the end of July since I was attending classes at Augusta Heritage Center.

  missed the first 3 days of the festival because I was still at Augusta, but I caught the tail end grand finale on Saturday night.

West Virginia is a long way from my home in New Hampshire, but soon after my arrival I

spotted old time music buddies from all around the country: Florida; California; Massachusetts; and even New Hampshire. My traveling partners and I set up a tent and campsite which was a mere formality since we didn't expect to do much sleeping. There was simply too much good music and dancing going on and we didn't want to miss any of it!

I wandered through the extended campground which was in a beautiful wooded site with

lots of trees, shade, and grassy areas. On the main stage a old time string band contest

featured lots of excellent music while there were somewhere in the neighborhood of two dozen old time jams going on simultaneously in the campground at all times. Many of the top old time style fiddlers and clawhammer banjo players in the country were in attendance at various campsites. 

Now and then I heard bits of other styles of music such as bluegrass, cajun, Irish, and Eastern European, but the major focus was good old southern style string band music. I was happy to see a number of young kids playing music, and also noted the presence of

numerous senior southern style pickers. There were slow jams, fast jams, gospel singing,

old time song sessions, virtuosic fiddling, and lots of nice folks sharing tunes with others.

Cloggers carried their portable dancing boards with them and settled in at camp sites with

energetically paced music.

The Saturday night dance was high energy with southern squares and line dances, and even

a New England contra or two, but the music was all in a driving, southern style rhythm groove. There was a mix of experienced dancers and high spirited beginners and everyone seemed to enjoying themselves immensely. I danced until I was soaking wet, gradually working my way closer to the stage so I could simultaneously dance and observe the musicians and callers in action.

I had a great time and hope to return next year. I overheard folks in the camp ground saying that there was a large increase in the number of attendees from 1996 to 1997 due to the festival's popularity. There were numerous events which I didn't have the opportunity to attend, but which included: dance contests; instrumental contests; concerts; and

workshops in: story telling; ballad singing; dancing and more.

For more information contact: Camp Washington-Carver, HC 35, Box 5, Clifftop, WV

25831-9601, or visit the website.

Written by Ryan Thomson

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