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Winter Festivals To Keep Away The Blues

Are you dreaming about summer festivals yet? No need to wait so long!

New Year's Eve

Have you made your plans for New Year's Eve yet? There's some fine music to be heard at the Oil City First Night celebration this year. A good reason for not staying at home on New Year's Eve. Oil City is less than a two hour drive from Pittsburgh, PA. The entire event takes place at over a dozen different locations in town, each performer doing 4 sets between 8pm and midnight, plenty of opportunities to take in the many different shows and activities offered. For more details visit the Oil City First Night facebook page at


Mid January

The January Ice Jam began over 10 years ago as a way to bring bluegrass jammers together over the winter. It attracts about 2,000 people over the weekend for a roster of top-notch pickers and strummers. The event commences around the 2nd weekend in January at the Days Inn, Route 8, in Butler. The hotel has a full service restaurant, and the facility is smoke-free. Admission is free, but donations are accepted to benefit the Bluegrass Relief Fund and WYEP radio in support of bluegrass. 


The 2019 January Ice Jam will

be held Jan. 11th and 12th at the

Butler Days Inn


February 2nd

Official Groundhog Day Celebration, Gobbler's Knob, Punxsutawney PA.

While it's not clear to me why there isn't a solid presence of Old Time fiddle and banjo music at this event (see my article on weather) there is much to be entertained by at this very important Appalachian celebration. Concerts, storytelling, magic, comedians, flea circus, medicine show, art, crafts, pancake breakfast, and souvenirs are regular features of the three day event. Special features include: Showing of the movie Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray, Induction of the 2nd member at the Meteorologist Hall of Fame, Exotic Bubble Tea Party, Crowning of Groundhog King and Queen, and The Prognosticators Ball. For the complete schedule and directions, visit the festival home page at:



Crankie Fest
and Potluck

Confluence Creative Arts Center   Confluence, Pa.

Crankies are a traditional form of entertainment that combines traditional music, stories, or poetry with back-lit art which is scrolled through a viewing box. We are pleased to host a gathering of crankie performance artists from around the region for a show that will take you on a journey bright and magical. We welcome crankie artists from around the region and encourage and welcome those who would like to try to make a crankie and share their efforts. 

Check out www.thecrankiefactory.com for information about this art form.

For more information  e-mail the Arts Center at confluencecreativeartscenter@verizon.net
or to register for classes.


The Gardner Winter Music Festival is just the thing to get an early start into some good  jamming, workshops, concerts and more. The event is held late February in Morgantown, West Virginia. There is usually jamming and socializing at South Middle School beginning 6 PM Friday evening, Saturday events also include workshop demonstrations, stage performances and an evening dance.  For the complete schedule and directions, visit the festival home page at:


Gardner Winter Music Festival
Fri. evening 6 pm to 11 pm
and all day Sat. 9 am to 11 pm
South Middle School
Morgantown, WV


Art All Night is...

a FREE 22 hour art festival featuring NON-CENSORED, NON-JURIED artwork from hundreds of local artists. This 20+ year tradition is host to children’s and onsite collaborative activities, an art auction, live bands and comedians.
Pittsburgh, last weekend of April.



Dare To Be Square DMV

Pittsburgh will have a presence this year at Dare To Be Square DMV (DC-MD-VA), a weekend festival happening May 17 - 19, 2019 at Prince William Forest Park. Looking for some square dance fun and some peaceful forest atmosphere?

The DC Square Dance Collective and Baltimore Square Dance have teamed up for the third year in a row to throw this huge party and several folks from our very own Steel City Squares will head on down to learn new calls and participate in the many square dancing festivities. All levels of interested callers will glean something valuable from the wide variety of several workshops, such as the Square Dance Time Machine class taught by Will Mentor and Janene Smith, focusing on the history and varieties of calling. And Megan Downes will be teaching square-ish calling class of Irish Sets and Ceili dances. Callers will also get a chance to practice at the open mic square dance where Will and Janene provide friendly feedback.

But if you're not into calling, there's still a lot happening for old-time musicians and dancers, including clogging workshops, instruments and singing sessions, and of course lots of square dancing and jamming going on.

So Pittsburgh square dance fans, come on down! It's not too late to register, and it's just $50 for the whole weekend. Registration includes rustic lodging and simple meals. There are hotels and restaurants nearby.

This event is now SOLD OUT
but there is a waiting list.

Email if you're still interested, (they might be able to connect you with someone who can't make it and needs to transfer their ticket.)


Even though this event is sold out, it will bring more square dancing to Pittsburgh since Steel City Squares is involved.



Folk College at Juniata with 
Simple Gifts

Folk College is a fun weekend of playing and hearing folk music. Pack up your instrument (or voice) and head for Juniata College for a weekend full of workshops, jam sessions, concerts, and group playing. The event is designed for musicians with eclectic tastes. Within one weekend, you'll have a choice of workshops ranging from old-timey to celtic to international, and you'll get to sing, dance, play, and listen. Musicians of all instruments and levels are welcome, and there are also choices for non-musicians who want to listen, learn, and experiment with folk music. Plus, school teachers in Pennsylvania will receive Act 48 credit.

This will be a real college experience. All events are held in college classrooms, and you'll have the option of staying in a dorm room and eating in the university's dining hall. We hope you'll join us for a weekend of good times and great music!

Among the many varieties of folk music there you will find a number of workshops featuring Pennsylvania fiddle tunes.

Juniata College is a beautiful setting in Huntingdon PA, nestled in the Allegheny Mountains of Central Pennsylvania.

