By MARINA WATERS
Don Burger has grown accustomed to friends, neighbors and the typical downtown passerby in Jonesborough stopping to listen to him strum a wooden dulcimer settled in his lap on a sunny May afternoon. But this year during his annual Dulcimer Days festival, he’s hoping to still draw a crowd both online and in person, but with social distance protocols in place.
“I thought, ‘I can’t just sit by and focus on me,’” Burger said when asked why he decided to continue the festivities this year. “I want to keep myself and my family safe, but I like taking what I have a passion for and offering that … If I can link that together with what’s wonderful about Jonesborough and get people to come downtown without having to go downtown, it’s worth a shot.”
During the fifth annual Dulcimer Days fest, set for May 11-17, amateur and veteran musicians will be singing and strumming in live-streamed settings, which will be posted to the Dulcimer Days Facebook page, as well as in select locations throughout town.
“I’m going around town looking for the spots that I’ll be filming it and (the performances) will be posted on Youtube and the Facebook page,” Burger said. “People will go there to get the music and the stories and things that go with it. They’ll be sitting at home going there, but they’ll be going to Jonesborough.”
Burger will also continue his tradition of setting up somewhere in Tennessee’s oldest town to play a tune or two — but this time, it will be in a mystery location with a contest attached.
“Each place I go, when I put that video out with the music, the first person who comes up with where that is gets a coffee from the Corner Cup,” Burger said. “I’ve done that kind of contest before but not with music, but with pottery. I remembered this is something downtown that brought people together and it was a silly little get-to-know-Jonesborough contest.”
The festival will also still center around Burger’s love for bringing the dulcimer back to everyday life.
“It’s all about bringing the dulcimer back,” Burger said. “At one time, everybody knew what it was. Rather than it being fancy music you buy on a CD, it was all around. It was as common as we consider to be appliances and cars and all that. They were matter-of-factly accepted as part of the culture. The dulcimer has heritage and everyday people playing it and singing to it is also heritage.”
Dulcimer Days won’t be the first time Burger has brought his music and performances from his dulcimer posse online. During the pandemic, Burger has held online jam sessions often hosted through Zoom and other teleconference apps. That experienced paired with this year’s plan to continue Dulcimer Days has made Burger reconsider the ways in which he can offer music to those who can’t be there in person.
“It’s teaching me that there is a whole lot more I can do to reach out,” Burger said. “When I do one of these festivals, it’s focused around who shows up. But from now on, I want to do it for those who show up and those who can’t. I might as well get a little more modern and learn how I can better reach out to people — just give them 15 minutes or a half hour worth of something they can sing along to or put on in the background while they’re washing the dishes, just something.”
For more information on Dulcimer Days or to view performances, go to https://www.facebook.com/VirtualDulcimers or email Burger at [email protected]