Published: September 22, 2005 10:23 pm

FOOTMAD hails fall with beloved musical styles

By Matthew Hill
Register-Herald reporter

BECKWITH -- How does organizer Rebecca Kimmons feel about this weekend's Friends of Old Time Music and Dance Fall Fling (FOOTMAD)? In a word -- tickled.

The 25th anniversary of the FOOTMAD organization, which kicks off this evening, will welcome the first weekend of autumn with a broad spectrum of beloved musical styles -- from the string music of the original American frontier, the Celtic music of Scotland and Ireland, to blues and bluegrass.

"This is a marvelous opportunity to showcase Fayette County," Kimmons exclaimed. "West Virginia is famous, even in national circles, for music. I would love to see the state name changed from the Mountain State to 'West Virginia -- The Mountain, River and Music State.'"

The Fayette County 4-H Park's pavilions will be transformed into bases for workshops and jams, concerts and family activities. The big recreation hall, with its suspended wooden floors, will be the scene of contra dancing this evening through Sunday afternoon.

The 1,100-acre park is located off W.Va. 16, at Beckwith. On-site lodging is available in the park's five dorm-style cabins, or in tents.

Kimmons says singers and dulcimer players also will have their own pavilions, and a large pavilion with a portable dance floor for the family program will feature storytelling, music and dance with multi-talented Bill Wellington, Rachel Eddy and Matt Olwell.

Dancers can stay on their feet for most of the weekend, thanks to popular callers Beth Molaro and Ron Buchanan, working with The Contrarians and Flexible Flyers.

This evening, a West Virginia fiddlers' summit will feature Frank George, Dave Bing, John Morris, and Bobby Taylor discussing tunes and styles particular to the state, to be moderated by John Blisard. Also, storyteller Karen Vuranch will kick off the family program with Appalachian tales.

The Saturday afternoon lineup includes a concert featuring Vearl Ray and Braxton County Friends, along with Esther Mae Gibson of Nicholas County.

At 3:30 p.m., a showcase of musicians 21 years old and younger includes West Virginia's Adam Hurt on clawhammer banjo and Jarred Nutter on fiddle; ballad singer Elizabeth LaPrelle of Rural Retreat, Va., and 11-year-old fiddler Isaac Akers of Carrboro, N.C.

Frank and Jane George will be honored at a tribute concert at 6 p.m. Saturday. The Georges have been influential in teaching and promoting Appalachian music, dance and crafts for over 40 years.

At 1 p.m. Sunday, dulcimer specialists Bob Webb, Heidi Muller and Dave Haas will open the afternoon concert, to be followed by The Missing Person Soup Kitchen Gospel Quartet. The United Gospel Singers of Fayette County will open for the festival's grand finale, singer Ethel Caffie Austin.

The festival closes at 4 p.m. Sunday.

For more information and admission prices, visit, or call 304-415-3668.

The idea for FOOTMAD has origins as humble as the music and dancing its members love and propound to the world.

"Some Charleston area friends and musicians wanted to bring world music and old-time music to the Kanawha Valley," Kimmons said.

"They decided to have a festival that celebrated local musicians, so they held the first one at the Pinch reunion ground in 1982 as a day-long event. It has always been a small, local event involving people who simply knew about FOOTMAD. They weren't really thinking broadly at that time."

After a 19-year foray in Roane County, the festival finally settled at its present Fayette County location five years ago. Last year's event brought in 700 people, and she has high hopes for even better numbers this weekend.

"Many of them were new and were curious about what's going on. I hope they'll come back, and we're hoping to do better this year than ever before. This park is one of the most beautiful county parks in the state, and they treat us like royalty when we're there."

Fayette Tribune editor Cheryl Keenan contributed to this story.

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