Paying Homage to Heritage: Young Musicians Set the Stage for Waterford Fair

If you want to catch some of the hottest up-and-coming acts in traditional music, you don’t have to go to Galax or Floyd. Just head over to the Waterford Fair.

The music bill at this year’s fair is chock full of some astonishingly talented teens who offer a fresh twist on the bluegrass and old-time genres. And Saturday, Oct. 7 is the day to catch these rising stars.

The fair’s music chairman, Roy Chaudet, said he made a conscious effort to put a spotlight on new talent this year, in addition to more established performers.

“The kids that are playing are just jaw-dropping good. I get blown away when I hear them,” Chaudet said. “It brings fresh music to the fair and to the county.”

The fair offers great music at the main stage both Saturday and Sunday: longtime regional favorites Patent Pending are slated to play several sets Sunday, Oct. 8. But Saturday, Oct. 7 is the day to catch the next generation.

The program starts with the Virginia and Delaware-based duo the Psycho Exploding Orangutans, made up of 16-year-old fiddler Andrew Vogts and 17-year-old banjo player Victor Furtado. And while the name may be wacky, the two young musicians are seriously talented. The duo has been making waves with their 21st century twist on old-time music. Both musicians found themselves attracted to the old-time genre, an ancestor of bluegrass that throws back to pre-Civil War Scotch-Irish immigrants. But most of the duo’s songs are originals, so they’re definitely adding their own signature to an old genre.

“Old-time has a lot of simple melodies and really basic rhythms so we kind of stick to those basic tunes but add all of our influences into that,” Furtado said.

Vogts is a classically trained violinist and son of a professional bagpiper whose childhood was steeped in Celtic music. Furtado is the youngest of nine children from a musical family in Front Royal. The duo met seven years ago at the Berlin, MD, Fiddlers Convention and have been friends and collaborators ever since. They recently finished a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to record their first CD as a duo this fall. And both young men hope to attend Boston’s Berklee College of Music.

The link between the young musicians and Waterford is the globe-trotting Loudoun-based duo Danny Knicely and Aimee Curl. Knicely is a talented mandolinist and multi-instrumentalist, and Curl plays stand up bass but is perhaps best known for her stand-out vocals. Knicely is widely known as a connector in the music community and loves bringing international musicians to Loudoun. This year, he and Curl will feature renowned Czech mandolinist Radim Zenkl in their Waterford set.

Zenkl, who combines eastern European traditional music with originals that blend in jazz, bluegrass, classical and rock influences, is known as one of the top mandolinists in the world. Knicely said the program will be a mix of American traditional music with Zenkl’s eclectic repertoire, with lots of fun surprises.

The afternoon wraps up with a next generation showcase, highlighting the dazzling Floyd-based quartet The Wildmans. The band features wunderkind brother-and-sister duo Eli and Aila Wildman on fiddle, along with their mom, Deb Wildman, on upright bass and Furtado, a close family friend, on banjo.

The Wildmans have been sweeping youth competitions at traditional music festivals and wowing audiences with their fresh take on traditional music, along with Aila’s stunning vocals, which bring in blues and jazz elements.

The whiz kids grew up in the music-saturated culture of Floyd, about 30 miles south of Blacksburg, and asked to start lessons at ages 5 and 7, jumping into strings with both classical and traditional training. The family started attending youth competitions in Galax and Floyd—and Eli and Aila quickly became part of the tight-knit network of young traditional musicians, including Furtado and Vogts.

“Their best friends became the friends that they played music with,” Deb Wildman said.

Deb Wildman, who studied music in high school and college but didn’t pursue it into adulthood, started taking strings lessons with her children and fell in love. She decided to take up the bass to give rhythmic backup to her kids, although she was initially skeptical of joining the family band.

“I decided to get an upright bass to fill in and help them play together, to be able to provide them a rhythm to work together with,” Wildman said. “It really just grew naturally. When everybody plays, playing together is the most obvious thing to do… They’ve gotten light years ahead of me really quickly.”

As the Wildmans draw more and more accolades and attention, the band is looking to take things beyond the festival circuit and book more mainstream gigs, Wildman said.

“There’s the desire to get out there more and play more because it’s what they’re most inspired to do,” she said. “We’re trying to slowly build a little recognition.”

Wildman adds that Knicely is a mentor to young musicians who gravitate toward him at festivals. The last set of the day on Oct. 7 will bring the whole group on stage—Knicely, Curl, Zenkl, Vogt, Furtado and the Wildmans. For Knicely, Waterford is a perfect showcase for his young collaborators.

“We want to keep the music alive and keep it going. Each generation should have a chance to make their mark and have an interpretation that suits their generation,” Knicely said. “People are [at the Waterford Fair] to celebrate heritage. To have entertainment where you see the musical heritage getting passed on, it really fits with the theme of the whole fair.”

And while the Waterford Fair is still known primarily for its high-end juried crafters and homes tours that allow visitors to get a glimpse of the village’s historic houses, organizers have been adding fun new features in recent years, including trendy food trucks and wine and beer gardens. A chance to catch some rising traditional music stars is just another bonus, Chaudet said.

“The fair is sort of Loudoun’s best kept secret. You’ve got these phenomenal musicians that are playing and if you were to go hear them out somewhere at a house concert or a club, you’d pay at least the price of admission to the fair if not more,” Chaudet said. “At the fair, you get a full day’s lineup for the price of admission to the fair.”
The Waterford Fair takes place Friday, Oct. 6, Saturday, Oct. 7 and Sunday, Oct. 8, from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Adult tickets are $16 in advance, $20 at the gate. Student tickets are $11 in advance, $15 at the gate. Children 12 and younger are free. Three-day tickets are $35 in advance.
For details, including the full music schedule, go to waterfordfairva.org.

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