Yesterday, "Surf and Turf" Joey DaSilva slid, slipped, and skipped to the end of a 45-foot-long telephone pole suspended over the water and covered with grease and slop. By grabbing the flag at the end, he became the 2015 Saturday champion of the annual Greasy Pole contest, making him one of the elite crew eligible to compete again on Fiesta Sunday for the rest of his life. It's one of the highlights of the unique St. Peter's Fiesta, an annual festival sponsored by the Italian-American fishing community of Gloucester, MA. The festival is a five-day celebration including a procession of St. Peter's effigy accompanied by bands and Sicilian chants, a Sunday mass on a large outdoor altar, seine boat races, a carnival, food, and drinking - lots of drinking. The annual festival is a defining force in Gloucester's tight-knit community, even as the fishing industry that generated it continues a long decline. [more inside]
In an idle moment, you've probably drummed on a desk with your pen. But chances are middle schoolers could show you some skills. Masters like Shane Bang and many less well-known practitioners are pushing the old idea of pen-as-drumstick - Pen Beats, aka Pen Tap - to new heights. [more inside]
"Its not like we all sat in silence and stared blankly at our TVs waiting for the Internet to show up. We have probably always had vernacular webs of communication." Digital studies scholar Robert Glenn Howard talks about vaccines, the Christian right [PDF], AC/DC guitar tutorials and other "born-digital folklore" on the "vernacular web."
Stetson Kennedy died yesterday at 94. The folklorist and writer was best known for infiltrating and exposing the secrets of the Ku Klux Klan, increasing public resistance to the organization and helping lead to the revocation of their national charter. Kennedy revealed details of the KKK to writers of the popular radio show "Superman," giving the Man of Steel a new postwar enemy through 16 episodes of the series "Superman vs. the Klan". [more inside]
The American Festivals Project takes you along on two guys' National Geographic-funded 2008 tour of the "small, hidden, and bizarre" festivals celebrated all over the United States. Through photos, video, and a blog, discover Rattlesnake Roundup, Okie noodling, an American Fasnacht, the Idiotarod, and plenty more. [more inside]
American Ethnography Quasi-Weekly is a somewhat gonzo cabinet of curiosities -- a mix of photography, academic essay, archival materials, and bloggy postings on "outlaw aethetics" and outsider culture, presenting glimpses of American subcultures past and present, from Califormia low-riders to "hoochy-coochy" dancers to blackface tambourine jugglers, and plenty more. [more inside]
"If I thought, had any idea, that I’d ever be a slave again, I’d take a gun and just end it all right away." Audio recordings from interviews with former slaves, conducted by WPA folklorists and others, including the Lomaxes and Zora Neale Hurston. Only these twenty-six audio recordings of people formerly enslaved in the antebellum American South have ever been found.
In 2000, the Library of Congress celebrated its 200th birthday by inviting representatives and members of the public from each of the 50 American states to nominate folk traditions, local customs, and special places to a "century's-end time capsule" called the Local Legacies Project. A nice little introductory catalog to points of local pride, like Fountain Green, Utah's Lamb Day, Oakland, CA's Black Cowboy Parade, Kentucky's Bourbon tradition, and Binghamton, NY's Spiedie Fest, and plenty more. [more inside]
This entrancing 17-minute film compiled from footage of British folk celebrations was put together in honor of a new project created by set designer Simon Costin. Finding much of his artistic inspiration in the folklore of Great Britain, Costin wondered why there was no national center or museum dedicated to studying and collecting these traditional customs. So he's decided to start one, The Museum of British Folklore, and is launching the project this summer by outfitting a 1976 caravan and traveling to folk festivals around the country. The expedition is intended to build interest in the museum project, and to collect and document some of the surprising variety of more than 700 annual, seasonal, often pre-Christian festival celebrations that continue to this day. [more inside]
Weavings of War: Fabrics of Memory, an online exhibit of comtemporary textiles created (mostly) by women living in war zones.
Inauguration 2009 Sermons and Orations Project The Library of Congress invites you to submit digital audio or video recordings of speeches made between January 16 and january 25, 2009 on the occasion of Barack Obama's inauguration. The speeches will be archived in a collection for future scholarship, much like the Day of Infamyand other collections capturing signifcant American moments.
The Southern Foodways Alliance is one weighed-down church-supper table, full of oral history/blog projects like The Tamale Trail, the Boudin Trail, interviews and recipes from the Bartenders of New Orleans, photo essay/interviews from Birmingham's Greek-Americans, a mess o'homemade films, and a passel of event and BBQ-shack photos on Flickr, all smothered in the tangy-sweet academic goodness of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at Ole Miss. These folks get my vote for most flavorful, funkiest food-loving folklorists in the lower forty-eight. [more inside]
Did Anyone Really Follow the Drinking Gourd? Were you taught that slaves in the antebellum South sang this traditional song to convey coded instructions for escaping Northward? Were you taught that quilt block patterns could be read as a map to freedom, or that quilts were hung outside safe houses as signals to escaping slaves?Though these are among the most often taught stories of the operation of the Underground Railroad, current scholarship indicates that these aren't survivals of pre-Civil War African-American folklore, but legends constructed and popularized within the twentieth century, frequently by white writers and performers. In today's New York Times, these legends battle it out with fact in debate over the proposed design of a new Frederick Douglass memorial [PDF].
You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, but do you know Stekkjarstaur, Giljagaur, Stufur, Thvorusleikir, Pottaskefill, Askasleikir, Hurdarskellir, Skyrgamur, Bjugnakraekir, Gluggagaegir, Gattathefur, Ketkrokur and Kertasnikir? They're the Jolasveinar, the impish "Yuletide Lads" of Iceland, and those are only some of their many names. During the thirteen days before Christmas, legend says that they do their best to monkeywrench the celebrations with hijinks like stealing sausages, milk, and candles, and peeping into windows and up skirts. The children of gruesome child-eating trolls Gryla and Leppaludi, who were known for snatching naughty children, the elves got their start in the 17th century. In the years since, their image has apparently mellowed, and now they leave children presents in their shoes and limit themselves to mild pranks.
Steppin' is an hour-long documentary on an African-American dance tradition, most closely associated with historically black fraternities and sororities (though it's also found in high schools, clubs, and professional dance companies). Combining footwork, hand-clapping, chanting, singing, use of props, and changing configurations of dancers, it's a tightly coordinated dance form in which teams vie for honors in competitions nationwide.
"In a close-knit Chesapeake Bay community, the world’s fastest muskrat skinners face off in a truly cutthroat competition at the National Outdoor Show. One lucky young lady gets to be their queen." [Warning: Fiddle tunes!] Muskrat Lovely, a documentary about the conflation of the world muskrat-skinning championships with the Miss Outdoors beauty competition. The film will air soon on the PBS program Independent Lens. Catch some of the brackish flavor of the Chesapeake Bay's traditional regional culture, including some muskrat recipes and skinning tips.. And don't miss the link to Everything Muskrat.
Wade in the Water In 2004, Smithsonian Folklife Festival featured the maritime cultures of the Mid-Atlantic region, from Long Island to North Carolina. Now, this site gives a home on the web to the cultural documentation gathered for the festival -- music, recipes, stories and oral history, an interactive map, the occupational folklore and natural history of regional fisheries, photos, video, and more. The material, ably compiled by folklorists and educators, creates a lasting and very accessible archive of festival highlights as well as an excellent overview of the distinct coastal culture of the Mid-Atlantic. Don't miss the great menhaden net-hauling chantey Help Me to Raise 'Em (links to mp3).