2015 Whiskey Rebellion Festival: Free Fun for All Ages
One of the great things about living in southwestern Pennsylvania is the rich historical background of the area. This region was home to many important events in American history, including the Whiskey Rebellion of 1791. When the federal government attempted to impose a tax on whiskey production to help ease the national debt, area farmers launched an expansive protest that involved often forceful methods of refusing whiskey taxes. Taking place in Washington County, the Whiskey Rebellion illustrated the dogged American ideals that would go onto form the very backbone of this country.
To celebrate this important event, Washington County holds the yearly Whiskey Rebellion Festival which offers keen historical insight and a whole lot more to attendees. The festival was first established in 2010 to celebrate Washington County’s bicentennial and was originally intended to be a one-time happening. However, the festival proved so popular that it was scheduled as a yearly occurrence, complete with a number of musical acts, a shooting festival, heritage arts and crafts, and an array of foods and produce straight from local vendors.
Lee Stivers is responsible for booking the assortment of musical talent for the festival, and as a Washington County resident has a deep appreciation for this historically-themed event. While enjoying all of the great food and music is certainly important, Lee also sees the festival as offering a historical perspective not found in many other events. This is especially true for younger attendees, who may find the subject of history boring in other instances.
“Kids learn by methods other than sitting in a classroom or reading books, or even watching things on a screen,” Lee says, referring to the numerous demonstrations and live theater put on by the festival reenactors. “When you can involve a kid with their whole body, all of their senses, it makes it real to them.”
This up-close perspective is made possible by numerous live performances taking place over the course of the festival. Guests can witness live reenactments demonstrating the way of life typical to frontier men and women of the era, while town criers reenact speeches that would have been lobbed at federal officials attempting to collect the highly unpopular whiskey tax. There is a even a live tar and feather demonstration, where one brave volunteer elects to undergo a simulation of this public humiliation. Activities like these enable a lively way to view history that simply can’t be afforded by books, and as a result have much value to residents seeking to gain a grander view of local history.
Attendees can even gain insight into the weapons used at the time of the Whiskey Rebellion. The Schuetzenfest, or shooting festival, gives guests an idea of what type of weaponry was used during the era. Schuetzenfest, as well as production of Rye whiskey, was supplied by German settlers to Pennsylvania, which had a significant impact on local culture and traditions. Those participating in Schuetzenfest make use of authentic attire and weaponry, including the flintlock rifles wielded by expert marksman.
When it comes to musical performances, Lee took great care to ensure that performers kept in tune with the festival’s historical outlook. This Americana/heritage sound is most evident in Bull Run Cigar Box Guitars, which are created by John Fanning using a design made famous on Civil War battlefields. Gary Copeland of Spence’s Rye will even be using these custom-made guitars during his Saturday afternoon performance, much to the delight of concert-goers eager to see a bit of history in action.
Of course, this is just a small sampling of the many great performers included in the festival. Headliners The Black Lillies hail from Tennessee and offer a mix of bluegrass, country, and Americana perfectly suited to the atmosphere of the festival. Local singer/songwriter T. Mitchell Bell affords a regional perspective via many personal songs inspired by Scottish ancestral roots, as well as the wild frontier of Appalachia. Festival regulars Jakob’s Ferry Stragglers are a highly popular band that have experienced both regional and national success thanks to their easy fusion of many different genres and sounds. According to Lee, “The Jakob’s Ferry Stragglers is a very exciting band, we’re just thrilled to have them back. They’ve been at the festival every single year.”
The festival also includes many other great events such as a classic car show, the 7th annual Whiskey Rebellion dinner hosted by the Bradford House, and a farmer’s market featuring an abundance of local fare. While the farmer’s market is a quite a success in its current format, big things are in store for this and other Washington County events.
“It’s a pretty exciting time for the farmer’s market because we are about to break ground on building a pavilion downtown to house the market and other community events like the Whiskey Rebellion Festival,” Lee says of the upcoming plans. “By next year we should have a very wonderful pavilion that will be a main square for Washington.”
From exciting historical displays and activities to a mix of live musical performances, the 2015 Whiskey Rebellion Festival has much to offer attendees of all ages. The festival kicks off on Thursday July 9 and continues through Sunday July 12, with each day featuring a collection of great attractions that are both fun as well as informative.
For a full schedule of free events, visit whiskeyrebellionfestival.com
Story by Stacie Adams for Pennsylvania Bridges