By Cheril Vernon
Messenger Copy Editor
PALESTINE – For those who enjoy old time and dulcimer music, the 16th Annual Palestine Old Time Music and Dulcimer Festival is planned for this weekend, starting Thursday and continuing through Saturday, March 23-25. In past years, the event has drawn at least 350 participants and generally brings in musicians from more than 30 states to Palestine for their well-known festival.
“Last year we had more than 32 states represented. I have many people who return every year that tell me and others that if they can only go to one festival a year they are going to Palestine,” said festival organizer Margaret Wright of Kennard. “We have people from Arizona, Colorado and lots from Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana. We have some that come from pretty far away.”
Concerts, jam sessions and workshops are set throughout the three-day event, taking place at the historic Museum for East Texas Culture, located at 400 Micheaux St. behind Reagan Park in Palestine.
“We are in this cool, historic building that is perfect with the wood floors and high ceilings that make for wonderful sounds,” Wright said. “We have a lot of jamming sessions out on the grounds. And in every room from the top floor down to the basement we usually have people there jamming until 2 a.m. each night.”
The event will kick off with the special Thursday evening concert, slated to start at 6:45 p.m.
“We have a big Thursday night concert this year with Ann Kirrane from Ireland featuring Irish, English and American traditional music along with Steve and Sheryl Hartz from Nacogdoches and Alice Gerrard, a Grammy nominee in traditional music, who will perform with her singing partner Kay Justice,” Wright said. “We also have Cary Freedley from North Carolina on the guitar. She’s from an iconic 1980s group called the Freighthoppers, who brought groundbreaking old time music to life.”
Others scheduled to perform during the Thursday night concert include Roger Digby from Essex, England, and Bill Gailbraith and Emily Standish from Houston, among others.
“The performers love to play here because the audience is very supportive and pretty vocal about it,” Wright said. “You will not hear anything like this anywhere else. It’s totally entertaining.”
On Friday and Saturday, the festival will be all-day long starting with workshops and jam sessions from 9 to 10:15 a.m. and from 10:45 a.m. to noon, followed by a daytime concert from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. each day. In the afternoons, workshops and jam sessions will be held from 2:45 to 4 p.m. followed by the evening concerts from 6:45 to 10 p.m., followed by jam sessions.
“You won’t find a printed schedule of classes because we like for our instructors to start fresh and teach what they want to teach and what there is a call for them to teach. We have our instructors put their charts on the walls so that we can have a beginners class in a certain area if needed, or an intermediate class, whatever we need to fit the people attending the festival,” Wright said. “Even if we just had a mountain dulcimer workshop, for example, and someone comes up needing instruction, we will find someone to give them one-on-one lessons from a great instructor. Everybody here is willing to do that.”
Wright has hammer dulcimer instructors coming from Dallas, Oklahoma and Missouri, as well as instructors for mountain dulcimer, banjo, mandolin, upright bass and guitar.
“Alice Gerrard and Kay Justice will be offering singing instructions each day. We have a fairly young fiddle player named Eddie Bond who is new to the Palestine festival. He’s a very energetic old-time fiddler,” Wright said. “We have some wonderful mountain dulcimer instructors coming from Tennessee that are from the traditional and old time music world. We have an autoharp instructor, Charles Whitmore, who is well known.”
Many past headliners and performers return to attend the festival, whether or not they are scheduled to perform.
“They are coming because they say they just can’t stay away, they really like our festival,” Wright said about musicians Howard Rains, Tricia Spencer and former national dulcimer winner Sara Morgan from Nashville.
Sacred harp singing also will be featured on Friday and Saturday.
“It’s a form of unaccompanied singing. You sing from these books that use the sacred harp system of teaching people how to sing. Instead of using the notes, you observe what shape you are on so you know where you are on the scale,” Wright explained.
The Saturday night concert will open with the Michigan group, the Sea Cruisers.
“They have nothing to do with old-time music, they do old rock n’ roll like ‘Johnny B. Goode.’ They bring the house down every time,” Wright said, noting that she plays the upright base with them when they perform. “People have a lot of fun at these concerts, I guarantee it.”
Pre-registration to attend the festival is not necessary. Those wanting to attend the three days of the festival (Thursday through Saturday) including the five concerts, workshops and jam sessions, the registration is $80. For the three days without the workshops the cost is $55 (five concerts and jam sessions).
A family plan also is available for $160 for mom, dad and all of the children.
Single-day passes are available for $40 (two concerts, workshops and jam sessions). A single-day pass with no workshops (two concerts and jam sessions) is $25.
Admission at the door for concert tickets are $10 per person, per night.
“Between the class schedule in the morning and once in the afternoon we have this retired school teacher who sings old-style country gospel,” Wright said. “You almost can’t get through the hallway because everyone is standing around her singing along with her on the piano.”
In addition to the workshops, concerts and jam sessions, the festival has vendors who will sell items ranging from instructional books, t-shirts, hats, soaps, etc.
“We also will have a few music vendors who build mountain dulcimers, so if you were interested in purchasing a brand-new dulcimer, you could do that at the festival,” Wright said.
Headliners scheduled to perform during the Friday and Saturday day and evening concerts include: Steve Seifert, Rick Thum, Roger Digby, Gerrard, Justice, Kirrane, David Lindsey, Marsha Harris, Eddie and Bonnie Bond, Fridley, Gary Gallier, Steve and Sheryl Hartz, Charles Whitmer, Cassandra Damper and the Mountain Dulcimer Extravaganza and The Wright Family.
For more information about the festival, contact the Museum for East Texas Culture at 903-723-1914 or visit the festival website online at www.oldpalmusic.com.