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Dulcimer Festival celebrates rich diversity of our Appalachian

by James Fisher

REGIONAL WRITER

SALEM -- Rising and falling musical notes from a variety of instruments accentuated the voices singing praise to the rich tradition of Appalachian culture Sunday at the 10th annual Dulcimer Festival at Fort New Salem.

The festival drew musicians, singers, dulcimer craftsmen and interested onlookers from throughout the region. Many viewed the festival as a way to make new friends and also to visit with old ones.

"It's like anything else. When you're not involved, you don't realize how big something is," said Steve Binkley from Marion, Ohio. "I came down with my in-laws, and I'm just here to have fun and play some music."

Binkley, who described himself as an aspiring novice with the dulcimer, said he attended the first such festival at Fort New Salem, but added this was the first year he has been back since. Binkley said there is an entire subculture of dulcimer enthusiasts that attend fairs and festivals all over the country.

His in-laws, Doug and Lee Felt of Marengo, Ohio, are spending their retirement years traveling to dulcimer festivals, selling handmade soft cases, dulcimer accessories and copies of Doug's music on tape and CD.

"They have a whole circuit they travel," Binkley said. "In the winter, they're more down South, and then they go all over during the summer."

Another veteran of the dulcimer circuit is Gary Sager of Waverly, Ohio, who displayed his numerous handcrafted dulcimers Sunday.

Dulcimers are a unique instrument, with roots in several European stringed instruments, Sager said. Sager has been making dulcimers nearly 10 years, and the wares he displayed Sunday showcased his ability to craft a finely tuned instrument from raw wood.

"I make it out to about eight dulcimer festivals each year and three or four music festivals," he said. "After a while, you start seeing the same folks year after year and you really make some good friends."

Bill Schilling, from Salem, Ohio, made his rounds Sunday from booth to booth, chatting with old friends, but always found his way back to the "jam area," where groups of musicians and singers gathered to play.

Schilling said his love of traditional instruments -- he plays the dulcimer, autoharp, guitar and jug, as well as sings -- is his way of paying tribute to the heritage of Appalachia and keeping the old ways alive.

"The feel of the music we play is acoustic. It's a hearing of the song that says the lyric is very important and I don't want to cover it with music," he said.

"For some of the more traditional players, it's a way of keeping that tradition alive. It's a really good feeling to be able to get together with people and know you're playing music very rich in tradition."

Regional writer James Fisher can be reached at 626-1446

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