Juniata Folk College
Huntingdon, PA

Sponsored by the Huntingdon County Arts Council. 
For registration information, 
contact: e-mail: info@folkcollege.com
Phone: (814) 643-6220

Simple Gifts
Three women plus twelve instruments equals one good time with Simple Gifts. This award-winning trio plays everything from lively Irish jigs and down-home American reels to hard-driving Klezmer 

frailachs and haunting Gypsy melodies, spicing the mix with the distinctive rhythms of Balkan dance music, the lush sounds of Scandinavian twin fiddling, and original compositions written in a traditional style. The group is comprised of Rachel Hall (concertina and piano), Linda Littleton (fiddle, hammered dulcimer, recorders, bowed psaltery), and Karen Hirshon (fiddle, guitar, mandolin, doumbek, and more).

Based in State College and Philadelphia, PA, Simple Gifts members designed Folk College and work with the Huntingdon County Arts Council to make it a reality. They have a strong philosophy that everyone can play music, that music is best when shared, and that above all, music is about communication, not competition.


Mt. Airy Bluegrass & 
Old Time Fiddler's Convention
Mount Airy, NC

Always held the first weekend in June
Starting Friday at 7:00 pm and Saturday at 9:30 am

Veterans Memorial Park
631 West Lebanon Street
Mount Airy, North Carolina

Instrument, Dance and Music Workshops

$2075 Prize money plus ribbons to be awarded to contestants.
Pre-registration for contests required

RV Camping and Tent Camping
Parking room for 3000 cars

10 acres of shady woods for camping and picnicking
* Bring lawn chairs or blanket - will be held outside if weather permits *

For More Information please visit: http://www.mtairyfiddlersconvention.com/

Henry ReedJune

The Henry Reed Memorial Fiddle Convention 

Henry Reed Memorial Fiddler's Convention
is usually held the second weekend in June in beautiful Newport, VA, less than 10 miles from Blacksburg on RT 460. ( 5.5 hours drive from Pittsburgh )

This festival honors the life and music of local old-time fiddler Henry Reed. The Henry Reed Memorial Fiddlers Convention is an official Crooked Road Affiliated Festival.

Admission is $8 per person per day on Friday and Saturday, or $15 for the weekend. All contestants pay $15 (includes admission for the weekend) and they can get a festival t-shirt or $10 back after they compete. No pre-registration is needed, you register on-site.

The competition categories are banjo (bluegrass and old-time), fiddle (bluegrass and old-time), guitar (bluegrass and old-time), banjo-fiddle duet, mandolin, dulcimer, bass, folk song, dance, bluegrass band and old-time band.

Gates open noon on Thursday, admission is free on Thursday. Thursday-Saturday night camping is an additional $10 per person per night (rough) and $15 per person per night (electric, limited number available).

For additional details about the festival visit


A website dedicated to the memory of Henry Reed can be found here


July / August

The Appalachian Stringband Festival

also known as The Appalachian Stringband Festival holds its annual gathering early August. Its an event well worth attending, even if only for a day, but be prepared to get caught up in the swell of contests, concerts, workshops, jams, and overflow of partying that will keep you till the very end, and have you returning even earlier the next year.

I have the distinction of attending the first year in 1990, and drawing number 1  for my band  The Lackawanna Longnecks  to play in the contest. Being the first contestant is generally considered the worst possible spot to be in, since the judges will not have any previous performance to compare you to. You become the 'standard' for the moment until something a little better comes along. On top of that, the microphones weren't even turned on until we were halfway through our tune. Despite all that, as banjo player Richard Withers pointed out, for the first four and a half minutes of the contest, ( and maybe longer ) our band was in the lead.

Over the years I've come to appreciate this festival and others as a great refuge, reunion, and rehab for my own musical interests. I respect the contests for what they are, as they promote achievement in an area of musical interest that has long defied the rules of commercial survival. Sometimes the results of contests reveal a focus on the skill of winning, rather than the art of playing, but they always manage to bring out so many players, that the event becomes a pageant of arcane talent and experience equal to none.

But by far, my favorite parts of the festival are visiting friends I've made over the years, collecting tunes, and being in hot jam sessions for as long as possible. People come from different parts of the US, and many other countries too. Even though they say the days of regional isolation of old time fiddle styles has passed with the advent of recorded and broadcast music, I still perceive the local preferences for tunes that make their way from scenes in California, North Carolina, West Virginia, Illinois ...and so on. And when you get right down to it, style emanates from the individual musicians. As far as I'm concerned, maturity is evident when you become uniquely recognizable by the way you play the most common tunes. Of course, that's just my opinion...

The next festival on my horizon is Rockbridge which happens the weekend after Labor Day, in Buena Vista, Va. You can check out details here:





Greenwood Furnace 
with Simple Gifts

The Greenwood Furnace Folk Gathering is a weekend of music with plenty of opportunities to share, jam, dance and learn. Musicians of all levels as well as non-musicians who wish to listen or experiment, or pick up a dance step or two, are invited to participate in workshops designed and led by professional instructors. Saturday evening’s highlight will be a concert with Simple Gifts followed by a contradance. View the detailed schedule for more information

Greenwood Furnace State Park is a beautiful state park located in central PA, between State College and Huntingdon, on the Mifflin County border.

Sponsored by the Huntingdon County Arts Council and Simple Gifts
For registration information, 
contact: e-mail: info@folkgathering.com
Phone: (814) 643-6220