September 22, 2008

Musicians Bring Tunes to Connellsville Coal Heritage

By Barbara Hollenbaugh

Mining, transporting and transforming coal into coke is part of the region's heritage.

That heritage comes alive again on Saturday at the Penn State Coal and Coke Music Festival at Penn State Fayette, The Eberly Campus.

"This festival will celebrate the different kinds of music that were a part of this era," said Gina Jones, chairperson of the event. "Polka was the most popular music. Gospel music was common as well. Folk music and jazz also were common here. In the end, individual families went by their own tastes in music."

The festival showcases local artists.

"We want this event to be a new event that draws people from the tri-state area," she said.

Chris Decker, founder of the Augsberg German Band, thinks it's important that this region's German heritage be represented at the festival.

"Many of the coal and coke barons, including Henry Clay Frick, were of German descent," he said. "Germans brought to this region an entrepreneurial spirit that helped drive the industrial revolution."

Decker said that although many German immigrants were farmers, many others worked in the mines and manned the coke ovens.

"I hope people learn about the coal and coke heritage," he said. "It's a time for people to celebrate history."

Decker and his band will play German polkas.

Other musical performers include the River City Brass Band, New Meadow Run Spring Valley Community Children's Choir and Chuck Cantalamessa. FiddleKicks will demonstrate traditional clogging. The group Simple Gifts will demonstrate spoon-playing.

Jones said the festival will celebrate the many qualities that the people of this era possessed.

"They had a strong belief in family," she said. "Family was their primary motivation for survival.They worked hard, and risked their lives every day so that their families could survive."

She also praised these people for hanging on to their ethnic traditions.

"People gravitate toward things that are familiar to them," she said. "So when people came to this country, they banded with other people from their respective countries. That's primarily how patch towns originated."

She hopes young people are encouraged to learn about their backgrounds.

"This sense of ethnicity has been diluted over the years," she said. "People should know where they come from and celebrate that heritage."

There will be many ethnic foods at the festival, including pierogies, haluski and many Italian foods as well. There also will be a "kiddie coal mine," where children can learn about coal mining.

Emmaunel Osagie, chancellor of Penn State Fayette, believes this festival will boost the morale of local people.

"When we celebrate events like this, we celebrate who we are," he said. "The more we come together, the more we can move forward as a community. "

Osagie cites New Orleans' Mardi Gras as an example of a successful community celebration.

"It began as a small, community event," he said. "Now, people from all over the world come to it."

Osagie said he has received calls from as far away as Washington, D.C., from people who are interested in coming to the festival.

(c) 2008 Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.