PALESTINE — The sounds of Appalachian Mountain music fill the Museum for East Texas Culture in Palestine this weekend as musicians partake in the 13th annual Palestine Old Time Music and Dulcimer Festival.
The festival, founded by husband and wife Jerry, 66, and Margaret Wright, 60, of Kennard, celebrates the simple music of the 1600s, 1700s and 1800s in the isolated mountain regions of North Carolina and Virginia.
Jerry Wright said this type of music is largely unfamiliar in the East Texas region, which has a stronger Gospel and bluegrass music tradition.
“It’s old-time music; it predates bluegrass,” Wright said.
He said the music came from Scottish, English and Irish immigrants. Those people settled in the mountains and developed their own styles using fiddles.
Margaret Wright is from North Carolina, and the couple visits the state often to learn new fiddle tunes and bring the songs, as well as performers and instructors, back to Palestine.
“We have performers and teachers who come from that area and teach here this weekend. There’s a whole plethora of people in this part of the country who play dulcimers, and they come here for the dulcimers,” Jerry Wright said.
Mountain dulcimers are a simple wooden instrument with raised frets and only three strings.
Another type of dulcimer is the much larger hammer dulcimer.
The mountain sits in the musician’s lap, while the hammer dulcimer is almost like a piano that the musician hits with little wooden hammers.
Another popular instrument at the festival is the concertina, a squeezebox instrument similar to an accordion but smaller and without the piano keys on the side.
An estimated 300 musicians come to the festival each year, bringing banjos, fiddles, guitars, harmonicas, concertinas, dulcimers and other instruments.
They come from as far as Wisconsin and Michigan for three days of concerts from Thursday to Saturday and workshops and jam sessions Friday and Saturday.
“The lessons are good. There’s always room to grow,” festival attendee Betty Crawford, 78, of Pampa, said.
Ms. Crawford has attended the festival several times and plays the accordion, piano and hammer dulcimer.
With many beginners workshops offered, attendees can choose to try something new.
As the first workshops and jam sessions started Friday morning, Chuck Byrum, 65, of Garland, was in the parking lot, trying out a picking stick for the first time while his wife Margaret Byrum, 63, practiced playing a fiddle. Byrum purchased the picking stick Thursday afternoon at the start of the festival.
“I’m getting used to the frets; the neck feels different,” he said.
Outside of the workshops and jam sessions, the highlight for many is the talented entertainers who take the stage for afternoon and night concerts. The entertainers include contest winners and several of the top players in the country.
“Everybody has a good time. I want the performers to have a good time, I want the people coming through the door to have a good time, and I want to have a good time. I think that formula has worked so far. We have a lot of happy people in this building today,” Wright said.
The festival continues today. For more information, visit www.oldpalmusic.com .