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Arts in the Park set for Thursday

By Staff | Jul 3, 2013

Barbara Vincent and Carman Harman

Once again Uncle Sam, Carman Harman, will act as master of ceremonies for the annual Arts in the Park event slated for July 4.

Arts in the Park will be held from 1-5 p.m., July 4, at Bruce Park, sponsored by the New Martinsville Parks and Recreation Commission, the Monroe Arts Council, and ArtsLink, the arts council for Wetzel and Tyler counties.

Arts and crafts demonstrations and exhibits by artists and craftspeople from Wetzel and Tyler counties in West Virginia and Monroe County, Ohio, are planned. Many items will be available for sale.

Lots of games will be offered for the kids. Also returning to entertain the kids will be balloon artist Miranda Stokes of BalloonOvations, who will twist free balloon creations. Danny Westfall and his Bubble Wagon will also be on hand. Admission to the park and the festival is free of charge.

Free soft drinks and frozen treats will be furnished by the New Martinsville Parks and Recreation Commission.

Uncle Eddie and Robin Group

The stage entertainment this year will be a special treat as Uncle Eddie and Robin will entertain for the duration of the event.

Uncle Eddie and Robin, “Not Your Typical Old Folkies”, are a dynamic musical group with a taste of the old and a flair for the new. Their energy belies their age, and the breadth of their life experience makes for a rich and rewarding musical evening.

This husband-wife team combines their voices in stunning, tight harmonies on songs that pack a punch, and their musical chemistry and sound is unmistakable. Ed “Uncle Eddie” Mahonen, “Banjo Player, Raconteur, and All Around Old Dude” is an icon in the Appalachian music scene. His wildly imaginative banjo playing, silky vocals, and intelligent, witty songwriting make him a joy to listen to. His style incorporates elements of bluegrass and folk, which he has shaped into a unique and original blend which he terms, “plunk rock”. West Virginia’s “Graffiti” Magazine said Ed has been “a force in West Virginia music for over 30 years”. Not just another folk ‘n bluegrass musician, he applies his velvety baritone voice to his original material, and has been known to “rap” along with his more traditional renditions.

Ed was born and raised in a small town in Massachusetts, not your usual breeding ground for bluegrass music. He began his musical career in grade school with piano, later moving on to trumpet. But one night, he found himself at what was then called, a “hootenanny”, and was instantly drawn to the call of the banjo. Despite the derision and snickering of his high school friends and family, Ed practiced and persevered with his instrument, and has honed it to the surprising sound you hear today. He is also accomplished on guitar and bass, and dabbles with the tuba. His rich velvety baritone voice completes his presentation in bluegrass, folk, classic rock, and other musical genres. After graduation, he served in the Navy in San Francisco in the 1960’s, where he was influenced by the singer-songwriters and poets of the era. Following his discharge, he spent a summer hitchhiking across Canada and the US, with his banjo slung across his back. Passing through Wheeling, W.Va., he got into a jam session with some locals and quickly fell into the young progressive bluegrass scene. Before long, he became a fixture on the local scene, with the band “West Virginia Grass”.

“We were playing jamgrass in the early 1970’s, before the term had been invented. We were just doing what came naturally to us.” He also made his first appearances on the legendary Wheeling Jamboree. This period culminated with his participation in the band, “Castlemen’s Run”. Throughout the 1980’s, Ed played traditional bluegrass with Pittsburgh’s “Beaver Creek” band, and recorded two albums with them. Ed also played for over 30 years with “The Short Crick Flatpickers”, one of West Virginia’s bluegrass bands, touring statewide and regionally. “Uncle Eddie” was born when he was appearing in the 1990’s at the Wheeling Jamboree, and did solo spots of bluegrass, novelty songs, jokes, and funny stories. His easy going demeanor and booming laugh made him a favorite with his audiences.

Ed met Robin, appropriately enough, at an open mike jam night which Ed hosted in Wheeling. Their chemistry was immediate. Robin is the daughter of the late Jimmy Knepper, Grammy nominated and internationally renowned jazz trombonist, and Maxine Fields Knepper, a strong independent woman who was already on the road with her trumpet at the age of 16, before anyone had ever coined the term “feminist”. Robin was listening to music from birth, and has fond memories of jam sessions lasting late into the night as she drifted off to sleep as a little girl. Her early musical influences were shaped by some of the most influential jazz artists of the day. She played piano at age eight, picked up her first guitar at age 14, and played her first coffeehouses shortly thereafter. After a brief hiatus of 20 years from music while she raised her four children as a single mother, and pursued a career as a social worker in private practice, she returns to the music scene with a vengeance. She brings her born and bred musical ability and her deep understanding of pathos and the human condition to her every note she sings.

More recently, Ed was associated with West Virginia’s premier jam band, “The Recipe”, and his cutting edge explorations and signature sound clearly comes through on their last CD, “Jubilee”. Joe Prichard commented on Ed’s original song, “One Eye Laugh”, which closed the CD, “Ed was able to say in one song what it took me a whole album to say.” As the Recipe’s “Uncle Eddie”, he and Robin became a fixture at summer jam band festivals, and are much beloved by festival goers who seek them out for a pat on the back, a shared joke, and, if desired, a gentle bear hug.

Ed’s solo work, “My Own Words”, is a compilation of 10 original songs, including the often requested “West Virginia Farm”, and “Let ‘Em Eat Cake”, and the amusing, yet socially poignant “Plain White Rapper”, which leaves audiences scratching their heads.

Uncle Eddie and Robin have just released their first joint CD project of all new original material, titled, “When We’re Together”. The tracks range from straight bluegrass, to country, to a New Age-y sound, and even to what the couple calls, “chant rapgrass”. Ed uses a variety of different types of banjos and displays several different banjo styles, and the music is interwoven and coupled with frequent instrumental guest artists and even tribal drumming on several tracks. Stylistically, they are literally all over the map, and yet they expertly craft their shows to the particular taste of their listeners.

Uncle Eddie and Robin also operate a recording studio, ELM Cottage Studio, out of their home, and are available to help aspiring young musicians produce their own original music.

An evening with Uncle Eddie and Robin is like sitting down with old friends. Kick off your shoes, put up your feet, and open yourself to a musical experience which will make you laugh and cry, and laugh again.

ArtsLink is committed to providing universal accessibility wherever possible. Persons with special needs may contact ArtsLink at 304-455-2278 to request assistance. This festival is supported in part by the Ohio River Border Initiative, a joint project of the Ohio Arts Council and the West Virginia Commission on the Arts.

For further information, please contact Barbara Vincent at 304-652-2939 or the ArtsLink office at 304-455-2278.