On the evening
of August 1, 1974, St. Regis Falls was the site of the first North Country
Folklore Festival, a gathering of local musicians and other traditional
performers at the high school auditorium.
The following is a recollection of the event by Robert H. McGowan, a
native of Malone, an attorney, and Hearing Examiner with the Public Service
Commission of Maryland. At the time, he
was a graduate student in folklore at Indiana University who helped organize
and present the festival in St. Regis Falls.
He was the master of ceremonies for the event.
In the summer of '74 I had finished my second year of graduate school in the Folklore Institute at Indiana University. When asked to help with the St. Regis Falls Festival, I probably thought it would hold me in good stead with the faculty!
Most of the people who performed at the Festival were associated with the St. Regis Falls Adult Center. Tot Perry and the head of the Center must have done a lot of the organizing. At least one, however, fiddler Joe Tavernia (pronounced Taverny) was from Malone. Sometimes I met with performers at the high school, sometimes I would go up to SRF midday and meet with them at the Adult Center. I remember being very careful to ask people where they had learned the songs and dances they performed. I recall being secretly upset that the square dancers, who were absolutely essential to the program, had learned some of their dances from T.V. How unfolkloric! [Iíve learned a lot since then!] I recall that I basically let people perform what they wanted to perform; probably I steered them toward material they had learned "from their parents" or "at home". I'm sure I was trying to make everything as authentic and traditional as possible.
The night of the performance the auditorium was full, and the audience was enthusiastic. The performance that will always stand out in my mind is Ambrose Stark's. He sang at least two traditional pieces that he learned in the logging camps. I especially remember "The Wild Colonial Boy" sung a capella in that high pitched, slightly off-key voice of the traditional singer. (I was especially taken with Ambrose because he had learned his songs in the "traditional" manner, from other people.) Someone came up to me later and said how his performance brought tears to their eyes.
I can't remember much about how I prepared my narration, which knowing me at that time was probably overly academic and contextual, with an historical emphasis on migration (French Canadians, Yankees, Irish). I'm sure I was eager or overeager to apply academic principles and categories to real life.
As I type this it comes back to me that Father Paul Beyette--who was then in St. George's, Burke, and who had been in St. Regis Falls--had a great deal to do with the festival. He may have been the prime mover at the beginning, I can't be sure. I do recall that he thought the event would be very good for the community.
I can't conclude without saying what a great experience it
was helping with the festival. I wish I
could remember more of the performer's names, and more of what I was thinking
at the time. I will always remember how
kind everyone was to me, even though we were all stressed. I'll always remember the very first night I
met with the performers at the school. I
had dinner with the Perry's. Tot or
someone later told me that, outside of a starving lumberjack, they had never
seen anyone with an appetite like mine, one of my many failings at the time.