Allegheny Echoes: Learning W. Va. Old Time Music at its Source

July 11, 2014 |

For one week each June, Marlinton, West Virginia lights up with the sound of fiddles and banjos. The weeklong workshop, Allegheny Echoes, attracts nearly 150 students each year to the mountains of Pocahontas County to play and learn traditional West Virginia old-time music. The epicenter of Allegheny Echoes is the Marlinton Motor Inn, where classes are held and students are lodged for the week. Every night after the workshops the students and instructors can let loose and it’s not uncommon for informal jam circles to form outside rooms and around the parking lot. Many of these jam sessions last well into the night. Or the morning.

“Yeah, it usually starts picking up after 10 o’clock, you know, 11 o’clock. Typically on a Friday night’s after the instructor’s concert it’s not unusual to see some of the musicians play until three or four in the morning,” says Lee Cline from Lynchburg, Virginia. Lee spent his 12th consecutive year this June at Allegheny Echoes. He’s devoted different years to different instruments, including the banjo, fiddle, and vocals. It’s also a family gathering for Lee, his brother Billy has been coming for 17 years. “And, of course, my wife’s up here. She’s, she takes vocal. She used to study the fiddle up here. We don’t take a week off for anything else other than to come here. This is what we like to do.”

Playing tunes at the Motor Inn at night.

I left the Motor Inn parking lot at 11 pm, just as the jam circles were really getting going. The next morning I joined one of the Allegheny Echoes classes for an unexpected field trip. I followed a convoy of cars up the Williams River to the Highland Scenic Highway. We pulled off at a small picnic area overlook with one of the most extraordinary views of the Williams River valley.

“My name is Jake Krack, I’m from Pocahontas County, West Virginia and I am teaching advanced fiddle class this week. Our last day I always take the class out for a little field trip and so we are having class up at the Big Spruce overlook on Black Mountain. Just kind of appreciate nature and learn our last tune and review everything we’ve done for the week.” Jake Krack is one of the country’s most renowned young fiddle players. He began learning as a child and studied for many years with the older generation of West Virginia’s fiddlers. Jake’s been winning competitions at the nation’s top old-time festivals for over a decade now.

Each morning at Allegheny Echoes Jake instructs his class in advanced fiddle technique and teaches them a new tune. “The way I like to do it is I give everybody a couple [of tunes], you know I’ll play a couple tunes and let them choose ‘do you like this one better?’ Because, my thought is if you’re learning a tune it’s much easier if you enjoy the tune your learning.  So, I give them an option and then I play it for them to speed and then I’ll slow it down as slow as I can play it and then I’ll break it down into phrases. We’ll learn in a phrase at a time and then we’ll combine it all and then we’ll repeat it.”

Jake Krack’s advanced fiddle class at the Big Spruce overlook on the Highland Scenic Highway.

Although a majority of Jake’s students are older than he is, a significant number of younger students are represented at Allegheny Echoes as well. “I’m Claire Messesso. I’m 19. I’m from Pocahontas County. I’ve lived here my whole life and I’ve been coming here for six years I think.”

“I’m Kristian Moore, I’m 12 and this is my first year here. I’m really enjoying it. My favorite thing about Allegheny Echoes is just that learning how to get better at the fiddle and it’s just getting to play along with other people and everything.”

Claire and Kristian reflect the younger generation of musicians that Allegheny Echoes strives to include. Dozens of scholarships are awarded each year to young West Virginians who are interested in learning old-time music.

“We do a scholarship program — any kid from Pocahontas County we try to get in free. West Virginia, we try to get all of them in free,” says Allegheny Echoes president Mike Bing. Mike plays mandolin in the Bing Brothers Band and helped found Allegheny Echoes back in 1997. Continuing the West Virginia tradition and style of old-time music is one of the missions of Allegheny Echoes.

“I taught at a couple of the other music camps,” Mike explains, “they were in West Virginia, but they didn’t represent too much of West Virginia and we said ‘we can do this by ourselves and have real West Virginia people doing the tunes and doing the teaching.’ That’s one thing we pride ourselves in, is having over 80-90% of West Virginians [teaching]. We have to mix it up, we can’t just have the same people over and over — but we mix it up, and have some out of staters. But, mostly we are West Virginia people doing West Virginia music. ”

To learn more about Allegheny Echoes, check out their website:

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Category: Art & Music, Blog, Elkins to Marlinton, Stories

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