The Old-Time Herald Volume 13, Number 9

Tradition Comes Out of the Past, But It Happens in the Present
An Interview with Gerry Milnes
By Scott Prouty
collection of Paul Wells

This interview is the first in the Old-Time Music Group’s Revival Generation Oral History Project. Over the coming years we will be gathering stories of old-time musicians who came to the music in the 1960s, ‘70s, and early ‘80s. As future interviews are completed, they will appear in the Old-Time Herald. We invite readers to share suggestions about people, groups, and questions you would like to see featured in the project. -editor

The Old-Time Herald ran a feature article about Gerry Milnes over 20 years ago (volume 3, number 2, Winter ‘91-‘92). Already an accomplished musician and author at that time, Milnes had just moved with his family to Elkins, West Virginia, to take the job of Folk Arts Coordinator with the Augusta Heritage Center at Davis & Elkins College, after living on a farm in central West Virginia for the previous 15 or so years. He has now lived in the state for 40 years, and though not formally trained as a folklorist, he has conducted extensive fieldwork in music, crafts, and folk culture in parts of the state that hadn't been as thoroughly documented prior to his arrival. It may be argued that West Virginia musicians were under-documented on the whole by the recording industry in the 1920s. Fortunately, subsequent field recorders such as Louis Watson Chappell, Patrick Gainer, Dwight Diller, Thomas Brown, and Alan Jabbour and Carl Fleischhauer worked to make up for the oversight, and Milnes' work fits in well with theirs to provide a picture of West Virginia's traditional music in the 20th century (and into the 21st).

Milnes retired in May 2013 after producing countless workshops, concerts, articles, films, and recordings with that fieldwork. He also wrote two well-received books about West Virginia's musical traditions and German influence in Appalachia. It seemed like a good time to catch up with him and get his thoughts on the current state of traditional music, while also reflecting on the many artists he has documented and befriended over his career. We met in late October 2013 at his cabin on the Shavers Fork of the Cheat River, just outside of Elkins, West Virginia. –Scott Prouty


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