By Stephen Smoot
From 1978 to 1985, Bill Wellington served as an artist-in-residence for Pendleton County, preserving and promoting the traditional culture of Appalachian Mountain music in the southern Potomac Highlands. He brought the appreciation of music and dancing to local schools and also the Treasure Mountain Festival.
Last week, he returned to the region to encourage music fans, young and old, to not only appreciate hearing the music, but moving to it as well. “Live music is very important,” Wellington shared, adding that “music isn’t created by artificial intelligence, at least not yet. It’s created by humans for humans, for listening and dancing.”
Also, he stressed that Pendleton County’s “roots are in Appalachian music.”
Wellington during TMF week went to every school in the county to work with both elementary and middle school students. Students from every grade that had a gym class enjoyed his presentation. He explained that “the kids seemed to enjoy it and the teachers got involved too.”
He shared popular square dance tunes with the school classes, such as the “Virginia Reel” and “Soldier’s Joy,” which he described as “the greatest fiddle tune ever played.” Wellington stated that “I’m teaching your children and your grandchildren how to dance.” He explained that dancing need not be hard. “Dancing is moving to music,” he said.
During two performances on a perfect cloudless Friday from a stage in the town parking lot, Wellington and his accompaniment, Andrew Carter and Lori Lichtenwalner, entertained with music, dancing and some light-hearted anecdotes, and musical wisdom.
Wellington shared between songs that when working with schoolchildren, he often asks them to compose “roses are red” poems. He shared a number, including “Roses are red. I hate math. Whoever invented it. Is a psychopath.”
The core of his art comes from his massive repertoire of old time music. Wellington played tunes from all over the country, including “My Cape Breton Home,” a waltz from Maine, and “Winder Slide,” whose music originally came from Georgia. Lichtenwalner added lyrics to the instrumental for the band to play.
Halfway through the performance, Wellington called on Snowy Mountain Music School owner Walter Hojka to join him on stage. He said of Hojka, “he’s done more for music in this county in the past 10 years than anyone I know.”
They conferred for a minute, then Wellington told the crowd, “This is how old time music works. You meet, then talk about what you know. There’s so many great tunes.” He had earlier told the crowd that there are more than 4,000 identifiable fiddle tunes.
The two then took to their fiddles and gave the crowd a rousing rendition of “Rock the Cradle Joe.” Wellington exclaimed after the song, “Walter’s got it going on!”
His performance lured both young and old onto the asphalt to kick up their heels. Young children and senior citizens alike moved joyously to the music as others clapped, sang along, or tapped their feet.