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The First Fox Hollow Festival in 1966

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Church Family of Petersburgh NY Reminiscences

Journey to Fox Hollow


Click on fox for "Journey to Fox Hollow" by Doug MacKenzie

The Beers Family and Petersburgh, NY Host a Folk Festival Tradition


by Daniel John Bornt
(New comments 7/21/2008)

O ne evening around my twelfth birthday, I was lying on the couch slightly feverish with a cold or flu, when mom and dad came home from shopping with a present for me...a box guitar from the S&H stamp redemption center. I was immediately taken with it. My new guitar was a little Kay acoustic with a thick neck and painted block "inlays" up the fingerboard. It was accompanied by a pick and an instruction book with basic-chord beginner's songs. I think the first song I learned was "Down In The Valley", a two-chorder with just "G" and "D7". Soon, I tackled that "C" chord, which seemed pretty difficult as there was more finger stretching involved than the other two, but nothing compared to the "F" chord! That thing hurt!

Not too long after I had started learning and had finally gotten a few songs under my belt (along with the sense of when to change chords in a song), the nearby village of Petersburg became the site of a "folk" festival that was to be held in August up on the side of the Grafton mountain. The festival was organized by Bob Beers, a noteworthy folk musician who was a recognized expert on the psaltery, which I remember to be a large, heavy harpsichord-type instrument that had to be dragged onto stage on rollers.

At that time the folk music revival was still going strong, as the developing counter-culture looked back into America's roots to a more natural lifestyle as a means of identity and escape. Folk festivals were popping up all over the country as people sought new means to connect and share their songs, memories, and histories.

Petersburgh, isolated and clannish, was totally unprepared for the onslaught of the weird, wacky colorful types, many from New York City, that were attracted to such events. But the people of the town rallied to the occasion, opening up their homes and public buildings to house and feed the hundreds of folk music fans that made their way up to the mountain for that weekend gathering in the summer of 1966. This first festival became an annual event that folk music fans throughout the Northeast looked forward to every summer.

Bob and Evelyn Beer's property extended from their stately, rambling stone-veneered house on the hillside beside Route 2 back into the deep woods that overlooked the Petersburg valley. My Grandfather Bierwirth's brother and sons lived nearby and helped with setting up the grounds for the event. A ways back in from the road, they cut logs into a slope on a ravine for seats and built a stage at the bottom for the performances, stringing up lights for the evening shows. At the festivals I attended it usually rained - doesn't it always at folk festivals! - but that just added to the magic.

The dripping trees, the muddy trails, the ground-hugging mist made nights to remember as we sat on the hillside on blankets and in lawn chairs gazing down at the wooden stage where the performers sang, danced, and told stories while playing fiddles, guitars, banjos, and harmonicas. Musical guests came from near and far and included "Cousin" Thelma Bolton from Florida, regaling young and old with her interpretations of Uncle Remus' classic tales about "Brer" Rabbit and "Brer" Fox; Jean Ritchie from Kentucky strumming the dulcimer and singing plaintive long-forgotten ballads; a cowboy rope-twirler; puppeteers with limberjacks; "high lonesome" bluegrass harmonizers, and two pretty young girls singing country songs while strumming box guitars almost as big as they were: the Wiggins Sisters from Bradenton, Florida. How I wished I was good enough to play on stage with them!

And of course no evening was really complete without the Beers Family doing their sweet old-time rendition of "Dumbarton's Drums" (from their Columbia album of the same name.)

Back out away from the amphitheater, squatting in the mud of the parking lot, was a circle of long-haired "hippie" types having a "jam" session. I tentatively joined them, following along best I could on the Kay acoustic. I don't remember what brands of instruments they were playing - anyway at that time I hadn't the slightest knowledge of quality guitars like Gibsons or Martins!

The "Fox Hollow Festival", as the Beers called it, continued on as an annual tradition until 1980, even after Bob Beers' untimely death from a car accident in Vermont in 1972. The festivals still harbor cherished memories of the music and its setting for the thousands that visited Petersburgh during its fourteen-year run.

Notes:

Beers Family - Bob Beers (1920-1972), his wife Evelyne, their daughter Marty and son-in-law Eric Nagler performed widely, doing the traditional music of the eastern US. In 1966, they founded the Fox Hollow Folk Festival, and also started the Fox Hollow recording label. - Rod's Encyclopedic Dictionary Of Traditional Music (C) 2000 Rod Smith A.R.R. (http://www.sussexfolk.freeserve.co.uk/ency/b.htm)

For a complete listing of the Beers Family discography, visit Folk Music - An Index to Recorded Resources at http://www.ibiblio.org/folkindex/

The first Fox Hollow Festival was held the weekend of Aug. 19-21, 1966. The second festival was held Aug. 18-20, 1967 (confirmed by diary entries).

- DJB, 2003

Fox Hollow 1974 reservation brochure

 

For another reminisce about Fox Hollow days, be sure to check out Doug MacKenzie's "Journey to Fox Hollow" on this site or his post on the Unintentional Irony blog at:
http://unintentional-irony.blogspot.com/2008/03/highlanders-tale-of-fox-hollow.html

- Editor

Comments:

--- Corey Le Fevre <cjlefevre@earthlink.net> wrote (12/9/2003):

I saw your web page and loved reading about the 1st 2 festivals. I went to every one up until about 1977. I was going to go to the 1980 one but for some reason didn't go. I was in the military at the time and may have been over seas. I remember my dad use to tape all the performances on his reel to reel tape recorder...rain or shine. I use to have pictures I took but have moved around so much that I have lost track of them. I still have the memories....and some records too.

Thank you for bringing back good memories.

Corey Le Fevre



--- Chris Fennimore <CFennimo@wqed.org> wrote (7/21/2008)

My, my, what memories you brought back. I was just a young musician in 1968 when I found my way to the festival. It was magic. I was actually playing with a band called Your Father's Mustache at the time and we were engaged at the Henry Hudson Hotel in Troy, NY. After our gig was finished I would ride over to Petersburg to sit around campfires all night and jam with other folkies. I remember going over on Sunday morning to an outdoor service where everyone was singing the shape-note hymns in beautiful harmony. I went back another year, probably 1970, and it was just as rain-soaked and enchanted as the first time. It all seems like a dream now, until I read your website and it brought it all back to reality. Amazing. thank you so much for the wonderful memories you shared and the ones you stirred.
Chris Fennimore

P.S. I still have the same old guitar I had back then, a big Favilla dreadnaught. And I still love to get together with friends and sing the old songs - like Dunbarton's Drums. Now I live in Pittsburgh and work for Public Television.

Chris Fennimore
Director of Programming
Producer, QED COOKS
WQED Pittsburgh: Winner, 2007 and 2006 Mid-Atlantic Emmy Award for Station Excellence

"WQED changes lives."


E-mail us!

"The Church Family of Petersburgh, NY featuring descendants of Frank and Myrtle Church" website
at http://churchtree.tripod.com
"9th Annual Fox Hollow Festival" flyer - personal collection of DJB

"Fox" graphic compliments of www.clipart.com
©2003 by Daniel J. Bornt, e-mail to: vanatalan@yahoo.com