Jul. 25—MANNINGTON — You can't shake a stick around Mannington without finding an admirer of Patty Looman. And for good reason. Looman, who died in 2012, has become almost legendary in her role as a champion of mountain music.
Dozens, if not hundreds, of former students over the years have embraced Looman's teachings and passed on the traditions of playing and teaching old time music. Some years ago, a number of her students started PattyFest, a joyful festival of playing, teaching and enjoying old time music whose roots run deep in Appalachia.
If this sounds like apostles preaching the gospel, well, perhaps that's a good thing. Religious connotations aside, the students of Looman were so greatly influenced by her kindness and generosity that they continue to play and promote Appalachian music and Looman's mission of teaching others.
"Patty didn't charge for lessons, which is a tradition in old time music," said Jeff Fedan, a former student of Looman's and one of the festival organizers. "We're just interested in passing music down to the next person."
Naming the festival PattyFest was one way Looman's students could show their appreciation for all she had done. "There was nothing you could do for her except honor her, so we decided to have a festival," Fedan said.
The first PattyFest was held in 2002, and has taken place every year until last year's pandemic.
As with most concerts and festivals scheduled in 2020, PattyFest was canceled, with the intention to start up again this year.
However, because of ongoing uncertainty about the spread of COVID-19, organizers decided to hold off this year as well. In place of PattyFest, musicians will host an open jam session at the Mannington District Fair in August.
It may not have been planned this way, but it is fitting to hold this casual gathering of mountain musicians in the town of Looman's birth.
"Patty was a teacher for many years, and when she retired she came home to Mannington," said Jean Howard, Looman's niece and one of the festival's organizers.
"Patty started taking dulcimer lessons from Russell Fluharty [from Mannington] and Worley Gardner — who were both well known in the area for their dulcimer playing," Howard said.
During the Mannington District Fair, on Saturday, Aug. 7, from 1:30 until 4:30 p.m. or later, musicians of all skill levels are invited to bring an instrument and join in the playing.
"Anyone can come," Fedan said. "We're going to perch ourselves up on that stage and have an afternoon of good, old time music."
At these jam sessions, it's common to see a variety of instruments such as the guitar, banjo, fiddle, harmonica, and, of course, the dulcimer, what many musicians consider to be at the heart of Appalachian music.
Both the hammered and lap dulcimers are often played in old time music, and each produces its own distinct sound.
In following the folk tradition, Looman passed on her knowledge of the dulcimer by teaching others throughout North Central West Virginia how to play. "Patty was a great believer in old time music and that's what she taught," Howard said. "She made herself available to anybody who wanted to play. That's what PattyFest has tried to maintain."
Without an actual festival this year, it seemed that the next best thing is an open jam session.
"It's been a very long time since a lot of musicians have been able to get together and play," Howard said. "Doing it by Zoom is not really fun. It's just not satisfactory."
At an open jam, musicians can expect to play any of the countless old time songs. "There are so many songs, so many," Fedan said. "There are some that everybody knows and some that are more remote in people's memories."
Examples of favorites include Flop-Eared Mule, Mississippi Sawyer and Cold Frosty Morning. But, as Fedan pointed out, "there's no sheet music."
The purpose of any jam session is to play old favorites, and to learn new songs. "You get a chance to play something you may have heard some time ago," Fedan said. "And you can work on it — it's kind of a practice."
"If you don't know a song when you get there, you'll try to learn it while it's going on," Fedan said. "Then, the next time you hear that song you'll know more of it. And that's how it works. It's just constant repetition."
In keeping with old time mountain music sensibility, Fedan said, "Anybody can come to these and play the songs, or learn new ones. There are no rules, anybody's welcome.
"That's our hope that there will be a lot of people who will want to join in. We can spend some time together and just enjoy music."
For more information about this year's modified PattyFest, go to www.pattyfest.org, or call Jean Howard at 904-386-5238.
To reach Lori Riley, email email@example.com.