Since its inception in 2001, the Lagniappe Dulcimer Fete has grown from a small gathering of folk musicians into a burgeoning music festival recognized and attended by dulcimer enthusiasts throughout the country.
The dulcimer is a simple three-to-four stringed instrument played primarily by American folk musicians.
Tonight, the Lagniappe Dulcimer Society will kick off its four-day-long jubilee at the West Baton Rouge Museum with a Cajun feast and a Mardi Gras parade followed by a $5 concert performed by a dulcimer orchestra.
According to Lisa Oivaniki, co-chair of the festival’s organizing committee, the orchestra will feature some of the most renowned dulcimer musicians in the United States. The audience, on the other hand, will consist of beginners and professionals alike, and anyone is welcomed to attend the festival.
“I arranged music for different kinds of dulcimers, so all the instructors from across the country will play some of their tunes to welcome everyone to the festival,” Oivaniki said.
Oivaniki discovered the fete and the Society in 2004. As a multi-instrumentalist who could play more than 25 kinds of instruments, she picked up the dulcimer during her education at the University’s School of Music, but had lost touch with it until she attended the festival in her adulthood. She was drawn to its gentle sounds and its folkish aesthetic and found it incredibly easy to relearn, even after a decade of inactivity.
“One of the best things about the dulcimer is that it’s incredibly easy to learn, and anyone can jump right into it,” Oivaniki said.
The dulcimer itself has a rich and uncanny history. Oivaniki said the instrument was made by Scotch-Irish immigrants who arrived at the Appalachian Mountains from Europe in the 19th century. They lacked the tools and knowledge required to construct complex instruments like the violin, so they innovated a simple three-to-four string design instead. The instrument was popular among the immigrants, but its following declined as the 20th century approached. It experienced a revival in the form of mid-century folk music and inspired the creation of other kinds of dulcimers and dulcimer music.
“There’s the hammered dulcimer, which works sort of like a piano, and the bowed dulcimer, which is more like a violin,” Oivaniki said.
Jak Stallings, the leader of the Lagniappe Dulcimer Society, said the festival celebrates the dulcimer, but many other instruments, including harps, mandolins and ukuleles, will be featured and played alongside the historic instrument and its variants.
“People come all the way from Ohio and Wisconsin to play all sorts of things at this festival,” Stallings said.
According to Stallings, participants will be able to take music lessons, attend workshops, learn how to build instruments and listen to concerts featuring some of the most prominent musicians in the world of folk music. Notable guests will include international autoharp champion Ann Norris, award-winning songwriter and fiddler Gina Forsyth and Mississippi Supreme Court Justice and Southern Regional Dulcimer champion Jess Dickinson.
To foster a friendly atmosphere, attendees will be able to camp on the grounds of the Port Allen Community Center adjacent to the West Baton Rouge Museum. Vendors will offer fresh Cajun meals to hungry patrons and instruments to those with more artistic cravings.
“There’s even a guy who sells cardboard dulcimers for $50 — anyone who wants to get involved with this really can just show up and start playing,” Oivaniki said.