Inside Appalachia Folkways Project

The Inside Appalachia Folkways Project expands the reporting of the Inside Appalachia team to include more stories from West Virginia as well as expand coverage in Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Ohio 

The project establishes the Inside Appalachia Folkways Corps, which launched with 10 specialized freelance reporters from four Appalachian states.

The initiative also will include developing ongoing partnerships with folklife organizations and artisans across the region, as well as expanding WVPB’s educational components surrounding Appalachian folk life and culture, providing a tool kit for educators to incorporate "Inside Appalachia" into classrooms everywhere.

Keep scrolling to see the the Folkways stories and podcast episodes.

Caitlin Tan / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

For the past two years, West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s Inside Appalachia team has been working on a folkways project that focuses on artisans and craftsmen within Appalachia.

For many of these people, their art or craft is their primary income, and a lot of them depend on social events, like concerts, farmers markets and craft fairs. In this new world of coronavirus and social distancing, that is proving difficult.

Storyteller Uses Song To Inspire Children To Learn About Nature

Mar 13, 2020
Credit Saro Lynch-Thomason

These days, kids are spending less time exploring the outdoors and more time in front of screens.

A 2019 report by the independent non-profit Common Sense Media found that on average, 8-to-12 year-olds in the United States spend approximately five hours on entertainment screen media every day. But numerous studies show that time outside is great for kids, helping them reduce stress and stay healthy. 


West Virginia Public Broadcasting has selected 13 storytellers to be a part of the second year of its Inside Appalachia Folkways Reporting Project.

The project expands the reporting of the Inside Appalachia team to include more stories from West Virginia, as well as expanding coverage in Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina and Ohio. Storytellers will explore Appalachia’s rich folklife, arts and material culture.

Caitlin Tan / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Old-time music is a large part of West Virginia’s heritage – it is the folk music of the state. And although it has now gained the popularity of people from all over the world, hundreds of years ago it was isolated within Appalachian communities. However, as it gains traction, some people think the uniqueness is lost. 

In a special report exploring folkways traditions, as part of the Inside Appalachia Folkways Project, Caitlin Tan explores the master-apprentice relationship in the old-time music community.


A Little Daytona In Ona

Feb 21, 2020
Lexi Browning / for WVPB

Ona, West Virginia is a town with two stop lights, but it’s also a place where legends are made. 

Greg Sigler has been racing at Ona Speedway for nearly two decades. But today, he’s coaching his 15-year-old son, Cole, from the sidelines, using a headset that lets them talk back and forth. Cole, who drives a white 2006 Cobalt sporting the number 99, has just embarked on his own racing career. It’s his first time behind the wheel of a car.  


Mason Adams / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On any given Friday night, a parade of customized cars and trucks cruise from north to south and back again on Williamson Road in Roanoke, Virginia. 

Modified with neon lights, spinning rims and streamlined spoilers, these vehicles do not necessarily scream “folk tradition”—but they are just the modern version of a long-running Appalachian tradition. 

Caitlin Tan / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

In rural Preston County, West Virginia, potter Mel Sword’s house is located at the end of a gravel road, near a road called "Wildflower Way" and a creek that feeds into the Cheat River. His home nestles rolling fields of green grass, and behind that are mounds of dirt, clay that to Sword is half the reason he bought this property about ten years ago.

Caitlin Tan / WVPB

Deep within the mountains of central West Virginia, is a tiny village called Helvetia. It was originally founded by Swiss settlers in the mid-1800s, as they felt the steep mountains, thick forests, winding river, all resembled their homeland.


Hands holding Oxheart tomato
Rachel Greene

In Appalachia, organizations like seed libraries and community gardens are helping to save traditional heirloom vegetables from being lost. Sometimes, the seeds are found in unexpected places like when Travis Birdsell visited the barn of an Ashe County farmer in 2017.


There, he found tomato seeds smeared on the side of an old grocery store sack.

 

“All the words said were 'Big Red,'” Birdsell said.

