The Brandywine Friends of Old Time Music (“BFOTM”) was founded in 1972 with the goal of helping to preserve traditional American music by presenting live performances of Bluegrass and old time music in Northern Delaware and the surrounding areas of Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and encouraging local traditional musicians. From the outset, it has been an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization.
Early in its existence, the BFOTM presented several concerts by nationally-known Bluegrass bands such as Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys and Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys, among others. Beginning in 1972, the BFOTM, in partnership with Monroe and Stanley, began a Labor Day Weekend Bluegrass Festival in Bear, Delaware. After two years, Monroe and Stanley decided to focus on other interests and the BFOTM became the sole sponsors of what became the Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival. The site of the event has since been moved to the Salem County Fairgounds in southern New Jersey, a short distance from the Delaware Memorial Bridge. Now in its 45th year, the Festival draws 5000 to 7000 people from Europe, Asia and all over the United States for a Labor Day Weekend of music that is recognized as one of the premier Bluegrass Festivals in the country.
The performers that have graced the stage at the Bluegrass Festival are a “who’s who” of Bluegrass music, everyone from the father of the music, Bill Monroe and other first generation greats like Lester Flatt, Jim & Jesse, Mac Wiseman, Doc Watson and The Osborne Brothers, to those who are carrying the music forward currently, such as, Alison Krauss, Ricky Skaggs, Doyle Lawson, Del McCoury, Sierra Hull, The Steep Canyon Rangers and Marty Stuart. Bands from Sweden, Italy, Russia, France, Bulgaria and Japan have also been featured.
Older forms of traditional music have always been a central focus of the BFOTM. Early concerts included legendary fiddler Tommy Jarrell and influential banjoist Kyle Creed, both from the Round Peak area of North Carolina, and the Cajun music of The Balfa Brothers of Louisiana. The interest in those concerts gave rise to the innovative idea of holding a weekend traditional music festival, which became hugely influential in old time music circles. For twenty years beginning in 1974, the group presented a July weekend of traditional music titled “The Brandywine Mountain Music Convention.” At the time, it was one of only a few old time music festivals in the country, and became a model for many other similar events. A generation of old time music enthusiasts trace their interest to having attended what became known simply as “Brandywine.” The stage performances at the festival were planned around a theme, sometimes a region such as The Music Of West Virginia, Kentucky, Texas, the Galax, Virginia area, or Tennessee, and sometimes an ethnic musical genre, such as French Music In America. Other themes included Early Country Radio and Humor In Old Time Music. Traditional musicians from all parts of the country, many of whom had recorded in the 1920s but faded into obscurity during the depression, were welcomed back to the stage and received renewed accolades. Equally important, informal jams in the campground and any other place that some space was available gave musicians from far and wide an opportunity to meet each other, develop their skills and play together. Many younger musicians had their first opportunity to hear and play old time music at Brandywine. One graduate student even wrote his thesis on the music in the camping area of Brandywine.
Although Brandywine was suspended after its twentieth anniversary, the BFOTM has continued to present a regular schedule of traditional music concerts during the year. The BFOTM also issued a series of recordings of the annual Mountain Music Conventions and more recently, an interactive CD, commemorating the music heard at Brandywine. In recent years, the BFOTM has continued to focus on its mission. Every month from September to May, the BFOTM holds concerts, music picnics and similar events in several locations in New Castle County, from Newark and Arden to the Grand Opera House in Wilmington. The list of performers is a hall of fame of traditional musicians. In recent years, the BFOTM featured concerts by, among others, legendary fiddlers Benton Flippen, Richard Bowman and Alan Jabbour, superb old time bands such as The New Southern Broadcasters, The Orpheus Supertones, the Red Clay Ramblers and Big Medicine, and outstanding Bluegrass bands like The Bluegrass Intentions, Dan Paisley and the Southern Grass, Chris Stuart and Back Country and The Dry Branch Fire Squad. The BFOTM also had the privilege of hosting the final concert of The New Lost City Ramblers. In addition, the BFOTM has undertaken several other projects. Working with several other individuals and organizations interested in traditional music, the BFOTM has made its recorded archives available for a project which was launched in 2004, whereby recordings made by various collectors are issued on CDs and made available through the internet. To date, the BFOTM archives have offered performances of The Roan Mountain Hilltoppers, an old time band from Tennessee that performed at Brandywine several times, musicians from West Virginia who were featured at the second Brandywine Mountain Music Convention, superb autoharpist Kilby Snow, song writer and local performing favorite Ola Belle Reed, northern French fiddler Simon St. Pierre, West Virginia fiddler Ernie Carpenter and gospel groups The Little Wonders and The Dixie Hummingbirds. For more information see www.fieldrecorder.org.
The BFOTM also provided financial assistance to local old time musicians Walt Koken and Clare Milliner, enabling them to publish a book containing musical transcriptions of over 1400 fiddle tunes collected by them from various traditional sources. TheMilliner-Koken Collection of American Fiddle Tunes has made those tunes more widely available and helped preserve them for future generations of musicians. It is recognized as a monumental work in the field.
The BFOTM has also aided an old time music website, www.slippery-hill.com, in its efforts to make old time music more widely available. The Slippery-Hill website contains the source recordings of each of the tunes in the Milliner-Koken collection, as well as a vast number of other fiddle tunes and songs. The BFOTM has cooperated with Slippery-Hill’s fund raising efforts, needed to maintain and improve the website, by creating a means for tax-deductible contributions to be made to the BFOTM, designated for Slippery-Hill. Recently, Slippery-Hill has placed on its website the music from several of the Brandywine Mountain Music Conventions.