First Ever Banjo Festival in Appomattox Honors Musical Roots

Appomattox, VA - This weekend, The Appomattox Court House National Historical Park will host their first ever Banjo festival, called from Africa to Appomattox.

Africans brought the banjo to the states.

Joel Sweeney, from Appomattox, is the first documented white banjo player in America. He also played a part in bringing our country together long before 1865.

David Wooldridge is a museum technician and an expert on Joel Sweeney.

"When people come to Appomattox Courthouse they come to see the place where our nation reunited but in a different way, culturally speaking, right down the hill here, the cultures here were already uniting," Wooldridge said. "When he was a very young boy, he [Sweeney] would go out to the quarters by listening to the slaves play there."

After learning to play at home in Appomattox, Sweeney took the five string worldwide.

"Those folks might not have never had the opportunity to get out and play for white audiences in the South North East and England, but Joel Sweeney did. He was sort of a cultural ambassador," Wooldridge said.

The Park plans to have four dozen banjos on site for the festival, one from 1845.

The Sweeney cabin will also be open for tours for the first time ever.

At high noon on Saturday, they'll declare it "Joel Sweeney and the Banjo Day", signed by the governor.

"When you hit these strings and hear them wafting around, bouncing off the buildingsIt's just a really special moment. Time just seems to stop and slow down," Wooldridge said.

On Saturday at 7 p.m., they'll hold a banjo concert at the Park.

The rain plan will be to move to the Appomattox County High School auditorium.

The event is free, with park admission, except for the concert.

Cost of the Concert:

Adults: $20

Youth: $5 (ages 6-12)

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