This weekend at Wolf Trap, the hills are alive with the sound of music . . . or "ze zound offf muzik" . . . or "the sow-wened of mooo-sic" . . . or "de sond of dee music, mon." The 43rd National Folk Festival, like the 42 that have preceded it, is a festival of accents and rhythms, many of them so old that they seem like a breath of fresh air in a world gone pop-crazy.
Decon James Cook perked up at the infectious rhythms of his McIntosh Country Shouters, clapping his hands with the insistence that comes of 90-plus years on the last group in America to sustain the "ring-shout," a style of religious singing accompanied by dancelike movements. It's a black tradition older than teh spiritual; as late as the Civil War the traditions coexisted, but by the second decade of this century the ring-shout had virtually disappeared. After shouter Lawrence McIver explained the story line of "Move, Daniel," the tale of a rebellious young slave pulling a theft on a plantation, he added, "That's the best type of meaning I can give you from the way my mother give it to me."
The tableau of dancers and singers beating out the bottom rhythm with a broom handle could have come from a century ago. In fact, Deacon Cook took the opportunity for a little sermon in a voice as deep and dark as Georgia clay. "I look out at those white babies there, how they is admirin' the yesterday tradition, a tradition that's older than 200 years because my ancestors been through that performance, and when I asked tham how long they been doin' that, they said ever since they got off the ship in Virginia in 1722 when they took them from their native land and country and brought them to Virginia and sold them like we sell pigs and cows and chickens. Those days are no more and have gone, because freedom is no one mainhs law, freedom is for us all and I hope you hold fast to this free piece of world. It is the only free footstool that God has now in His world."
The audience's amens were heartfelt.
The accordion has many foll nicknames -- squeezebox, buttonbox -- and John Delafose, Santiago Mimenez, Joe McKenna and Sean McGlynn spent much of yesterday afternoon showing off its accents -- from rambunctious cajun dance steps to Irish airs to the more relaxed romantic melodies of Tex-Mex norteno music. Delafose stepped away from his zydeco band, the Eunice Playboys, long enough to share a music workshop with norteno musician Jimenez, while McKenna and McGlynn held down the Irish presnece. m
"It's crazy heat, best for the young folks," Eflafose said in the thick accent of Louisiana's French-speaking black creoles. "We decided to keep the old-type music but with a different beat, something a little more speedy for a younger generation." He launched into a bright dance tune, followed by Jimenez's bolero ("We play more faster . . . like 75 miles an hour!") and some Irish reels. "I forget their names," said McKenna. "And we Irish don't sing too much . . . till about 2 in the morning." The accordionists watched each other closely, feet tapping out new accents to new ethnic strains . . . learning from each other, talking that universal language of rhythms and smiles.
Among the other flavors at Wolf Trap this weekend:
Roberto Borrell Y Su Kubata, and Afro-Cuban music and dance troupe comprised of refugees of last year's mass immigration, who first came together in the Fort Chaffe camp in Arkansas. They now live in and work out of the Washington area. The group is a mass of polyrhythms and voices sounding out trumpetlike lines, rhumbas and jiribillas and yambas and other dance styles guaranteed to make you dance.
Blues harmonica player J.C. Burris, who stands not only for the blues tradition but for the ongoing sense of family always evident at the National Folk Festival. Burris is the nephew of legendary harp player Sonny Terry; Jimenez's father and brothers all lead their own cojuntos (bands); everyone here speaks of songs and instruments handed down through generations.
Mary E. Smith McLain, who has been singing blues, jazz and religious material since joining a minstrel asnd medicine show at the start of World War I. The names of some of the companies with which she worked tell a story of their own: Irwin C. Miller's Brown Skin Models, Charles A. Taylor's Bronze Mannequins, the Rabbit Foot Minstrels.
If you want bluegrass, you'll get it the old-fashioned way, acoustic and full of natural harmonies. You'll get it mountain-style, you may get it as it moved to the cities and you'll always get it hot, high and lonesome -- that's the only way they serve it at Wolf Trap.
Hascal "Hack" Haile, 75, started making guitars in the '60s after 40 years as a master craftsman and cabinetmaker in Tompkinsville, Ky. He got so good at it that his custommade guitars are now the prized posessions of such stars as Chet Atkins (who owns several), Roy Clark, Waylon Jennings and Dolly Parton. One sits in the Smithsonian's Instrument Collection, while a few others are in transit. "I made too much guitar for this one boy in Chicago," Haile says, as if he were talking size, not quality. He insists he makes guitars for what the people are playing on them, describing one as "a purist guitar . . . it plays nothing but Mozart and Bach."
Haile is one of a half-dozen instrument builders and craftsmen at Wolf Trap and spends most of his time talking to visitors and exchanging tips and ideas with the other guitar, banjo and fiddle makers. "If I live to be a hundred, I think I'll keep making better instruments," he says. "I don't know everything, but all of my life, I been interested in everything."
If you have a little bit of that in your blood, Hascal Haile and everyone else at the National Folk Festival would like to see you at one of their five stages, or possibly at tonight's concert. They have something to show you. CAPTION: Picture 1, Blues harmonica player J.C. Burris during a workshop ; Picture 2, Irish accordion player Joe McKenna ; Picture 3, Accordion workshop. Photos by James Thresher