September 26, 2008

Music Festival Salutes Region’s Musical Heritage

By Tamara Simpson Girardi

It didn't take long for Penn State Fayette's chancellor, Emmanuel Osagie, to see the rich steel tradition of the area when he moved to Uniontown a little more than a year ago.

Osagie says it was that understanding that led him to bring a music festival tradition he's seen in New Orleans and Philadelphia to his campus.

"I have spent a good deal of time in such places as New Orleans and the Philadelphia area, where annual music festivals bring people together," he says. "There is a great deal of excitement and enthusiasm each year for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and the Philadelphia Folk Festival. A similar event seemed like a perfect fit for this area, where a unique history and the melding of so many cultures deserve celebrating."

According to organizers, excitement is brewing in the region and in neighboring states for the Coal and Coke Heritage Music Festival, set to kick off at 10 a.m. Saturday.

The festival will take place on the 100-acre campus with multiple stages, food vendor booths, and arts and crafts displays. The Coal and Coke Heritage Center, a museum on the campus that includes more than 625 hours of taped interviews, mining and coking artifacts, music, maps, photographs and much more from the coal and coke era, will be open for browsing and tours.

The Atlanta Drumline, which has performed for the Atlanta Falcons and in the films "Drumline" and "Pay the Price," is one of the most anticipated performers of the day. Pittsburgh native Lisa Yvonne Ferraro will sing her well-known jazz, and the River City Brass Band's 28 members will perform.

The complete list of performers is available at the festival's Web site,

Planning began last summer and has combined the forces of the campus staff and students, representatives from local businesses and media outlets, musicians, artists, leaders in economic development, and community members.

Organizers say the purpose is to "celebrate the music, arts and culture indigenous to the coal and coke region of Southwestern Pennsylvania, and the pride and progress these industries fostered."

The event is designed to celebrate the role this region played in the development of our nation and to honor the locals and the immigrant and migrant workers of the industry.

Because the mining families of the Connellsville coke region listened to various forms of music, the festival will host polka, gospel, jazz, folk, country, bluegrass and more.

"It will offer something for everyone -- young and old alike," says Gina Jones, committee chairwoman, lifelong Fayette County resident and a human development and family studies instructor on campus. "Keeping history and culture of this coal and coke region alive is especially important for our youth and young professionals."

Jones says there will be an area for kids that includes inflatables, balloon art, face painting and a trackless train at no extra charge.

The planning committee hopes the event will attract thousands of people from the region and neighboring states.

"Having an opportunity to bring so many people together to celebrate our history, music and culture is rewarding," Jones says. "It will be a lot of fun."

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