CLIFFTOP — Eighty-seven-year-old fiddler Ralph Roberts says he is from the “geographic center of West Virginia” in Frametown, Braxton County, but he’s also the type of old-timer who is the heart of the Appalachian String Band Music Festival at Camp Washington-Carver.
Everyone in the section of campground called “geezer hill” knows Roberts.
Massachusetts native Don Borchelt pointed out his camp — “He’s the real deal. He didn’t go to Nashville.”
Tuesday, Roberts was under a canopy with several other fiddlers. They sat around a table with two oil lamps. He patiently bowed while Barry Carlton of Elkin, N.C., sat and copied him, slowing learning a new tune.
Roberts, a third-generation fiddler, is a fountain of the old tunes and variations many who come to the festival hope to learn from the older generation.
“Some tunes I know and some I don’t,” he said humbly.
Most often musicians gathered at the festival can find at least one tune in common. Don and Jean Wisniewski of Waterford, Pa., had just met Jim Marks and Ron Weigert, both of Florida. Despite never playing together before, they worked out a quick rendition of the classic tune “Li’l Liza Jane” with bass, guitar and a pair of fiddles.
Many of the more than 3,000 musicians who attend the festival are self-taught or have learned from a mentor, so songs and variations must be passed down like they were 100 years ago — by ear and person to person.
“If you can hum it, you can play it,” Don explained…
…More than 1,000 campers were already set up Tuesday waiting for official festival activities to begin Wednesday, with anywhere between 3,000 to 5,000 expected this week…
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