Slated to begin this Thursday, the longtime Harlan County celebration has always showcased a wide variety of music, and event planners have made it a point to make music an important part of the festival.
The Artists' Attic plans to take Harlan County's love for music to the next level this year.
“During the Poke Sallet Festival, we will present the first ever Harlan County Mountain Music School,” said Rose Cohelia of the Artists' Attic. “The school will focus on traditional old-time music and will feature beginner classes in guitar, fiddle, dulcimer, old-time singing and, for players with some experience, string band.”
It's important to keep alive the rich musical heritage of the county, and that's the reason the Artists' Attic is organizing the school. It's the group's mission to promote the arts in Harlan County, and what better time to celebrate music than during one of the region's oldest and most attended summer parties.
“The Poke Sallet Festival is about Harlan County tradition,” Cohelia said. “And part of our tradition is mountain music. That's why we're excited to promote this school and hope it is well-attended.”
The school's musical director will be Ron Short of Big Stone Gap, Va. A talented musician, songwriter, performer and teacher, Short has also been instrumental in starting both the Cowan Creek Mountain Music School in Whitesburg and the Mountain Empire Community College Mountain Music School in Virginia.
Ann Schertz, a professor of music at Cumberland's Southeast Kentucky and Community Technical College, will be teaching the dulcimer class.
“This will be a fun, informal school taught in the old, traditional method of passing on music by ear,” Cohelia said, “and also by showing and listening.”
Students age 10 to 18 wanting to attend the mountain music school are free. For adults, the participation fee is $25.
Classes will be held at the Artists' Attic, which is located on the third floor of the old courthouse in downtown Harlan.
The mountain music school will get started on Friday at 3 p.m. and will last until 6 p.m. It will officially begin with a brief concert presented by the instructors. Classes will then follow.
“These guys are great musicians in a category all their own,” Cohelia said. “Think Led Zeppelin meets bluegrass. They will have you dancing, clapping and singing along.”
On Saturday, classes will resume at 9 a.m and last until noon. A lunch break will last from noon until 1 p.m., and participants are encouraged to patronize the festival's downtown festival vendors.
More classes will then take place from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. A final concert will be presented at 4 p.m., which will consist of performances by the students as well as the instructors.
“And maybe some sing-alongs, too,” Cohelia added.
Some loaner instruments will be made available on a first-come, first-serve bases, but participants are encouraged to bring their own.
Classes are limited to children age 10 and up due to length. Class size is also limited, so Cohelia encourages interested participants to contact her as soon as possible at 573-3129.
“Learning to play an instrument is not just about music, but it builds self-confidence, provides artistic expression, teaches discipline and the ability to speak and perform in front of an audience,” Cohelia said. “These are all things every child in the county can benefit from.”