Section: Arts

Folk, americana music take center stage at Ohiolina Festival

Folk, americana music take center stage at Ohiolina Festival

My friends and I lost our way on the Kokosing Gap Trail while biking to the Ohiolina music festival. It was only by locating the Rastin Observation Tower, looming over Mount Vernon, that we managed to find our way to Ariel Foundation Park.

“It’s like creating your own backyard concert,” said Ohio resident Chris Koenig, who organized the festival for the fifth year in a row. Ohiolina is a celebration of music and culture from Ohio to North Carolina that runs every September. Koenig does corporate work year-round in Columbus and he described Ohiolina as a “passion project.” He selects musicians from across the midwest and south to play at the festival, which took place last Friday and Saturday at the park’s Schnormeier Events Center and brought in people from Mount Vernon and other parts of the U.S. As per custom, students were able to pay $5 for each ticket rather than the standard $80 fee for the weekend pass.

Because Ohiolina is an Americana festival, music varied from progressive folk to traditional old-time. Honeysuckle, a band that performed on Saturday afternoon, embodied progressive folk. “Their voices blend so well together. It’s amazing,” Jess Lane ’20 said during their set. Honeysuckle’s sound was much airier and less structured than many of the other acts, emulating indie bands like Daughter and Mumford and Sons.

On the traditional end of the spectrum were The Wayfarers, an old-time mountain music group. They played two sets, the first of which was an accompaniment to a performer who demonstrated flatfoot dance —  a traditional Appalachian dance style involving leather-soled shoes on top of a wooden surface. The Wayfarers’ second set stood on its own.

“Playing music that was hundreds of years old was appealing to me,” Wayfarers member Brandon Bankes said. “Having young people puts a fresh spin on this kind of music.” The band, which started in 2010, has five members from musical backgrounds ranging from gospel to punk. Bankes, who plays mandolin and sings, believes this diversity shows in the group’s sound.

Just 30 minutes before his 5:00 p.m. show, musician Woody Pines arrived in his van and immediately began preparing to perform. It had taken him around eight hours to drive up from Nashville with his self-named band for two sets at Ohiolina the day after doing a show at home.

Pines’s music blends croony old-time with country blues music, and his set featured traditional instruments like harmonica and guitar as well as a trumpet and baritone saxophone — instruments unorthodox to American roots music.

“I think the energy that I heard in the early string band music … you can hear them slapping the strings or bouncing off the fretboard, and it’s almost like they’re playing the drums,” Pines said.

Although Pines draws influence from folk bands like The Avett Brothers and Vaudeville musicians like Leon Redbone, Pines has always loved old blues. “I realized that I’m quite nasal-y and I don’t have that soulful, blues vocal,” he said. “But I used to — when I was a kid — stuff bread in my mouth [to sound] like those toothless blues guys I was hearing.”

Pines also expressed a love for the storytelling aspect of folk music. “It’s as important to carry on the tradition and do traditional songs and re-write them and tamper with them as it is to come up with original songs,” he said. At the end of Pines’ set, Koenig stepped out into the audience to toss small inflatable balls to the audience.

Picking performers is what Koenig enjoys most about the festival. Another job is finding food trucks and businesses to sell goods at the venue. This year included a lemonade stand and several barbecue trucks selling items like po’ boy sandwiches and shrimp and grits. Retail outlets included a boutique trailer, a tent selling paintings and a record stand run by WKCO. In addition, the festival offered group yoga for an hour on Sunday morning, and an artist spent the extent of the festival creating an illustration of a cardinal and a bear with chalk on the floor in the middle of the pavilion.

Except for Koenig’s sound technician, all workers directly involved with the festival, including ticket sales and festival merchandise retail, were volunteers. Koenig expressed satisfaction with this year’s events and explained that it does a lot to stimulate the local economy.

This weekend, between 600 and 800 people came out. Koenig hopes to turn the festival into a three- or four-day, multi-million-dollar project in the future.

“I think the community has been amazingly supportive, financially and emotionally,” he said. “It’s a lot of work but it’s days like this that make it worth the effort.”

WKCO’s Heather Petersen contributed reporting.

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