Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to include the dates and times for Old Time Music Week.
With the COVID-19 pandemic’s ongoing twists and turns, Old Time Music Week — an Athens classic found at Stuart’s Opera House — was bound to look different this year.
After a mostly virtual year in 2020, Old Time Music Week planned to bring back some in-person favorites but provide an accessible virtual model for those who preferred it. This year’s goal is to provide fun and entertainment to the community without sacrificing safety.
Chloe Musick, marketing and public relations manager at Stuart’s Opera House, said the team putting together the event is excited to be back in-person.
“We're excited that ... this past year with COVID has taught us basically how to be more accessible and to make things more accessible,” Musick said. “So we're really excited to bring it back in person. But we're also really excited to just have an event that's more accessible so more people beyond the people who live in this region can participate.”
The event will run Monday, Aug. 9, through Friday, Aug. 13, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m each day.
Last year, Old Time Music Week had a virtual outreach to all over the country. Emily Prince, education director and grants coordinator at Stuart’s Opera House, said even an individual from the UK participated.
Despite this new audience, Musick said the music instructors are eager to have a hands-on experience this year, being physically present with their students, community and coworkers.
Old Time Music Week offers instruction on forms of music and dance. Some of the events include lessons in banjo, fiddle and square dancing.
More importantly, Old Time Music Week offers people a chance to connect in ways they haven’t been able to before.
“One of the magical moments is to see an instructor teaching an instrument — mandolin, for example — and there are people of all ages in the circle,” Musick said. “There are young people all the way through a retired crowd, and I think it's really interesting that people want to learn more and they're hungry for more information and it's not just people who are retired and looking to find some answers, it's young people too.”
Prince also believes while the event is certainly a way to connect people with each other, it’s also a way to connect them to their past. She said it gives people a chance to celebrate the roots of Appalachian culture.
“We try to talk about the roots of the music and where it comes from in an understanding that to be old time and to be Appalachian doesn't mean to be a man and it doesn't mean to be white,” Prince said. “There are aspects of our culture that we hope to highlight that don't often get talked about. I mean, the West African influence on old time music, and the West African influence on Appalachian storytelling can't be ignored. So those are some of the aspects of the culture we hope to highlight.”
With the rise of Delta variant cases in the past few weeks, Old Time Music Week plans to keep the spirit of Appalachian culture alive no matter what. Joe Burdock, project coordinator at Stuart’s Opera House, said if anything, the past year taught the team to have backup plans.
“I think we're open to, like everyone else probably, keeping an eye on things and trying to see if we need to adjust, or change or change our programming to fit with what's going on,” Burdock said. “We’re nervous about it, hopeful that it doesn't get too bad. But we'll certainly do whatever we need to do to make it a safe event.”
While Burdock has been communicating that the event might change given the circumstance, he said so far he’s seen no hesitations with the current situation.
Overall, Prince said the past year provided many opportunities for learning — both expected and unexpected — while highlighting the core of Old Time Music Week.
“It's about communication, it's about empathy, it's about working together toward a common goal,” Prince said. “Over the past year, we learned that all of that can still happen.”