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Musicians Descend On West Virginia For Appalachian String Band Festival


Summer is a season for festivals, and today, we're taking you to one in southern West Virginia. It's an annual festival of old-time music. People from around the country and world come to participate. NPR's Noah Adams takes us there.

NOAH ADAMS, BYLINE: There is a formal title for this gathering, but the players, singers, dancers, the old-time music people call it Clifftop. And that name floats around the world. My first morning there, I got a cup of the best coffee, sat down at a picnic table across from a young woman. She was just minutes out of her tent waking up with the best coffee. Turns out, she's from France.

VIRGINIE WINZER: A friend of mine told me that I should come to discover Clifftop. I had no idea about old-time music. I play, mostly, Irish music. And he said, just come to Clifftop. It's the best thing ever.

ADAMS: Virginie Winzer brought her fiddle from France and also plays four-string tenor banjo. Old-time music isn't bluegrass. Bluegrass music pushes forward. Old-Time music listens farther back to deep Appalachia.

JAMIE AND JOEY WEBB: (Singing) In the pines, in the pines, where the sun never shines. And you shiver when the cold wind blows.


JAMIE AND JOEY: (Singing) Ooh...

ADAMS: These identical twin boys are 9 years old. We'll give each a second to introduce themselves.

JOEY WEBB: My name is Joey Webb. And I'm from Frankfurt, Ky.

JAMIE WEBB: My name is Jamie Webb. I'm from Frankfurt, Ky.

ADAMS: One plays fiddle, the other banjo. Their dad, James Webb, plays a lot of guitar. They're practicing for competition. The news of the day doesn't matter.

JAMES WEBB: Well, fortunately, I haven't heard any political things up here. The only talk I've done has been about banjos, fiddles and picking. And, you know, I just prefer it that way, actually, you know it? (Laughter) It's a whole lot better than what's happening out there right now, anyway. I've kind of turned my Facebook on my phone off to nothing other than jam at Tommy's tent at 7 tonight at Clifftop. And so I'm trying to concentrate on those things right now (laughter).


ADAMS: If you walk down among all the tents and the camping trailers, and you carry a dozen eggs, you'll soon have breakfast. If you carry a fiddle, take a seat for a jam, maybe starting on the outside edge. As to what happens at a jam? Here's Melanie Murray, Fiddle, Florida.

MELANIE MURRAY: You trade songs because different regions of the United States play their songs slightly different. And you might hear five or six songs in a jam that you've never heard before. And it makes you a stronger player. And it's so much fun.


ADAMS: I also spent morning time in the company of a long-standing Clifftop group, 15 or so regulars getting together on the same site where they take pride in their cooking, and they play up close to midnight. They had just spent two hours talking with no mention of politics. And Jim Maxwell wanted to make this point about the age of the mountains all around.

JIM MAXWELL: They're a lot older than our country is, and they're certainly older than politics. And it's real good to get that kind of perspective and realize, boy, there's a world out here that's going to keep on going no matter what happens in our short lifetimes.

ADAMS: And here's Jim Maxwell's friends playing some.


ADAMS: The Clifftop festival in West Virginia is three days underway. It ends Sunday morning with a group hymn singing. Noah Adams, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Noah Adams, long-time co-host of NPR's All Things Considered, brings more than three decades of radio experience to his current job as a contributing correspondent for NPR's National Desk., focusing on the low-wage workforce, farm issues, and the Katrina aftermath. Now based in Ohio, he travels extensively for his reporting assignments, a position he's held since 2003.

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