MECC to Host 2016 Sweet Folk Instruments Gathering

Sweet Folk poster 2016Big Stone Gap, VA – Mountain Empire Community College is pleased to announce the 2016 Gathering of the Sweet Folk Instruments on Saturday, March 19 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The fourth annual gathering will introduce and promote the autoharp, lap dulcimers, penny whistle, and bodhran (Irish drum) to beginning musicians and extend the knowledge and skills of seasoned musicians.  The goal of the festival is to preserve the traditional performance of the autoharp and lap dulcimer by attracting and teaching youth and adults the culture and musical heritage of the region.  The autoharp and lap dulcimer have a long tradition with musical performance in the Appalachian region.  The autoharp was an instrument featured in early country music and the recording sessions in Bristol.  These two instruments came to our region through German ancestors. 

While Mountain Empire Community College (MECC) has long supported musical heritage programs, such as the college’s Home Craft Days Festival and annual Mountain Music School, music faculty saw a need to dedicate a program to sweet folk instruments.  “The festival began in March of 2013 because the music faculty at MECC were concerned with the low participation in performance classes for the autoharp and lap dulcimer,” said Gathering Organizer Michael Gilley.  “Fewer students, especially our youth students, were registering for autoharp and lap or mountain dulcimer classes.  In an effort to promote these instruments, we decided to start this the Sweet Folk Instruments Gathering to promote instruments which might be overlooked.”

Gilley noted that since the event’s inception, the festival has grown in the number of attendees.  “We doubled the number of attendees, particularly younger musicians, over the first three years.  Our goal for this year is to again double our youth participation,” Gilley said.  “We are offering the instrument workshops at half price to youth, ages 6-18 who have participated in the Wise County Jams program and/or MECC’s Mountain Music School.”

Workshop students do not have to own an instrument to attend.  Autoharps, lap dulcimers, and a few bodhrans will be available to loan for the day at no cost.  Penny whistle kits (penny whistle with instructional songbook) will also be available for purchase with advanced online workshop registration.  Instructors for the workshops include Dexter Ramey of Abingdon, VA for beginning autoharp; Anne Lough of Asheville, NC for intermediate and advanced autoharp, Rhodyjane Meadows of Roan Mountain, TN for beginning lap dulcimer; Butch Ross of Chattanooga, TN for intermediate and advanced lap dulcimer; and Lonny Finley of Erwin, TN for penny whistle and bodhran.


Participants may enroll in three-hour workshops scheduled in the morning and afternoon.  Each workshop is $30 per person.  Instrument workshops are limited to 14 students.  Workshop attendees who register for a full day of workshops will receive a free concert ticket. 

This year, the public concert will be a lunchtime concert, scheduled from 12:15 p.m. to 2:15 p.m.  The concert will feature Dexter Ramey and Friends, Anne Lough, Butch Ross, Lonnie Finley, and Rhodyjane Meadows.  The concert is open to the public.  Concert tickets are $10 per adult at the door and $5 in advance if ordered online.  Concert tickets are free for all youth under 18 years of age and for adult students who register for more than one instrument workshop.  Box lunches, turkey wrap or vegetarian wrap, are available for the afternoon concert if purchased in advance. 

Pre-registration is required for the instrument workshops, penny whistle kits, reduced concert tickets, and box lunches with application and fees due by Monday, March 14, 2016.