Fiddlers’ Convention showcases roots of American music
By Bill Archer
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
TAZEWELL, Va. — After taking in the sights and sounds of the Sixth Annual Tazewell County Old Time & Bluegrass Fiddlers’ Convention Saturday
night, Alan Jabbour and his wife, Karen Singer Jabbour, spent a few hours Sunday morning visiting the Smithsonian Institute’s “New Harmonies:
Celebrating American Roots Music” traveling exhibit at the Crab Orchard Museum.
“It’s always different, everywhere the exhibit goes,” Alan Jabbour, 66, said Saturday evening after his appearance at the fiddlers’ convention. “It’s a
great idea because there is so much diversity in the roots of American music.”
“When we took it to Hopewell, Va., the local community created another component for the exhibit by including a local exhibit on the music of that
area,” Karen Jabbour said. “They made the exhibit unique to their community.”
Alan Jabbour is both a renowned old-time fiddle player and is founding director of the Smithsonian’s American Folklife Center. In 1966, Jabbour
traveled to Glen Lyn, Va., and visited with the legendary old time fiddle tune master, Henry Reed. Three years later, Jabbour accepted a position with
the Library of Congress and recorded Reed to preserve tunes that had been passed down from generation to generation by fiddler players who
practiced their skills in the isolated Appalachian Mountains.
“The minute I listened to Henry Reed play, I thought to myself: ‘Wow! This is my mentor.’ I met him relatively late in his life and some of his skills
were not as good as they had once been, and many people told me I should have heard him play when he was younger, but if you’re a fiddler, you can
hear the music through the static.”
Jabbour played and lectured Saturday night to a fiddlers’ convention crowd at the Tazewell County Fairgrounds that seemed to laugh on cue, applaud
when a remark called for it, but for the most part, sat almost suspended in the pin-drop silence as Jabbour talked about the tunes, the stories Henry
Reed connected with each one and his subsequent research that confirmed the origins. For example, Jabbour introduced his performance of a fiddle
tune called “Santa Anna’s Retreat,” that Reed learned from Quince Dillon.
“What would the Mexicans be doing playing an Irish Retreat?” Jabbour pondered when he first learned the song. Jabbour eventually discovered that a
group of Irishmen living in Texas during the Mexican War joined forces with Santa Anna and were almost entirely wiped out defending a pass. The
Texans executed the few survivors, essentially erasing that part of Texas history until Reed’s tune breathed new life into it.
“Henry Reed was the last person to play ‘Over the Waterfall,’” Jabbour said of the old time fiddlers’ standard. He said that he recorded it for the
Library of Congress and a few years later, as he was traveling with his wife in Hungary, his hosts learned that he played fiddle and asked him to jam
with them. “Here I was behind the Iron Curtain,” he said. “They asked me if I knew, ‘Over the Waterfall?’”
While he and his wife have spent the past four decades visiting with old-time musicians in southern West Virginia and southwestern Virginia, Saturday
marked his first visit to Tazewell County.
“This festival is very much like the Henry Reed Festival in Glen Lyn,” he said. “It’s an intimate gathering of people who share a love of music. If the
world had more festivals like this, it would be a better place.”
The Fiddlers’ Convention Committee presented the Class of 2008 “Lifetime Achievement Awards to people who have made “special contributions”
through the years to old time and bluegrass music, according to committee spokesperson, Garland Roberts.
The new inductees included: Mandolin player, Forrest “Duke” White, 65, of Pocahontas, Va. (introduced by Roberts) dobro player, Jacky Ray, 61, of
Swords Creek, Va., (introduced by Shelby Jewell), banjo player Larry Hogston, 52, of Saltville, Va. (introduced by Eric Whitesell) and the late John
Wright, who passed away in 1989, (introduced by Eric Whitesell and his wife, Charlotte (Wright) Whitesell, Wright’s niece. Wright’s son, Darrell
Wright accepted the honor on behalf of his father.
The living honorees and several other musicians joined together on stage to perform, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” Convention organizer, Charlotte
Whitted, explained that each recipient received a hand-carved fiddle made by Wiley Williams, who has made the awards for recipients since the start of
the conventions in 2003. William Payne of Adventure Communications served as master of ceremonies for the competition.