Common Ground in the arts

Festival and classes offer varied cultural education

July 12, 1999|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

An 11-year-old fiddler, banjo music and a Kiowa-Comanche Indian blues singer helped set the mood yesterday to close out the second annual American Music & Arts Festival at the Carroll County Farm Museum.

The two-day event also marked the finale of the Common Ground on the Hill program at Western Maryland College, where about 370 students spent a week with 110 artists from around the world.

They were celebrating "the common ground found in the traditional arts," according to Walt Michael, a musician and the college's artist in residence, who founded Common Ground five years ago.

Michael said he has learned that 90 percent of the people participating in the classes and the festival came because of word of mouth.

"Last year it felt very stark," said Michael, but this year, "I'm pretty happy with it. People who have been here five years are saying it's the best ever -- and new people are saying it's an experience like they never had."

The fiddler was Claude Martin, of the Montgomery County community of Boyds, sending out the plaintive strains of "My Old Kentucky Home." Although he is only 11, he is a veteran of the Common Ground program -- attending classes since its first year.

"I started [fiddling] at Common Ground, mostly old-timey and Irish," he said. "I've been there ever since."

The festival opened under overcast skies Saturday. Yesterday's sunshine posed an unlikely problem. One of the most popular acts, the Sankofa Dance Theater of Washington, found the wooden stage too hot for its barefoot African drumming and dancing. The problem was resolved when the troupe moved to ground level. The shift didn't put the next performer, Tom Ware, the Kiowa-Comanche bluesman, too far behind schedule.

Nonmusical arts were represented in the booths of painting, photography, jewelry and native crafts lining the walkways of the 19th-century farm on South Center Street in Westminster.

About 40 early birds sprawled under the trees for "Banjo for Breakfast," with musicians Bill Keith, Reed Martin, Bob Zentz and Dr. Richard Wilkie, all instructors at Common Ground.

And what better place than a farm? A rooster crowed on cue during the ancient number, "Cluck Old Hen."

Laurie Precht, 35, had set up a cool spot under a maple tree, with paper-plate wind-catchers flying. They had been made by her 4 1/2-year-old son, Geoffrey and by Abby Hart, 3, the daughter of Nancy Shaw Hart, 32, of Westminster. Geoffrey was a star of the dance Saturday night.

"People just had smiles on their faces for three hours," Shaw Hart said of Saturday night's festivities, ranging from Virginia reels to contra and hat dances.

Glen Yakushiji, 42, of Washington volunteered at the T-shirt tent. Like many others, he said he learned of Common Ground through a friend -- and will return. "I came to see and wandered from class to class" during the week, Yakushiji said. "From African drumming to bluegrass banjo to amazing blues to Celtic and folk -- and that's one day."

At the festival office, volunteer Shari Gallery of Augusta, W.Va., said the event tallied 500 paid admissions -- and that many, or more, instructors, volunteers and family members attended.

"Where we live, the population is pretty homogenous," she said, and she wanted her children to learn about other cultures. "That's really what Common Ground is all about."

Pub Date: 7/12/99

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