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Bluegrass Gathering

Locals fare well at annual music event

June 22, 2013
By Beth Christian Broschart Staff Writer ( , The Inter-Mountain

A Montrose teen, who placed third place in both Old Time Mandolin and Old Time Fiddle playing said he competed this year in the Vandalia Gathering to see how far his college studies had brought him.

Karl Smakula, who attends East Tennessee State and majors in bluegrass, old-time and county music said he competed in his junior year of high school and captured fourth in mandolin and fifth in fiddle playing.

The Vandalia Gathering is a free celebration of the traditional arts, music, dance, stories, crafts and foods of West Virginia. The Culture Center and State Capitol Complex grounds play host to this expanding family style gathering each year on Memorial Day weekend. The unique blending of ethnic and cultural heritage combines an atmosphere as comfortable as a family reunion with the excitement of a state fair. The statewide folk festival, named for the proposed 14th colony, pays tribute to the state's ethnic heritage through a variety of exhibitions and programs.

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Karl Smakula

Smakula said he enjoys the gathering because he meets lots of musicians, and it's a good way to get your name out in the field.

Smakula said he has been playing mandolin seriously for four years and banjo for three years.

"I really enjoy the mandolin and have been messing with it for a while," he said. "It was helpful in high school. I used to practice to kill time between events at the track meets."

Influences in Smakula's music include the movie George Jones, Merle Haggard, Josh Turner, Herschel Sizemore and Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs and "Smokey and the Bandit."

"My dad, Bob Smakula, restores and plays mandolins and my grandpa, Peter Smakula, owned a music store in Cleveland, Ohio, and he made banjos," Karl said. "My dad in particular sparked my interest in old-time music. I play a lot of bluegrass. His style is very melodic, and that has influenced me quite a bit."

Another winner at the Vandalia Gathering wass Walter King of Elkins, who will be a sophomore at Elkins High School this year. He said he has participated in the event for a number of years, earning fifth-place honors last year in the Old Time Fiddle division.

"This year, I won first place in the Old Time Fiddle for age 15 and under and third place in the Old Time Fiddle for age 59 and under," King said. "I compete at Vandalia because it's fun. There is lots of good music and food and lots of people to play music with."

King said he has been playing fiddle for a number of years.

"I began taking lessons from Jesse Milnes and now take them from Andy Fitzgibbons," King said. "I think I got interested in fiddle from all of the Augusta classes I took."

Other Vandalia Gathering winners from the area include Jason Chewning from Beverly, who captured second in the Old Time Fiddle division for age 59 and under and Ken Sheller from Elkins, who took third place in the Senior Old Time Banjo category.



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