As new members of our Chatham County community, Chatham Park is powering our Go See This series this year because art is an integral part of Chatham County’s identity. They join us in inviting you to Go See This . . .
After so many months of cancelled concerts, performances, and live dance classes, we’re so pleased to share news of an upcoming live performance by a beloved dance group, the Green Grass Cloggers at the Hoppin’ John Fiddlers’ Convention on Saturday, September 18. Not only will you have a chance to see this talented group perform, but you will also have two chances to attend workshops with them: learn how to flatfoot on Friday at 4:30pm, or learn how to clog on Saturday at 12:30pm. If you’ve been missing seeing live performances or being able to take dance lessons, these events are not to be missed!
What makes the Hoppin’ John festival so energetic is the combination of powerful fiddle music with beautiful dancing. Rodney Sutton, one of the early members of the Green Grass Cloggers, will be performing with the Green Grass Cloggers for the Saturday night performance as well as leading a flatfooting workshop on Friday. Rodney has a long history of being a dancer, starting when he was just five years old. “I grew up in Eastern North Carolina, and some of my earliest memories are of attending dances in the Outlaw’s Bridge section of Duplin County, where my Dad often played music,” says Rodney. “At these dances, a caller would lead the big circle dances while dancing from the floor. I loved to dance. By the age of five or six, I would often join in with my mama. In the fall of 1972, I saw the Green Grass Cloggers (GGC) perform on the ECU campus for a McGovern campaign rally and I was determined to join the team, though the team’s founder (Dudley Culp) pretty much gave up on me after my first attempt to learn the GGC basic step. I persevered and eventually was an original member of the traveling road team. I became the team’s director in 1978. Now, 49 years later, I am still very active with the GGC Asheville team, handling a lot of the bookings and coordinating with festivals and other events.”
The art of clogging goes back to the 1930s, as Leanne Smith, a member of the Green Grass Cloggers since 1998 and a writing professor at ECU, outlines in her article, “Cousins, A Few Times Removed: Eighty Years of Team Clogging’s Family Tree.” As Leanne notes in her article, “For the American team dance form called clogging, eighty years is a fairly short history compared to some folk traditions. The roots of this dance style—in which groups wear costumes and execute figures and steps that are amplified by the dancers’ tap shoes—are traceable to a particular time and place widely accepted as the genesis: the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival (MDFF) in Asheville, North Carolina, in the early 1930s.”
Have you always wanted to learn how to do flatfooting or clogging? You are in luck this year, as you will have two opportunities to learn from members of the Green Grass Cloggers during the convention. You can choose to attend Rodney Sutton’s Flatfooting Workshop on Friday at 4:30pm or you can attend the Clogging Workshop with the full Green Grass Cloggers group on Saturday at 12:30pm. For more information on the workshops, visit the Workshops page on the event’s website.
The Hoppin’ John Fiddlers’ Convention began in 2007 by a group of organizers from the Shakori Hills GrassRoots Festival. Julie Amani, the coordinator of Hoppin’ John, has been with the team since its inception. “In the spring of 2007, I was working with the Shakori Hills GrassRoots Festival as a highly-involved volunteer when my friend, Eddie Carson, took me to my first old-time fiddlers convention in Mt. Airy, North Carolina,” Julie notes. “I was blown away by the energetic intensity of a music style that is all ‘players’ sport,’ (as opposed to a performance art) and immediately fell in love. Upon returning to Chatham County, I learned that the Shakori Hills founders had their musical roots in this type of music, and the idea of creating a fiddlers convention on that beautiful Chatham property was born. We convened a group of interested musicians and community members and held our first Hoppin’ John that September.”
Given the ever-changing landscape of the pandemic, the organizers of Hoppin’ John have taken special care to ensure that proper protocols are in place to keep the performers and guests safe during the two-day convention next month. As Julie explains, “Because Hoppin’ John is a rather small event, spread over a large property, the organizers’ main safety focus has been around activities that put participants in close contact with one another. The late-night square dances have been canceled, and the two dances that remain will have creative measures that keep dancers with their pods. Masking will be required for some activities, with free masks and hand sanitizing stations located around the festival. We’ve also stepped up the cleaning of bathrooms and common areas and will be enforcing physical distancing in congested areas.”
With so many performances and activities to choose from over the two days of Hoppin’ John, you might find yourself wondering how to get the most out of your time there. Here’s Julie’s advice: “The number one must-see is the Saturday night concert performance with the Green Grass Cloggers, opening up for Alice Gerrard and Friends. Along with the stunning visuals of the cloggers’ dancing and the heart-stirring, soulful mastery of Alice Gerrard’s singing, both of these performances epitomize what Hoppin’ John is all about: keeping our region’s traditional music and dance alive by passing it down, generation to generation. The Green Grass Cloggers formed in 1971, and now feature dancers from all generations in between, including some original members. Alice Gerrard, subject of the recent documentary, You Gave Me a Song, will be joined on stage by mentees, Tatiana Hargreaves and Reed Stutz, both highly talented, young, up-and-coming players. I also highly recommend checking out the band contest, attending at least one workshop (Flatfooting Dance with Rodney Sutton is a great starter for first-timers) or showcase, joining in on a (masked) musical hayride, and just taking a stroll through the campgrounds at night. That’s where the real magic is.”
Get your tickets for all of the events today!