Dance, Music, Song & Talk at Red Barn Folk Festival

by Pat MacPherson, CDSS Director of Education

A1H_1179-optTwo weeks ago, I made my way to the Red Barn at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA, the site of some mighty fun contra dances. On this occasion, however, I was going to take part on a panel at the first Red Barn Folk Festival, organized by Hampshire College senior, Abigail Hobart.

Abigail, part of a family of lifetime music and dance enthusiasts in Bellingham, WA, produced the festival as her senior project. Her hope was to educate and entertain a general audience about community-based New England folk traditions. Through participatory song and dance, the audience could critically engage with pertinent themes and topics: the evolution of tradition, fostering inclusive community, sustaining music and dance traditions, and the efficacy of local food systems. As Abigail wrote, “I tried to convey my belief that thoughtful maintenance and participation in community folk-traditions causes personal enjoyment, aids cultural preservation, and builds community, with the hope that this message was carried home by each festival attendee!”

A1H_1175-optWhen I opened the barn door, there was Tim Ericksen, one of our local superstars, in the middle of a condensed history of New England shape-note singing. Following hearty singing and a short break, the panel discussions started. CDSS Education Associate, Mary Wesley, singer and song organizer, Julia Friend, and I talked about the importance of nurturing youth participation in the participatory folk traditions, followed by two more discussion panels.

A1H_1403-optWith an attentive audience, great food supplied by local producers, and fabulous music by Sassafras Stomp, old-time singers Emma and Tati, and contra dancing for all, the first Red Barn Folk Festival was a successful expression of the values, strengths, and vitality of the local traditional arts and food communities in the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts. Great job, Abigail.

More photos are on Abigail’s Facebook page,