Dirty Linen review

Dirty Linen review

from Dirty Linen magazine

Fiddles, Snakes and Dog Days
Old-Time Music and Lore in West Virginia

Video Cassette – 60 Minutes

Augusta Heritage Center – AHV-97 [(1997)]

They’re called the ‘state treasures’ of West Virginia and they’ve got stories to tell that may not be remembered generations from now. They’re folk artists and their handed-down spoken traditions are as culturally vital as the old-time music played on their porches.

This documentary begins with various folk artists discussing the perils of dog days: how birds and snakes go blind, hawks whistle, snakes become poisonous and how a black chicken’s intestines can thwart the worst of snakebites during summer’s brutal heat. From there, there are conversations about placing rattles inside fiddles, how fiddles were once considered an instrument of the devil and ultimately, the evilest of all creatures: snakes. Some tell a story of how a young girl fed a snake daily and when the parents killed the snake out of fear, she soon died. Many of these stories are related by several folk artists, etching the impression that these tales are indeed gospel — no jive is shucked here. Even so, there’s the incredulous story about how a mother black snake will open her mouth so a couple dozen offspring can all slither inside. Throughout the film, the sense of West Virginian life is never lost. While one series of shots will show the seemingly untouched countryside, another series shows practitioners of Appalachian flatfooted dancing.

In between, there’re wonderful snatches of music from fiddlers Melvin Wine, Lester McCumbers, Glen Smith, Leland Hall, and Eugene Wright. A brief fiddler’s history is also presented, touching upon the legacy of Uncle Jack McElwain and Edden Hammons. The film concludes with the masterful fiddling of Augusta’s programming/grants specialist Jimmy Triplett, hence symbolizing how the younger generation is ensuring that their inherited mountain traditions aren’t buried by the information age.

Dan Willging
Denver, Colorado