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Band brings Civil War-era music to life

Want to Go?

The 97th Regimental String Band and David Norris, sponsored by FOOTMAD

WHERE: Culture Center Theater

WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday

TICKETS: Adults $20, seniors $15, students $10, children free

INFO: Call 304-415-3668 or visit www.footmad.org

NOTE: FOOTMAD also sponsors a Civil War military ball from 8 to 11 p.m. Friday at Columbia Gas Transmission Auditorium, 1700 MacCorkle Ave. S.E. Suggested donation $5.

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The 97th Regimental String Band had it roots 30 years ago around campfires during Civil War re-enactments.

"Sitting around the campfire, we eventually ran out of lies to swap about each other and started singing songs," said Rick Moock, a founding member.

They had a lot of material to choose from. They decided to perform it period style, in three-part harmonies, interacting a lot with their audiences.

"Basically, we sing popular American music of the 19th century. We center around the Civil War, but most of the songs we sing are not related to the war itself -- they're civilian songs."

The band will present its music in two forms locally this weekend. First, it is the featured performer in a Civil War military ball, sponsored by FOOTMAD, starting at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Columbia Gas Transmission auditorium in Kanawha City. Then, the group, along with bluegrass singer/songwriter David Norris, is featured in a full-bore FOOTMAD concert starting at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Culture Center Theater.

The ball will include Virginia reels, a partnered country-dance known as a schottische, waltzes, two-steps, polkas and set dances like contra dances and quadrilles, along with a stately grand march. All set dances are accessible for beginners and will be taught at the ball.

Attire from the Civil War period is encouraged, including formal costumes of the 1850s and '60s, or just come as you are. Flat, leather-soled shoes or dance slippers are recommended for the ball with the important caveat from FOOTMAD that there be "no hobnailed boots or shoes and absolutely no high heels!"

Moock said he enjoys the variety of 19th century music, which is so different from today's musical landscape.

"Today, everything is basically a love song. In country music, 'my pickup died and when is my girl gonna come back and is she gonna come back... ' I'm all for love, but that's not all of life. You hit your thumb with a hammer, and there should be a song about it."

The group includes Moock on upright bass and harmonica, Mark "Mad Dog" Luce on guitar and Craig Wolford on mandolin, fiddle and banjo ("not all at the same time, Moock helpfully notes). All three sing intertwined harmonies.

Moock has some thoughts about the nature of the 19th century music the band plays. Much of the music, he said, is "of the Victorian era."

"One of the staples of the Victorian attitude, which guided people in this country, was that you did not show your feelings in public," he said.

But there were many different kinds of songs that did delve into the emotional side of being a social animal, and this was how a Victorian-influenced culture got its feelings out.

"You couldn't cry in public, but you could sing a sad song. It was a way to publicly display your emotions in a socially-repressed time," he said.

Moock said he really enjoys performing the music. "Most of all I enjoy the effect we have on people and the people we meet. We try to sound like how we think the Civil War soldiers sounded like when they sang these songs.

"We love to break down that fourth wall; we get the audiences to sing along and, in this case, to dance along. We like to get people to enjoy what we think is their music. It's all music of the people from long years past. We want to remind folks of that and reintroduce it to them. Reach Douglas Imbrogno at douglas@cnpapers.com or 304-348-3017.


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