Caitlin Tan / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

West Virginia’s Mountaineer Heritage Hunting season began Jan 9, two weeks after most hunting seasons have closed. It is the second year since its conception, and most notably, it is limited to primitive weapons - like flintlock muzzle loader rifles. 


The 66th Mountaineer, Timmy Eads, in the 2019 WVU Homecoming parade.
Jesse Wright / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

West Virginia University’s mascot, the Mountaineer, is a big deal in the state. In fact, fans are called ‘Mountaineer Nation.’ West Virginians have long identified with the mascot as it symbolizes independence, strength and curiosity -- a true frontiersman attitude. 


Wetzel County Workshop Keeps Folk Toys Alive

Dec 20, 2019
Zack Harold / For Inside Appalachia

  When I was a kid, the thing that intrigued me most about Santa wasn’t the beard, or the flying reindeer, or the repeated breaking and entering. No — I was fascinated by his workshop. I loved to imagine the elves working tirelessly to make toys that would end up under Christmas trees around the world.

But you know, I never once imagined the elves making the season’s hottest toys. 

Caitlin Tan / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Flea markets are a common feature across rural landscapes, especially in Appalachia. If you have never been, there is typically something for everyone, and one West Virginian artist is turning the unique finds into art. 

“Sometimes it’s the imagery. A portion of my work has an industrial aspect to it, and I don’t mean just the materials, but the imagery,” Robert Villamagna said.


The Hale Family sing at the WV Mountain State Gospel Convention in June 2019.  Photo by Zack Harold
Zack Harold / For Inside Appalachia


There’s a place in southern West Virginia that many consider holy ground. For nearly 70 years, gospel music fans have gathered on this mountaintop just south of Summersville Lake for weekend concerts featuring singers from all over West Virginia and its surrounding states.

This is the annual West Virginia Mountain State Southern Gospel Convention

Caitlin Tan / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

West Virginia folklore includes many alien and monster-like characters, such as Mothman, Big Foot and the Yeti. One such monster has made a big resurgence in the past few years, becoming a part of the state’s pop culture.


Courtesy of Lacy Hale

Scavenger. Trash animal. Chicken killer. Hero. People here in Appalachia have lots of feelings when it comes oppossums — or "possums" as some people call them. A town in Harlan County, Kentucky found this out first-hand when they decided to feature a possum on a mural in their downtown.

It was a clear, sunny day in May and Lacy Hale was putting the finishing touches on a mural destined for a brick wall in downtown Harlan, Kentucky.


Love And Tradition Passed Down Through A Guitar

Sep 27, 2019
John Nakashima/ WVPB

Mill Point is a blink-and-you'll miss it wide spot off the twisty mountain roads of Pocahontas County, West Virginia.  It's also the home of Bill Hefner, a luthier who isn't just making guitars, he's passing his tradition of meticulous craftmanship down to the next generation.


Paul Williams (left) helps Scott build his 'backpack' guitar. It has a smaller body, meant to easily fit in a pack.
Caitlin Tan / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

It is a hot, late summer night in the small town of Hindman, Kentucky. The sun is setting against the backdrop of the steep Appalachian Mountains. Musicians are warming up for the Knott County Downtown Radio Hour. 

It is essentially a recorded open mic hosted once a month by the Appalachian School of Luthiery, a school that teaches people how to build wooden stringed instruments. Doug Naselroad is the founder and the master luthier of the program.


How Fly Fishing Saved a Veteran's Life

Aug 30, 2019
Mason Adams / WVPB

Army veteran Kyle Chanitz spent two and a half years deployed in Afghanistan, where he saw intense fighting and suffered concussions that led to seizures. When he returned to the U.S., he started taking college classes, but then dropped out to follow the jam band Phish around the country.

He spent 18 months on the road, got into drugs and spiraled out of control. 

Jesse Wright / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

This summer in Morgantown, elementary school students had access to  a special summer art camp series almost every week.

Last week, students learned a  story telling art form rooted in Appalachian tradition called crankies. Crankies are also sometimes called moving panoramas, as they are a drawing or painting that can be manually moved and is portrayed within a box.

