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Historic instruments donated to Willis Gap center

ARARAT, Va. — Willis Gap Community Center, known for its music performed during weekly open jam sessions, also is embracing a museum component through the donation of two historical instruments.

This includes a vintage Appalachian dulcimer given by a center member, Les Edgell, according to information from Mary Hill, the secretary of its board of directors who also coordinates video, photo and media efforts on the facility’s behalf.

Edgell, the open jams’ director — who logs names of persons as they enter the door so they can be called to perform in that order — had bought the dulcimer about 30 years ago in the mountain town of Brevard, North Carolina. He played it a little, but wanted others to see and enjoy the instrument, which led to his donation to Willis Gap Community Center.

In addition, a historic banjo was donated by Rick Sebastian, a musician who plays banjo and guitar and often attends the Friday night jams.

“I remember my grandpa playing this banjo,” Hill quoted Sebastian as saying.

“Also, I feel fellowship and a warm welcome when I enter the Willis Gap Community Center and wanted them to have it,” Sebastian added.

The instruments were placed in the center during last Friday night’s jam session.

To properly exhibit the examples of living history, wooden boxes were specially handmade and donated by center member Waymond Dawson to contain the dulcimer and banjo.

The donations fit in well with another key development at the community center recently, the Feb. 22 unveiling of a “LOVE” sign on the outside of the building as part of Virginia’s LOVEworks program.

It is a statewide branding initiative designed to promote historic life experiences across the Commonwealth and strengthen awareness of the longtime “Virginia is for Lovers” message.

The sign recognizes the local center’s presence as a key stop along The Crooked Road: Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail, a 330-mile driving route boasting a number of performance and other venues.

The design of the sign, reflecting the talents of Hill, incorporates a musical theme featuring imagery of instruments that spell out L-O-V-E.

Willis Gap Community Center’s Open Jam has been ongoing weekly since the 1990s, showcasing multiple musical genres including acoustic Appalachian heritage old-time, bluegrass, country and gospel. Musicians and singers of all skill levels are welcome at the Friday night performances that have become popular with fans.

In addition to the music, dancing, family friendly fun and fellowship, the events offer hot dogs and other foods prepared in a kitchen that opens at 6 p.m. on Fridays ahead of the musical performances and dancing starting at 7 p.m.

Otto and Nellie Hiatt began the open jams in their home, which became so large that the sessions had to be moved to Willis Gap Community Center at 144 The Hollow Road.



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