Before 1607? Melungeons in the New World”
|The Melungeon Heritage Association (MHA) and the Southwest Virginia Museum sponsored Before 1607? Melungeons in the New World in conjunction with Virginia’s statewide celebration of the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown.
Southwest Virginia Museum
A reception on Friday evening, June 29th, featured music by Ron Short. Short, a native of the Appalachian Mountains of Dickenson County, Virginia, has worked at Roadside Theater for the past 26 years as a playwright, musician, composer, actor, and director. He scripted and wrote music for 15 musical plays and helped script three others, all currently in Roadside’s touring repertoire. He performs in all of the company’s touring productions.
Speakers on Saturday, June 30, inclulded:
Storyteller Linda Goodman
The Southwest Virginia Museum was an excellent location; The grounds are beautiful, and the perfect weather didn’t hurt either. Organizers expected 200 or so and wound up with close to 400 –not counting guests, presenters, MHA staff, etc. Naturally., MHA organizers were quite pleased.
There were many highlights to the event, but of course Julie Dixon’s documentary Melungeon Voices was certainly a long-awaited pleasure. She’s put in a lot of time and effort and it shows. She set out to tell Brent Kennedy;s story, of course, but Brent also wanted a balance of viewpoints in this film and Julie achieved that admirably. The running time clocked in at 1 hour 6 minutes, but Julie assures me that if someone like PBS, History Channel, or Discovery Channel picked it up, it could be tightened to fit their time requirements without significant loss of content. I hope it can be seen by a much larger audience in the very near future.
We had a nice room for viewing the film – good sight lines, good audio, not too much ambient light – but it could only seat 50 people. We had a sneak preview Friday evening and another showing on Saturday afternoon, but it was obvious that our planned third showing – and even our stand-by plan of a fourth showing – wouldn’t satisfy the demand for the film. Plus the original room was difficult for Brent to get into. So Julie and her cinematographer Warren Gentry made a last minute move of the entire set-up into the tent, and MHA decided to forgo a discussion session so that we could all see the film before it got too late. It was a good move; Brent was able to see the movie front and center, and everyone who stayed had the opportunity to see it.
Brent’s presence was, of course, very touching for all of us. It was 10 years ago next month that the first Melungeon gathering took place in Wise, Virginia. Few would argue with the idea that he has done more than any individual to stimulate interest in the Melungeons. While Brent’s voice is (for now) stilled and his body is damaged, he is still completely Brent Kennedy, and we certainly have not heard the last of him. His presence in Big Stone Gap was an inspiration to us all, as has been his work for the past decade or more.