“The Making of a Field Hippie” is a new memoir from Joe Mirenna. If his name rings a bell, he plays banjo, mandolin, guitar, fiddle and hammered dulcimer and was a member of the Booger Hole Revival string band in the mid-1970s. The self-taught multi-instrumentalist was also an artist-in-residence for Marshall County in the early 1980s. If the 1970s old-time music revival wasn’t your thing, maybe you have always wondered, who were these back-to-the-landers?
Mirenna’s self-published book recounts his childhood and extended family in Phillipsburg, New Jersey; his schooling and attempts at college; and his days in the counterculture, which led him circuitously to Green Creek in Kanawha and Roane counties, and back-to-the-land friends living there, some of whom he had known previously at college in Pennsylvania.
His time there led to some amusing adventures, like when a homemade horse trailer fell apart on the highway; or the day that Mirenna helped some friends bury a horse and they came up a little short; or the time they chased a steer and tied it to a truck, with unforeseen consequences.
And then there is the first home he built, with salvaged windows; the West Virginia old-time music scene in the 1970s, and the USO tour of Europe that Booger Hole undertook in 1976. Mirenna found road work fun, but exhausting. His love of music led to a crisis of confidence and his exit from the band. In time, the longtime Wisconsin resident found his calling, but you have to read the book to find out.
Mirenna’s prose moves along briskly as he tells about this first visit to the folk festival at Glenville, and his descriptions of old-time fiddlers who have long since left us. He remembers a neighbor family he was close to on Green Creek, and his move to Morgantown, where he made and sold leather belts.
Of particular interest is the chapter “Time to Dance,” which includes a fairly detailed account of a community square dance there called by Worley Gardner, in the mid-1970s.
“Towards the middle of the evening program, Worley started us out with what was to become one of my favorite dances, The Texas Star. The four couples in your square were to progress through a beautifully converging circular pattern that caused a progressive loss of your partner, taking on the next one to your side, known as your corner. It featured an exhilarating backward swing with your new partner, arms around each other’s waists, the blind extension of your free arm either connecting to a central hub, or alternating sending your partner to the center. No one ever stopped moving.”
Mirenna also devotes a small chapter to one of his abiding passions, playing fiddle. As he puts it: “I can say that I never came close to mastery of the fiddle, but I did not let it stop me.”
“The Making of a Field Hippie” is an entertaining read, about a determined young man looking for his place in the world. For a time, he found it in West Virginia.
“The Making of a Field Hippie” is available at www.stillpointcountryretreat or email email@example.com.