When people think of Appalachia, it’s often regions of Kentucky, West Virginia and Tennessee that come to mind.
But Pennsylvania, southern New York and eastern Ohio are just as much a part of Appalachia, rich with their own history and cultural traditions. It’s that history and those traditions that IUP’s Jim Dougherty and others are hoping to showcase through the inaugural Northern Appalachian Folk Festival, to be held later this week in downtown Indiana.
The festival, led by a committee of more than a dozen people, is to feature a mix of music, theater, art and educational workshops.
The point, Dougherty said, is to celebrate the region’s culture, its history and the significant contributions it’s made to the country. And there are many, he said.
The area represented the frontier for a young America. The natural resources harvested here, things like timber, coal and natural gas, helped to fuel its growth. Also, it played important roles in the rise of the labor movement. And it can claim connections to the beginning of the modern-day environmental movement, he said.
Dougherty said the festival is an outgrowth of the Appalachian Studies Association’s annual academic conference, which was held at IUP in 2012, the first time the conference took place somewhere north of the Mason-Dixon Line, Dougherty said.
In holding the conference here, the association opened up a new market for itself and allowed IUP faculty and the university’s own Center for Northern Appalachian Studies, of which Dougherty is the director, to forge new connections with people and groups interested in Appalachia studies. So to maintain those connections and to foster new ones, Dougherty and others decided to organize the folk festival.
Dougherty said he hasn’t had difficulty in selling the idea to the community. Many are embracing it, including the Indiana Arts Council, which is keen on having a successor to the former New Growth Arts Festival, he said.
Festivities begin Thursday evening at the Indiana Theater with a 7 p.m. performance by folk and bluegrass musician Gordon Glen. At 7:30 p.m., nationally recognized musician and activist Sue Massek is to take the stage for a one-woman musical titled “Precious Memories.”
The musical, written by another folk festival headliner, Si Kahn, tells the story of Sarah Ogan Gunning, who wrote songs about the coal fields of eastern Kentucky in the 1930s.
The performance is free, but organizers have suggested a $5 donation.
On Friday, activities open with a 5 p.m. puppet parade from The Artists Hand Gallery along Philadelphia Street to the festival’s outdoor stage at Sixth and Philadelphia streets. The puppets, which are being put together this weekend under the direction of Brian Jones, the gallery’s general partner, are meant to embody aspects of folk and Appalachia.
Those interested in helping to make puppets for the parade have been invited to stop by the gallery on Monday.
Following the parade, there will be a variety of musical acts beginning at 6 p.m. Food stands will be open, and new performances begin on the hour. The last performance starts at 9 p.m.
Musical entertainment continues throughout Saturday, with new performers taking the stage at the top of each hour. Massek takes the stage at 4 p.m.; Kahn is to appear at 8 p.m.
There also will be community workshops on various topics such as beekeeping, songwriting, edible weeds, soap-making and recycling. Those are taking place throughout the day at The Coney, Spaghetti Benders, the Brown Hotel and outside at the festival site.
In addition, a children’s area being called Kids’ Alley will be set up. It will feature games, music and arts and crafts.
Dougherty said its difficult to say what sort of a turnout they’ll get, but if clicks on the festival’s website are any indication, then they should have a good crowd, he said.
For more information, or for a complete schedule of events, log on to northernappfolkfest.org.