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"Whether you realize it or not, if you’re born and raised on the East Coast, you'll find that some of your ancestors carried on the tradition of the old Appalachian sound," musician Chester Ball told students during a recent trip to campus. "This is something we need to carry on. If we don’t keep it alive, it will soon die out."
Rambling Grass with students at Amarna Undergraduate Society following a performance on May 14, 2009.
Ball and other members of the band Rambling Grass came to Dartmouth from MacDowell County, West Virginia for three days of performances and other events, thanks to the Tucker Foundation’s Stevenson Appalachian Mountain Initiative. The Stevenson Initiative, funded by Robert Stevenson ’46, was created earlier this year to support programs benefiting West Virginia.
Julia Tse '09 and Wendy Diao '09 suggested the visit after meeting Ball and his band mates in March 2008 while in West Virginia on an Alternative Spring Break trip (ASB). Assistant Professor of Sociology Matissa Hollister, who was the faculty advisor for that trip, worked with Tse, Diao, and the Tucker Foundation to bring Rambling Grass to Dartmouth.
"We wanted to alter somewhat the nature of trips," said Hollister, "to shift it from the idea of purely service⎯we go down there and do something for you, with set roles as service providers and service recipients⎯to more of a cultural exchange."
During their visit, Rambling Grass had a packed schedule of appearances, including a three-hour show in Collis Commonground, a dinner concert for a full house at Moosilauke Ravine Lodge, and a performance for local elementary school students. They also shared dinner and discussion with a group of about two dozen students at Amarna Undergraduate Society.
"In some ways we got a two-for-one deal with the band because not only are they great performers, but they also have a lifetime of experiences to share about growing up in McDowell County and working in the coal mines," noted Hollister. "The band members were amazingly willing to talk about the challenges in their community and in their own lives."
Bringing the members of Rambling Grass to Dartmouth was a way to continue the ASB learning experience. "The services that the ASB trips provide are important, but often the greater impact is upon the students who go on the trips,” said Hollister. “I believe that a well-rounded education involved the interchange between theory and real-world experiences. Especially a place like Dartmouth, it’s important to get out of the Hanover bubble and experience other aspects of the world."
For video footage of a Rambling Grass performance, visit Dartmouth's YouTube channel.
By Sarah Maxell Crosby '04
Last Updated: 6/12/09