For five days at the end of June, it was all things Autoharp at Little Buffalo State Park near Newport.
“We have people from Germany, Italy, Japan, France, Canada and from almost every state,” said Neal Walters, Director of the 24th Annual Mountain Laurel Autoharp Gathering.
Throughout the festival, workshops focused on playing techniques geared for all talent levels for the multi-stringed instrument from the zither family. There was even a seminar on how to play in front of an audience.
Workshop instructor Karen Mueller said the autoharp is an ideal instrument for both beginner and veteran players.
“The appeal of the instrument,” Mueller explained.”is that you can pick it up and you can push a chord button down and strum all the strings and make a chord immediately.”
At open stage sessions and judged competitions, players performed to enthusiastic audiences. Between sessions there were new instruments to try, some to buy, along with all the parts that go with them.
A popular non-musical event was the autoharp toss contest where participants won prizes for tossing their instruments furthest.
For many regulars at the festival, the event is more like a family reunion.
“If you go to something like this regularly,” said Walters, “and you make friends you see once a year, you very much look forward to seeing them each and every time.”
“I enjoy seeing the smiles on the faces of everybody watching,” said longtime festival attendee Heidi Cerrigione of Ellington, Connecticut. “This is a sport, if you will, that includes everyone from the simplest talent to the most technical performer. We just get together and love to play and sing.”
“People cry when it’s over and they have to leave,” said Jinny Reid, whose father Leonard Reid helped launch these gatherings in the late 1980s. “They know it will be another year until they see each other again.”