Caitlin Tan / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

It is a hot, muggy day along the Monongahela river. Zoma Archambault is standing on a small, sandy beach about 10 minutes from Morgantown. It is one of the few along the river, as much of it is covered in thick brush and mud.

The beach used to be an informal camp spot. Zoma found it abandoned, with trash covering the ground in every direction. It is almost all picked up now, aside from some muddy clothes, a couple hypodermic needles and roof shingles.

Caitlin Tan / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Just about any search on Google for “best white water rafting” includes West Virginia. Around 150,000 people commercially raft a West Virginia river each year, mostly on the New River and Gauley River, which are near Fayetteville, West Virginia. At one point there were just less than 30 rafting companies in the area. Today, they have consolidated into six adventure businesses. 

Sam Fonda pours a beer at Weathered Ground Brewery in Cool Ridge, West Virginia.
Janet Kunicki / WVPB

Craft breweries are popping up all over the region. In West Virginia alone, there are 27 breweries and three quarters of them opened in the last five years.

Sam Fonda, from Weathered Ground Brewery in Raleigh County, West Virginia, has almost 3,000 gallons of soon-to-be-beer fermenting and another 1,000 gallons aging in oak barrels nearby at any given time. That may sound like a lot, but his typical batch is 220 gallons, and that gives him the chance to experiment.


Caitlin Tan

Peanut butter stouts, guava sours, hazy double IPAs, pomegranate ales – these are just a few experimental beers to come out of the craft beer craze in recent years.

According to the National Brewer’s Association, this expanding industry started in the 1990s but didn’t gain momentum until 2010, making it relatively new. Today there are more than 7,000 commercial breweries in the country.

Emily Hilliard / West Virginia Folklife Program

Doris Fields, an R&B, soul, and blues musician and songwriter, also known as Lady D, is the daughter of a coal miner. Her dad moved to West Virginia from Alabama at 10 years old and spent 50 years in the mines. She currently lives in Beckley.

Fields explained that music has been in her blood since she was a young girl, growing up in Cabin Creek, West Virginia.

Caitlin Tan / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

In this week’s episode of Inside Appalachia, we explore how our cultural traditions change over time and evolve as they get passed from person to person.

 

How does foklife fit into our already busy, and frankly, quite stressful lives?

“Henry Glassie, another folklorist, says that folklore is the creation of the future out of the past. So in order to know where we're headed, we have to know about these traditions in the past,” explained West Virginia state folklorist Emily Hilliard.


Caitlin Tan

Walking down the streets of Greensboro, Pennsylvania, it feels a bit like a ghost town. There are houses, business signs, a post office, but only two cars drive by in 10 minutes and no one is walking the streets.

The small town in southern Pennsylvania is just across the West Virginia border. It sits on the banks of the Monongahela River, surrounded by small hills and patches of trees. In years past, the town has weathered the boom and bust of a pottery industry, river trade and coal. Lately, it has been more bust than boom.

Jesse Wright

Across the Atlantic Ocean -- 3,586 miles away from West Virginia -- you will find Wales, which is part of the United Kingdom. The western side of Wales is lined by two channels from the Celtic Sea. And inland is quite mountainous. Within those mountain towns, you will find similar folk culture to Appalachia.

“The nature of the people and the landscape is very similar. Plus, many people from West Wales came over here. So we’ve got those really strong connections,” said Peter Stevenson, a Welsh artist, writer and storyteller.

Jesse Wright

The tall, red brick building that was once home to Rowlesburg High School still stands after surviving the historic 1985 flood.

After the flood it was no longer used as a school, but today it remains the heart of the community of Rowlesburg – it's where people meet, festivities are held, weekly dinners are made, etc.

Caitlin Tan

Families all across the world pass on traditions and it is no exception in Appalachia.

Traditions like making apple butter in the fall, or celebrating Christmas morning at mamaws, or picking ramps at that secret spot in the spring, or even just going to church on Sunday.

But for one family in Lincoln County, West Virginia, the tradition is building furniture.


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