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Folk music tradition upheld in W.Va.

October 01, 2000

Folk music tradition upheld in W.Va.



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A slight, soft early fall breeze blew gently through the huge doors and spaces between the boards of the 100-year-old red barn on the hill over Opequon Creek southeast of here on almost perfect afternoon Sunday.

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Folk musician Al Petteway was helping keep alive a tradition as old as the music itself, passing down some of his considerable knowledge about playing a guitar in creative new ways new the handful of guitar players gathered around him, who played mostly for the joy of it.

Maureen Harrigan and her husband Steve Workings bustled about, dodging their dogs and pointing out their pet pot-bellied pigs Squiggy and Winslow, readying for a crowd later in the evening that would gather to hear Petteway and his wife Amy White play a concert.

The tranquil scene fit the billing of the barn, the 10 1/2 acres and the 220 year-old house that sits nearby: "Almost Heaven Farm."

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"The land was given to John Vanmetre by Lord Fairfax to start a community," Harrigan said. "And that's what we're doing, starting a community."

Harrigan 38, and Workings, 43, bought the property two years ago - they drove up the driveway and instantly "felt like we'd been here before."

The barn wasn't part of the property, but the owner had just gotten a job the day before - and was looking for a buyer. A year later, they were married in the barn with 2 1/2 hours of folk music - heavy on the late John Denver, who made popular Bill Danhof's song, "Country Roads."

"Almost heaven, that's what it seemed like when we came here," she said. "We drove down country roads to get here. That's what it was like for both of us."

"We knew what we wanted to do and now we have a place to do it," Workings said.

What they wanted was to create a place to let folk music live, to have it played and sung in a setting that would transmit its messages as much as the music itself.

"I want people to go away with something," Petteway said of his teaching and his music.

He plays folk music, but said he got his inspiration from the Beatles in the early 1960s, playing a lot of venues, including being "the folk musician sitting in the corner" of the coffee house playing his music. Harrigan, who has produced folk music shows for 15 years, likes what she sees and hears in today's folk music world.

"I think acoustic music has made a resurgence, but in my mind it never went away," she said. "I think it's come full circle. Bell bottoms are back. I think it's thriving."

The Limeliters and Chad Mitchell Trio have been replaced by people like Mary Chapin Carpenter or Pettaway and White. Some, like Denver, cross over into mainstream popular culture. Others don't.

"There's a whole bunch of coffee clubs in the D.C. area," she said. "There's a lot right in this area," especially around Shepherdstown.

Earlier this summer, the farm hosted the Country Roads Folk Festival, headlined by Tom Paxton, with a tribute to Denver's music. The weather wasn't great, but 500 people turned out. They broke even and will do it again next year.

Like most who love and play folk music, they have day jobs. Harrigan runs Hair Again by Harrigan in Silver Springs, Md. - where she jokes you can get "a coffee house coiffure."

Workings is a computer software developer, with an office in the 2,800 square-foot house, parts of which look like they came right out of the Revolutionary War era in which they were built.

The atmosphere all fits the folk music mission, "to pass on the culture" from one generation to the next, Harrigan said.

"I'm in it for the love of it, and to keep it going," Harrigan said. "It's who we are. It's our heritage, our tradition. It's important to pass on that oral tradition. It's our responsibility to keep it alive."

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