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Preview: Maryland Traditions Folklife Festival

June 14, 2013

Eddie Rich and the SwallowsThe 3rd Annual Maryland Traditions Folklife Festival is upon us, and in anticipation of the day-long, indoor-outdoor, multicultural event, we spoke to Michelle Stefano, the Maryland Traditions program coordinator and folklorist-in-residence. First, in the music department, there’s Lafayette Gilchrist, Baltimore’s preeminent jazz pianist and the “only participant [of the Maryland Traditions Apprenticeship Awards Program] that has moved from apprentice level to master,” according to Stefano.

(Photo: The Swallows by Edwin Remsberg)

This year, the Maryland State Arts Council celebrates ten such apprenticeships, or in Stefano’s words, ten such “transmissions of knowledge.” The Swallows, one of the first doo wop groups to bust out of the United States, will provide the rhythm and blues. “What’s really unique about The Swallows is that their lead singer [Eddie Rich], original founding member, is still goin’,” says Stefano, “He’s in his early nineties, and he’ll be at the festival tomorrow, leading the group as he always has, since 1948.”

Cor Cymraeg Rehoboth, a choir from one of the oldest practicing Welsh churches in the country, will be performing at the festival for the first time, too. In the non-music realm lies Blessed Coffee, a thirty-minute, frankincense-burning, coffee-roasting, near-holy event that’s a manifestation of the budding Ethiopian population in Baltimore. Screen painting–the tradition of decking out the exterior of window screens to maintain privacy in the home–will be going down. “There’s this whole tradition of the different scenes, the painted scenarios that people chose. That’s a uniquely Baltimore tradition. And it’s a hundred years old [this year], it’s still continuing,” says Stefano. Asked why it’s imperative to celebrate such antiquated practices, Stefano had this to say: “I think a lot of these living traditions instill us with pride, a sense of belonging to our communities…It’s very emotional. It’s emotional well-being…I think these cultural traditions, our cultural knowledge, is the glue. And it’s worth saving.”

You’ll have to see for yourself.

MTFF 2013 schedule_0

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