Down home at the Appalachian Summer Festival

Boone’s Appalachian Summer Festival, now in its 15th year, has definitely changed with the times, though not in the way you might think: Instead of starting with a local audience and gradually gaining wider popularity, this month-long cultural mecca began by attracting mainly tourists, reveals Denise Ringler, the public-relations director at Appalachian State University.

Today, though, “It’s not just our seasonal residents that come,” she says proudly. The festival routinely appears on the Southeast Tourism Society’s “Top 20 Events in the Southeast” list, but it now draws a healthy home crowd, as well, notes Ringler.

Stars from every branch of the arts have detoured from major-city summer-touring schedules to play the scenic Boone event (Willie Nelson and Emmylou Harris were musical coups in recent years). But Artistic Director Gil Morgenstern has a keen knack for balance — and the festival ranks the visual arts and dance just as highly as the chart-toppers.

1999 also marks Appalachian State University’s100th birthday — and, to celebrate, Morgenstern has assembled a truly impressive roster of performances. Highlights include actor Hal Holbrook’s acclaimed one-man show, Mark Twain Tonight! (expected to be sold out by the time this story appears), and an evening of modern dance with the internationally revered Paul Taylor Dance Company. But for ASU’s official birthday bash on the 17th, nothing less than a Grammy winner would do.

Party doll

Mary Chapin Carpenter owns the quintessential singer/songwriter voice — no mean feat, when one thinks about that loaded umbrella of a category. Her unerringly smooth vocals earned her the Academy of Country Music’s Top New Female Vocalist Award in 1989; but her wide-ranging, often-emotional material has made her the darling of the folk circuit, too.

“Passionate Kisses” could be called Carpenter’s breakthrough song; but with five Grammies to her credit and a list of gigs that includes a recent State Department dinner, it’s hard to pin down the precise turning point of her popularity.

The singer recently released Party Doll and Other Favorites, a compilation of hits. Far from phasing herself out of the limelight, however, Carpenter continues to work for a variety of environmental, human-rights and literacy causes, ensuring that her famous voice will echo for some time to come.

Mary Chapin Carpenter plays the ASF’s annual Outdoor Fireworks Concert on Saturday, July 17, starting at 7:30 p.m. in Kidd-Brewer Stadium. Tickets are $25 in advance, $30 the day of the show ($5 for children 12 and under). Tickets are available through ASU’s Farthing Auditorium Box Office (262-4046, or 800-841-ARTS outside of Boone), and on-line through Ticket Web (check the festival Web site at appsummer.appstate.edu).

Splendor in the grass

Amid its rich diversity, however, the growing festival has never stopped honoring its mountain roots. The lineup, notes Ringler, always includes a fair share of “heritage” events; this year, the joyous strains of Bruce Molsky and Big Hoedown will lead the way.

Molsky, a master fiddler and banjo player, is a New York City native who fell in love with mountain music during the ’70s folk revival. In hot pursuit of his dream, he eventually moved to Virginia, where he met and learned from local legends like Tommy Jarrell and Albert Hesh.

Molsky mourns the disintegration of the pockets of pure mountain culture he remembers from those days, observing dryly, “That sense of community that people had is being lost [to] television and the Internet.”

With Big Hoedown, his three-piece, old-time band that includes Rafe Stefannini and Beverly Smith, the fiddler (once showcased with Alasdair Fraser and other luminaries in the “Fiddles on Fire” tour aims to preserve the sanctity of a genre that has consumed his heart and mind throughout his adult life.

A frequent workshop leader, Molsky is pleased to report that, of late, he’s witnessed a host of younger fans tuning their ears to the songs of the hills: “I have kids with green hair and tattoos turning up in my classes, and that’s great. You can’t just stick this music on a shelf in some museum and hope that it lives — the only way it will survive is if people continue to personally identify with it.”

The Appalachian Summer Festival will continue through the end of the month. The following list includes events through July 21. (Note: Ticket availability is not guaranteed for all performances — for complete information, call (800) 841-ARTS.)

• Wednesday, July 14
Meet the Artist series (featuring regional visual artists)
10 a.m.-noon, Wey Hall, Room 239
The Broyhill Chamber Ensemble
8 p.m., Rosen Concert Hall, Broyhill Music Center
Pre-concert lecture: 7:15 p.m., Recital Hall

• Friday, July 16
Jazz at the Tradewinds with the Pete Donovan Jazz Ensemble
7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m.
Tradewinds Coffeehouse, Plemmons Student Union

• Saturday, July 17
Centennial Birthday Party and Outdoor Fireworks Concert, featuring Mary
Chapin Carpenter

• Sunday, July 18
Bruce Molsky and Big Hoedown
Mast General Store Heritage/Family Concert
2 p.m., Valborg Theatre

• Monday, July 19
The Broyhill Chamber Ensemble
Meet the Composer concert, featuring works by Bruce Saylor8 p.m., Rosen Concert Hall, Broyhill Music Center
Lecture by Bruce Saylor at 7 p.m., Recital Hall

• Tuesday, July 20
The Paul Taylor Dance Company
8 p.m., Farthing Auditorium

•Wednesday, July 21
Meet the Artist series (featuring regional visual artists)
10 a.m.-noon, Wey Concert Hall

Celtic Music Celebration: Mary Black and Solas8 p.m., Farthing Auditorium

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