Henry Reed, a now-legendary West Virginia fiddler, never received much public recognition before his death in 1968. Yet the vitality and richness of his legacy inspired dozens of musicians and family members to perform for a packed house at the State Theater in Falls Church Wednesday night.
Indeed, the old-time tunes that Reed played throughout his life produced some of the evening's finest performances. Fiddler Alan Jabbour, Reed's protege and the former head of the Library of Congress's American Folklife Center, collaborated with banjoist Stephen Wade on several tunes charged with rhythmic verve and infectious melodies. In time, the duo were joined by several members of Reed's family, armed with enough string instruments (and one harmonica) to create an Appalachian symphony.
Subtitled "Roots and Branches," the concert also celebrated the invaluable work done by the Folklife Center's archive, which has documented and preserved Reed's music. Wade's solo performance was a vivid reminder of the spell he cast on audiences during the record-breaking run of "Banjo Dancing" in Washington. If anything, he's more mesmerizing than ever, a storyteller of the first rank and a man so consumed by folklore and banjo music that listeners can't help but be moved by his passion and playing.
Alas, not all of the performances were so inspired. Obviously suffering from a cold, Hazel Dickens should have surrendered the microphone more often to her band-mate, the talented vocalist Dudley O'Connell. Likewise, the set by Prophecy, a gospel group composed of former D.C. police officers, was underpowered and uneven.
More consistently pleasing and spirited was the southwest Louisiana music performed by guitarist Christine Balfa, button accordionist Geno Delafose and fiddler Dirk Powell. Among other things, they underscored the strength of music handed down from one generation to the next.
No celebration of the archive's work would be complete without Pete Seeger, its first intern. With plenty of help from his grandson, the fine singer and guitarist Tao Rodriguez, Seeger led the audience in an energetic series of sing-alongs, beginning with a customized version of "Midnight Special" and ending with a full-cast arrangement of "This Little Light of Mine." Proceeds from the concert will help establish the Henry Reed Fund for Folk Artists at the Library of Congress.