Kessinger Festival finds new home in Charleston

Robin Kessinger brings his fifth annual eponymous festival to Coonskin Park in Charleston this weekend. It features workshops and concerts by top-notch traditional musicians.

Robin Kessinger isn’t looking to steal any thunder, especially from the upcoming Vandalia Gathering, but anyone interested in an early helping of traditional string-band music can get two days worth of it at his festival, The Robin Kessinger Festival, held this weekend at the Coonskin Park amphitheater.

The festival will include music workshops and concerts scheduled throughout the day Friday and Saturday.

Slated to appear at the festival are a number of friends, family and musical collaborators of the national flatpick guitar champion. This includes John Lilly and Robert Shafer, Robin and Dan Kessinger and Matt Lindsey.

Kessinger was especially excited about an appearance by Doug Smith, who performs at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

“He’s a national roper,” he said. “Like a cowboy roper? He does tricks with the rope. He sings, he plays, he ropes, he’s funny. He’s kind of like a modern-day Will Rogers. He’s a good guitar player and always has a pile of kids around him when he shows them how to rope.”

Workshops feature instruction on flatpick guitar, as well as mandolin and fiddle.

The festival also hosts the West Virginia State Flatpicking Contest. It begins at 10 a.m. Saturday.

“We’re sanctioned by the state,” Kessinger said. “We’re non-profit and all that — totally legal.”

The winner of the contest gets a Craig Southern hand-built guitar and can advance to the national competition held in September at the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kansas.

“They get a free kick in the seat of the pants,” Kessinger laughed.

It’s the fifth year for the festival but the first in Charleston.

“We had our first festival at the Brazen Head Inn in Pocahantas County,” he said and then laughed. “It was quite small.”

Years two, three and four were in Roane County.

“We had top-shelf performers and a good crowd, but accessibility was limited,” he said. “We had a good time there. I don’t want to take anything away from our festival there, but we just felt like we needed to bring the festival where more people could get to it.”

In order for the festival grow, they had to go.

Kessinger’s mission with the festival is to support West Virginia’s musical heritage. He doesn’t think it is in any particular danger, but it needs to be maintained regularly.

“The kind of music we play — traditional music, mountain music — isn’t a mainstay on Top 40 radio,” he said.

The music, he added, has gone through several revivals in his lifetime. It made a return in the ‘60s and ‘70s and returned to popularity in the early part of the 21st century. His festival nurtures the music for future generations.

“We’re just passing it along,” he said.

Reach Bill Lynch at

or 304-348-5195.

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