When the Mill Run Dulcimer Band started performing at Colvin Run Mill in the late 1970s, visitors would pause to listen while touring the mill then go on their way. The band didn’t mind, though, because it had prepared only a few songs, so it was easy to recycle them with the changing audience, member Kit Putnam said.
As the group expanded its repertoire of old-time Appalachian, gospel and dance music and contemporary folk, the audiences grew. The band began performing seven concerts a year at the mill in Great Falls.
More than 30 years later, the tradition comes to a close when the group plays its final concert at the mill at 2 p.m. Sunday. The end of the band’s regular performing schedule is partly because to the death of Keith Young, 82, who founded the group 35 years ago in his living room in Annandale. Young died in February after a fall. Putnam said it is also difficult to maintain a regular schedule because two band members live at least an hour’s drive from Northern Virginia.
In the early years of the band, Young’s day job was with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Soil Conservation Service. But he had a passion for music: He played stand-up bass, guitar, autoharp and dulcimer (a type of zither), made instruments and learned old songs. That passion helped propel the group to make 11 records, most recently, “Roses and Memories,” and earned the group a Washington Area Music Awards nomination and a loyal audience.
The group is committed to using old-time instruments. Putnam plays dulcimer, fiddle and limberjack (an Appalachian rhythm instrument). Kathleen Gotzmer plays bass. Judy Larrabee plays dulcimer and banjimer (a hybrid banjo and dulcimer). And Dave Caouette is on guitar and mandolin. Curt Moss has also pitched in recently with guitar, mandolin, bones and jaw harp. The group members sing harmony, too.
“It’s a shame. It’s going to be very different without them here on Sunday afternoons,” said Ann Korzeniewski, mill historical site assistant manager. “The group has been here so long, it has brought a lot of repeat visitors to the mill.”
When the mill was built in 1811, most of the area’s residents were “people who worked the land; folks who wound up with dirt under their nails. Not the Lees or Washingtons,” said Mike Henry, mill historic site administrator. The band’s “brand of music was perfect for the site’s” rural roots.
Putnam, the group’s remaining original member, said the band will perform occasionally at other venues, with a concert in October at the Waterford Homes Tour and Crafts Exhibit in Loudoun County. “We’ll get together. We all feel like members of a family,” she said.
“We took our name from Colvin Run Mill Park, which we always felt to be our musical home,” Putnam said. “The history of the mill and the country atmosphere of the park with its grist mill, miller’s house, general store and ducks around the mill pond seemed to reflect the kind of lost lifestyle that is at the core of so many of the songs we love.”
The band will perform at 2 p.m. Sunday at Colvin Run Mill, 10017 Colvin Run Rd., Great Falls. Admission is free. For information, call 703-759-2771.