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Appalachian music's Robin Kessinger honored

WANT TO GO?

FOOTMAD presents the 2014 FOOTbridge Award

WHERE: Culture Center Theater

WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday

TICKETS: Adults $20, seniors $15, students $10, children under 13 free

INFO: 304-415-4668 or www.footmad.org

 CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Flat-picking guitarist Robin Kessinger gushed about how happy he was to be this year's FOOTMAD FOOTbridge Award recipient.

"I'm just real excited about that," he said. "I'm extremely honored that they would do something like that for me."

The 58-year-old St. Albans resident will receive the award Saturday night at the Culture Center at a ceremony and concert that honors Kessinger's contribution to traditional music.

It's a well-earned award. The national flat-pick champion has been a near constant presence on the state's traditional music scene. He's won or placed at the Vandalia Gathering many times, taught for decades at Davis and Elkins College's Augusta Heritage Festival and even has his own music festival, lately held in early May in Roane County.

"That's been going pretty good," he said of the festival. "It's growing slowly, but I think 2014 is going to be a big year for us -- a lot more people."

He's also been a longtime supporter of the Friends of Old-Time Music and Dance, though he can't quite place when he had his first show with the organization.

"I think the first time I played for them was around 1979? I remember I was in my 20s."

There have been a lot of shows since then.

Kessinger began playing guitar in his early teens and was part of a family of respected traditional music players. His father, Bob, was an accomplished mandolin player and Kessinger's uncle, Clark, was a world-renowned fiddle player.

"I'd say the most important thing I've done with music is the teaching," he said. "One of the things I love about it is that it keeps me learning. It keeps me on my toes."

There's a constant exploration to the teaching, Kessinger added.

"I'm always looking for ways to make things easier for somebody else, for one of my students," he said. "It makes me do things I probably wouldn't do on my own. I'm always making discoveries."

He also learns when former students come back around with new techniques they've picked up on their own.

"They come back and kick my butt," he said and laughed. "It makes me work harder."

While Saturday's award show is a tribute to Kessinger, the guitarist said that he'd be sharing the limelight with a few people, some of them former or current students.

"Bryant Underwood is coming out," he said. "He's 15 and has really been good for me. Everything is just so fresh with him. He's an awesome player and has got me playing tunes I haven't played in a long, long time."

Kessinger said he'd be joined by flat-picking champions Adam Hager and Matt Lindsey as well. Hager, a former student-turned-guitar instructor, won his second flat-picking championship at the Vandalia Gathering in 2013.

Lindsey is West Virginia's 2013 state champion. He can also be found around Charleston performing with The Dread Pirate, Roberts.

Kessinger said that after the award, business resumes pretty much as it always has. He plans to keep teaching, playing and occasionally recording, though he's taking it easier than he used to.

"I had a health issue four years ago," he said. "I had a stroke and then a heart attack I didn't know I had. I had a bypass and I'm doing great as long as I keep on my meds, but I made some changes. I was touring with too many people. I backed off on that."

Still, Kessinger said he looked forward to hitting the road with his friend, two-time national flat-pick champion guitarist Robert Shafer.

"I love doing that," he said. "Playing with Robert isn't really work."

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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