Pocahontas County musician Dwight Diller received West Virginia’s highest folklife honor, the Vandalia Award, at the annual Vandalia Gathering in Charleston over the Memorial Day weekend. According to the State Department of Culture and History, “The individuals who receive this award embody the spirit of our state’s folk heritage and are recognized for their lifetime contribution to West Virginia and its traditional culture.” Here’s Dwight: youtube.com/watch?v=rDsL0FcZD2k
Diller has played traditional music for 50 years. According to his website – dwightdiller.com – “Dwight Diller is one of a small handful of native West Virginians actively engaged in preserving the traditional music of his state. Dwight was born in 1946, and grew up having instilled in him the mountain culture of east-central West Virginia. His ancestors were some of the first settlers of the region around Pocahontas County. Dwight’s interest in the old stories and the old music led him to seek out the old people in his area who were the repositories of this tradition.”
The Hammons family were among his first influences; Dwight became absorbed their music, and in 1970 introduced them to people from the Library of Congress. The result was a boxed set of a double LP and a 40-page booklet about their lives and music which brought them international recognition.
Pictured above: Long Point String Band
Dwight has been playing and teaching old-time music for about half a century. Many old-time musicians of the present day have adopted a high-speed style somewhat similar to bluegrass, but Dwight works to retain the spirit and feeling of the people who taught him the music many years ago. He doesn’t perform much these days, focusing more on teaching. His “banjo camps” at his home on Brown’s Creek in Pocahontas County have introduced many people to his concept of old-time music, and he has a series of instructional videos. You can learn more about his philosophy and hear samples of his work at his website dwightdiller.com.
Other former winners of the Vandalia Award with a Mountain Music Trail connection include fiddler Woody Simmons of Randolph County (1983); Jane (1993) and Frank (1994) George, who promoted traditional music and dance in Monroe County in the 1970s; the Pocahontas County-based Bing Brothers Band (2012); and Gerry Milnes of the Augusta Heritage Center in Elkins (2013).
Events along or near the Mountain Music Trail in June include:
June 5 – EmiSunshine at The Purple Fiddle in Thomas. Here she is in live performance: youtube.com/watch?v=crk3qowTTak.
June 8 – Brewgrass Reunion at Adventures on the Gorge, with local favorites the Long Point String Band, The Black Mountain Bluegrass Boys and The Bing Brothers Band featuring Jake Krack
June 10 – The Purple Fiddle introduces young groups in its “Mountain Music Mondays, featuring the Eli Fox Band – youtube.com/watch?v=tfhDSdvSjqQ followed by Crandall Creek youtube.com/watch?v=7oXxmMwj6hYon the 17th and Hay Fever on the 24th
June 13 – Free Ivy Terrace Concert at Carnegie Hall in Lewisburg with the Long Point String Band and Jesse Milnes and Emily Miller (pictured above) at The Elkins Depot youtube.com/watch?v=PvEScjwti74
June 15 – Patrick Gabbert and Phil Rolleston at Hawk Knob Cidery in Lewisburg
And the biggest event of June along the Mountain Music Trail – the 23rd annual Allegheny Echoes Summer Workshops at the Marlinton Motor Inn, right on US 219 in Pocahontas County, Sunday June 23 through Saturday June 29 –learn all about it at alleghenyechoes.com.
Have a great month – and pick up on some of the great music out there this summer!
– Gibbs Kinderman, HashtagWV #114. June 2019.