FOOTMAD – Sounds like some edgy new fungal cream or some crazy dancing.   Dancing is the closer companion to the acronym “Friends Of Old Time Music And Dance.”  Since 1981, promoting traditional music and dance has fueled the Kanawha Valley based non-profit, volunteer group to keep West Virginia and Appalachian folk life musically alive and vibrant.  The 2018 FOOTMAD FOOTbridge award night at the Charleston Woman’s Club was no exception. And, we had a blast.

The almost-annual award honors people who make significant contributions to traditional music and dance in West Virginia.     This year’s award winner Cathy Grant, is a fiddle instructor in both in St. Albans, WV and at the John C. Campbell Folk School in North Carolina.   Several of Cathy’s students over her nearly two decades of dedicated fiddle teaching have gone on to national prominence.  One student, Jerrica Hilbert, took the stage with her fiddle and Cathy on guitar, giving the packed audience two lively tunes.

  FOOTbridge award winners pick the theme for the evening and Kathy did not hesitate in wanting to honor Black History Month with the theme “The soul of old-time music.”  The soul folk evening began with a soul food dinner catered by “Sumpthin’ Good” out of South Charleston. The to die for collard greens, creamy and rich mac and cheese and fall off the bone wet and dry BBQ ribs got our bellies stuffed and happy.

Then, the soul folk entertainment got out souls right with the world.  Iconic African-American pianist Bob Thompson played some blues, some jazz and a tribute piece that was a favorite of Dr. Martin Luther King.  The southern West Virginia a capella trio Bare Bones sang some heart rendering spirituals and some thought-provoking union themed ballads.  Capping off the night’s entertainment, the locally raised and globally traveled gospel singer Angie Richardson had us clapping to chase away the devil, and believing that angels full of amazing grace were really watching over us all.

I went to this event thinking; “Just what is Appalachian African-American Folk culture and why isn’t it more known and recorded?”  Bob Thompson told me simply “Black Spirituals and the blues here in our region were passed down thru church and families like any other music but yes, more is needed.” Bob mentioned a WV Music Hall of Fame ceremony when both Bill Withers and Little Jimmy Dickens were inducted and the positive conversation on music and race that ensued.  Thompson said he’s considering a project that combines Appalachian folk music and African-American roots blues – to create awareness and have some fun.  Thompson said Soul Folk celebrations like FOOTMAD’s FOOTbridge Award 2018 concert were great, but events like this need to happen  in more than just February.

We say, Amen.   

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