Around me, everyone is chatting, catching up, unwinding scarves worn to block the biting wind outside. In Union Church, though, it is warm and people are ready to catch up with old friends and to make new ones. There is a buzz of excitement in the air as everyone awaits a special performance of In These Fields, a folk opera written by Berea’s own Silas House and Sam Gleaves.
As the folk opera kicked off, everyone was quick to settle down, and I found myself entranced by the story. I kept having to remind myself to take photographs because all I wanted to do was be there in the moment. Like the scarves at the beginning of the night, the cast unwound centuries of Appalachian history for the audience.
The performance which was originally written for the Southern Foodways Alliance is forty minutes long and centers around a staple of Appalachian culture: corn. From stories about how the Cherokee used corn to stories about moonshining to stories about a town pageant focused on naming Miss Corn, this folk opera did it all. There was one point in the opera when the cast got together and were shucking corn. I wanted to get down on my knees with them and feel the silks tangled between my fingers. It could have been on any down home back porch.
Perhaps my favorite part of In These Fields is that it portrayed Appalachia and its people fairly. Even though there was moonshine, it was not used stereotypically like it is in much of popular culture. I loved the party scene where drinking moonshine shifts into a night of fun traditional dancing instead of into illegal mischief.
The most disappointing part of the night was when the opera ended. I feel like I could have sat there all night listening to the beautiful music and singing and hearing the cast member spin tales about Appalachia. Although the ending came too soon, I left feeling as satisfied as I would after eating a skillet full of fresh baked cornbread. The feeling of contentment lingered like the last few notes of the opera carrying me on my walk home.
If you are interested in learning more about In These Fields, please visit:
If you are interested in learning more about the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center’s annual Celebration of Traditional Music, please be on the lookout for more blog posts from the eventful weekend!
Article Written by Emily Masters