Porch pickin' along the C&O Canal gets rockin' reviews

August 06, 2011|By ALICIA NOTARIANNI |
  • Bluegrass musicians, from left, Don Unger, Jack Wink and Bud Hall play Saturday inside the Bowles House on C&O Canal at Hancock. The National Park Service sponsored an open house at the newly-renovated canal visitor center. A dozen musicians crowded into a room inside to set the mood for the event.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

HANCOCK — They probably were hoping for a restroom that they could use.

What they got was a lot more than that.

As bicyclists stepped away from the wooded trail along the C&O Canal, they were greeted by many voices raised in song, soaring from the windows of a 1780s farmhouse. Accompanying them were the rapid tempos and breakdowns of acoustic stringed instruments playing in harmony.

The C&O Canal National Historical Park’s Bowles House Visitor Center in Hancock was hosting the Porch Pickin’ Bluegrass event featuring live music by local musicians.

Lynn Martin, 60, of Chapel Hill, N.C., said she and three friends had just pulled off the bike trail for a short break.

“We are glad we did. (The musicians) sound amazing. This is wonderful,” Martin said. “I think this is what the National Park Service is all about. This kind of program is exactly what they should be doing.”

Organizers had planned for musicians to play on the porch while spectators observed from chairs on the lawn. But rain spurred the contingent of 15-plus pickers to take the party inside to the front parlor of the house.

Some in the audience listened through open windows from front-porch rockers. Others packed into the house, watching from the hallway and a back room.

With wood-plank floors, high ceilings and plenty of open space, the acoustics of the house complemented stacked vocals and slap-style instrumentation inherent to bluegrass. When the rain passed, Park Ranger Emily Hewitt said the musicians chose to stay inside.

“We can’t get ’em out of that room now,” Hewitt said. “We offered to move them to the porch and they said, ‘No. This is great!’”

Charlotte Wink, 64, of Berkeley Springs, W.Va., listened from a porch rocker as her husband, Jack Wink, 74, played his fiddle inside.

“It’s nice to have something like this,” Charlotte Wink said. “Feels like an old-time house in the country.”

Hewitt said the impetus for the Porch Pickin’ event came from Hancock resident Bill Adams’ roughly 40-year tradition of playing on the farmhouse porch. One day in the early 1970s, Adams, now 60, was sitting on a rock near the canal playing his banjo when an occupant of the house sent a child to tell him to play on the porch.

Adams concurred, and he continued to pick on the porch even when the occupants moved out and the park service acquired the house in the 1980s.

“I like it ’cause it’s peaceful,” Adams said of the house, which overlooks the towpath and the Potomac River.

Hewitt said the park service opened the Bowles House as a visitor center over Memorial Day weekend in 2010. Locals visited throughout the summer to see it fixed up.

“This event gives them a reason to come back out,” she said. “We want bikers and locals. This is a unique thing. Banjo Bill comes and brings all his buddies. Not all visitor centers have this. It’s something special we can share.”

She said more than 100 people attended throughout the day.

Carol Robinson of Chambersburg, Pa., who went with her husband, Roger, called the Porch Pickin’ “amazing.”

“We are absolutely loving it,” she said. “I especially like it because the music is so old. Culturally, it’s where our roots are. Everything comes from this. It’s important to remember.”

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