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Festival honors music legend

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By Ben Bomberger, Reporter

WHITETOP — Family and friends of a late and legendary fiddler and instrument maker are gearing up for the event that bears his name, the 2009 Albert Hash Memorial Festival in Whitetop this weekend.

The festival enters its third year at Mount Rogers Combined School (MRCS) in Whitetop, and honors the life of one of Grayson's finest musicians and luthiers, born in 1917 in Rugby.

At the young age of 10 — and at the height of the Great Depression — Hash began making fiddles and learned to play music from legends like Corbit Stamper, Jim Reedy and his uncle George Finley and was influenced by G.B. Grayson.

After Grayson passed away, Hash began playing with Henry Whitter and many other musicians throughout the years, including the Virginia Carolina Boys with Wayne and Max Henderson.

Hash served in the U.S. Navy, where he learned to be a machinist — something that would be an integral part of his later fiddle-making.

While in the navy, Hash married Ethel Ruth Spencer. The couple had two daughters, Joyce Mae and Audrey Marie.

After spending some time in Lansing, N.C. — where many musicians sought his expertise, knowledge of history, an impromptu jam session, one of his handcrafted instruments or instructions on how to craft an instrument — Hash and his wife moved back to Whitetop, where he founded the Whitetop Mountain Band, which continues to play to this day.

“He was very influential with his teaching,” said niece Martha Spencer. “He taught a lot of people from the area and some just passing through.”

Spencer noted that Hash also taught the famed Wayne Henderson how to make instruments and influenced many others through his various students.

Part of his teachings extended to the Grayson County classroom when he started the Old-Time Music Program.

Hash, daughter Audrey, Thorton Spencer and Emily Spencer started volunteering at the local fire department, teaching old-time music lessons to the community.

Later, he began giving lessons to students at Mount Rogers Combined School.

After he passed away, Audrey carried on the music program until she moved away. The program is now run by Emily Spencer and has become a daily class that students get credit for.

The school band — the Albert Hash Memorial String Band — has been featured on television and radio and in newspapers and received a Grammy nomination.

The festival will kick off Saturday at 10 a.m. with the school band and will last until 9 p.m.

Several performers are on tap, including: Whitetop Mountain Band, Big County Bluegrass, Dale Jett & Hello Stranger, Wolfe Brothers, Crooked Road Ramblers, Roan Mountain Hilltoppers, Elkville Stringband with Wayne Henderson, Heather Berry & Tony, Gerald Anderson & Friends, Possum Runners Dance Group and the Albert Hash Memorial Band.

Organizers noted that music would be held all day and conclude with a square dance in the evening.

Master of ceremonies will be Jon Lohman, a Virginia State Folklorist.

Along with the music, Spencer said various workshops will be held throughout the day.

“An I Remember Albert Workshop will be held, as well,” she said. “This will give people an opportunity to share their memories and stories about Albert.”

A Master Fiddlers of the Blue Ridge workshop will also be held, along with a cake walk and bake sale. Various crafts, concessions and a CD featuring some of Hash's unreleased music will be available

A collection of Hash's fiddles will be on display, including the first one he made.

Other regional luthiers will provide instrument-making displays, including: Audrey Hash Ham, Elmer Powers, Gerald Anderson, Randall Eller, Bobby Browder, Buddy Blevins, Jackson Cunningham, Walter Messick and Chris Testerman.

“If anyone wants to bring an Albert fiddle to be featured, they are welcome,” Spencer added. “They can also bring their own instruments to jam.”

Organizers encouraged those attending to bring lawn chairs and dancing shoes.

Cost is $7 for admission, but children under age 12 are admitted free. A portion of the proceeds will go back into the MRCS musical programs.

The event will be held rain or shine.

The festival is made possible by a grant from Virginia Foundation for Humanities.

For more information call (276) 579-4322, e-mail alberthashfest@hotmail.com or visit myspace.com/alberthashmemorialfestival.