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Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review August 19, 2005 / 14 Av, 5765

At Clifftop, Their Music Is Conservative but Their Politics Sure isn't

By Dave Shiflett


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http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Clifftop, W.Va — A visitor finds great diversity at this Mecca of "old-time" music festivals: platoons of fiddlers, guitarists, banjo players and mandolinists; vendors of instruments, compact discs, massages, tacos, pottery and tie-dyed clothing; aging boomers swaddled in tie-dyes with beards a yard long and hair to match; and even, encountered during an early morning walk, a dead man lying beside the road, perhaps none too grateful to be there.

What one could not find at this early August event, formally known as the Appalachian String Band Music Competition but usually simply called Clifftop, was any outward sign that America has two major political parties. The proverbial fiddler from Mars would easily conclude that John Kerry won the last election by acclamation and that some evil creature named Bush should be under lock and key for election-tampering.

All of which is fairly interesting, considering that old time, one of the nation's oldest forms of folk music, germinated in the deepest, darkest hollows of red-state America.

"You definitely won't see a Bush sticker here," said Charlie Stagmer, an engineer with CSX Railroad who has been playing old-time fiddle for about 30 years. "We're the caring people, the compassionate people." Mr. Stagmer, whose flowing white hair and beard suggest Moses after the famed encounter with the burning bush, was clearly pleased not to be rubbing shoulders with professing Republicans.

"There's an old saying about old-time musicians," agreed Donald Zepp, owner of Zepp Country Music in Wendell, N.C., and a Clifftop vendor. "They live around universities, drive Volvos and vote Democratic," which is in marked contrast to players of bluegrass, a musical cousin, who "live in rural areas and small towns, drive pickups, grow tobacco and vote GOP."

Clifftop is the undisputed premier festival of old-time music, attracting people from 40 of the 50 states and several foreign countries. Mr. Zepp muses that if a bomb went off at the hosting Camp Washington-Carver, which is run by West Virginia's department of culture and history, "you'd probably kill 80% of the old-time players in the world." This year Clifftop attracted about 4,000 people, says Randy McClain, site manager at the camp.

Karl Rove was not among them.

What exactly is old time, and why its distinct political coloration? Gail Gillespie, who edits the Old Time Herald magazine (circulation: 2,000), calls it "homegrown music and dance" that is not about star instrumentalists trying to "outperform" fellow players. It has "not been claimed by the mass culture" and practitioners enjoy its communal, "connecting" nature, she added. In "Camp U-Tarpia," where 25 Canadians spent most of a week, one player said Vietnam draft dodgers were instrumental in bringing the music north.

Ms. Gillespie agreed that left-wing politics are prevalent, though she knows of a few old-time players who vote Republican. Indeed, Clifftop came into its own about 17 years ago, after the longstanding old-time festival in Galax, Va., began picking on long-hairs. "There were animal stalls the hippies usually stayed in," and when organizers razed them, she said, that sent a message. "We wanted a festival that was comfortable and welcoming. We are the anti-Galax."

"Old time is the counterculture version of Appalachian mountain music," agreed Jim Skelding, who served as country star Martina McBride's fiddler for four years and now plays with several Virginia-based bluegrass bands. He doesn't mean that as a compliment.

Mr. Skelding is the mirror opposite of Mr. Stagmer: close-cropped, deeply Republican, and bored stiff by old-time music, whose practitioners may be politically progressive, he said, though "they are more conservative in their musical approach than any other musicians, playing only old period tunes where the fiddle plays very structured repetitive solos that offer no creative space to the supporting instruments." Mr. Skelding, who would no more join an old-time jam than the Howard Dean Fan Club, also dismissed the sartorial disposition of old timers, calling their omnipresent sandals "Jerusalem cruisers."

All of which is music to the ears of the old timers. "We're pre-bluegrass," boasts Mr. Stagmer, and many songs popular with jammers definitely reflect a pre-modern sensibility, including "Squirrel Heads and Gravy" and "Nail the Catfish to the Tree."

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Old timers also claim the high ground in the family-friendly competition. Mr. Stagmer asserts that there is much less smoking at old-time festivals, while Ms. Gillespie says that "Galax got to the point where you couldn't let your kids go to the Porta-potties by themselves," citing alcohol-fueled fights as a chief concern. Other ambiance differences: no Confederate flags at Clifftop, save on the hats of a couple of trash haulers. Nor is there a noticeable police presence, while officers at Galax patrol through the night.

"Clifftop has probably the most self-policed crowd I've seen at a music festival," said Mr. McClain. Indeed, Mr. Zepp left his entire banjo inventory out overnight, protected only by a thin tarp. Couldn't someone easily drive off with all your stock? "I guess I have more faith in the human race," he said, adding that word would get back to him if stolen instruments started popping up at jam sessions. "They are easily traced."

No festival is without drawbacks — rain, heat, marauding insects, and the occasional corpse along a roadside. Death is a downer, to be sure, though "if you've got to go," noted camper Joseph "Joebass" DeJarnette, who plays bass for the Brooklyn-based "oldternative" band the Wiyos, "this is a pretty good place to do it."

Life goes on, sometimes in circles. Several hours after the body was hauled away, 40 or so festivarians gathered around an instructor to learn a "flatfoot" dance step that included dragging one foot across the plywood floor. As a small band played "Round Town Girls," the students clumped clumsily at first, yet after a minute found their groove. When they dragged their feet in unison they created a sound reminiscent of a giant animal taking a deep breath.

It was a magic moment — flatfooting past the graveyard, as it were, taking the mind far away from fallen boomers and the ineffable sadness of life.

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JWR contributor Dave Shiflett writes from central Va and is the author of "Exodus: Why Americans Are Fleeing Liberal Churches for Conservative Christianity." Comment by clicking here.

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