Mountain values

Hot steppin’: Get scootin’ on Saturday nights with Shindig. Jerry Nelson
Hot steppin’: Get scootin’ on Saturday nights with Shindig. Jerry Nelson

“Shindig.”

It's a fun, if peculiar word, whose etymology, even after a couple of hundred years, remains suspect and mired in speculation. It's most likely of Scottish origin, the experts say, an alteration of “shindy” or shinty,” a hockey-like game once played by the Scots.

Over time, the word has alternately come to be defined as an altercation, brawl or fracas (which would certainly jibe with its hockey-game origins), as well as a raucous and rowdy party, especially one with dancing.

While etymologists may debate the word's derivation, “shindig” has a very clear meaning in Asheville. Quite simply, it means it's time to strap on an instrument, or your clogging shoes and finery, and head downtown for one of the city's most popular and enduring events — Shindig on the Green.

A summer staple since 1967, Shindig runs eight summer-Saturday evenings. It’s aimed not only at entertaining the masses, but also celebrating Southern Appalachian culture, music and dance, featuring professional and novice entertainers. A program of the Folk Heritage Committee, Shindig will kick off its season on Saturday, July 2 at Pack Square Park. As always, the event is free.

While words and their meanings may evolve, Shindig has remained virtually unchanged for 43 years, says 84-year-old emcee and dance-caller Glenn Bannerman. Bannerman’s family of cloggers are regulars at the event each summer. The Stoney Creek Boys, as always, will serve as the house band, while mountain musicians and dancers can sign up before the event to show their stuff on the new Bascom Lamar Lunsford stage (but expect to see impromptu jam sessions all over the park).

The organic nature of the event is unique, but that's only part of what makes Shindig special, says Bannerman, who has been with the event since its inception.

“It's a preservation of mountain culture,” he says. “It's a place where folks can continue to share that mountain culture. But it's also a place where young people can get hooked on bluegrass and mountain music. It's a good, safe place for them to perform and have an appreciative audience. It's a safe haven for anybody to come.”

Brooke Buckner, a Shindig performer and the director of the event, says she has been coming to Shindig since the mid 1970s. “My childhood family outings were church, mamaw's, church, hiking off the Blue Ridge Parkway, church, Shindig on the Green, and then more church,” she says. “Shindig is homemade. Shindig is authentic. Shindig is free, and Shindig really is, simply put, 'wholesome fun.' This tone resonates throughout every aspect of our program.”

The event is also incredibly welcoming. While Shindig often showcases some of the region’s finer musicians, anyone with a hankering to play — regardless of talent level — is invited to come jam or even sign up to entertain as part of the main-stage show. Peripheral players that no one has heard of — such as The Cockman Family — have wowed audiences and become renowned regulars up on the main stage. The Cockman Family literally grew up at Shindig, entertaining and moving audiences with its brand of gospel bluegrass, says Bannerman.

Buckner, in particular, recalls an Ohio teen who desperately wanted to play but who showed up a little too late to sign up for the stage show.

“So here's this 16-year-old who had only been playing for two years but he was so excited about our music and this chance to get on stage, so I just went with it,” Buckner recalls. “He came back, I told him to get his banjo out and let’s hear what he could do. I listened for about 15 seconds and said, 'OK we'll put you on for one number.’”

“He was ecstatic,” Buckner says. “His family couldn't believe it. Any one that enthusiastic and brave enough to play solo in front of 4,000 people has my vote. The emcee announced his name and where he was from, and he played the banjo with all his might and the crowd loved him! My hope is that the performers, the pickers, the folks who come to listen feel a sense of home, of belonging, of ownership to this amazingly unique musical tradition that we are blessed with.”

— Freelance writer and former Xpress reporter Hal Millard can be reached at hlmillard@gmail.com

what: Shindig on the Green
what: 45th season of the traditional mountain music festival
where: Pack Square Park on Roger McGuire Green
when: Saturday, July 2. (Also Saturday, July 9, 16 and 23, August 13, 20 and 27, and Sept. 3) 7 p.m. Free. More info at folkheritage.org.

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