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Arts Around Town

Arts Around Town: Heroes of the Civil War: Kent Courtney at Kutztown Folk Festival

Singer brings Civil War tunes to life at Folk Festival

The Kutztown Folk Festival marks the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War this year during its nine-day run, beginning Saturday through July 8, at the Kutztown Fairgrounds as host to a special road show exhibit detailing the Pennsylvania Dutch involvement. Sharing the stage as he brings actual experiences of soldiers and civilians of the time to life through music will be New Orleans native and Hanover resident Kent Courtney, who comes to the festival for the first time.

Now in its 63rd year of celebrating the Pennsylvania Dutch culture, festival organizers saw only fit to include the milestone anniversary in its programming by featuring the "Pennsylvanians and the Civil War" road show, with experts available on topics of the Pennsylvania Dutch involvement, medical practices during the war, Calvary tactics, quilts which served as directional signs for the Underground Railroad, and the life of an infantryman. Also slated are a reenactment encampment, Calvary horses, and a private collection of Civil War artifacts never before made public.

As a musician, Courtney will be performing authentic Civil War era tunes. Dave Fooks, executive director of the festival, said Courtney will be performing and interacting with visitors pretty much all day, every day, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., right in the middle of the Civil War road show area.

"With the exception of lunch and an occasional short break, people won't miss Courtney," Fooks said. "He's a person who truly loves what he does and for that, he didn't want scheduled time slots."

Fooks said it was the festival's history advisor, Dr. Dave Valuska, who recommended Courtney as "the only person who can do a credible job performing Civil War era music, both battlefield and civilian, as well as be able to discourse in length actual experiences of soldiers and civilians of the time, based upon his extensive research."

Courtney has received national media coverage for his dramatic multi-media format and interpretations of Irish, Scottish, English, Nordic and French folk music. He plays the mandolin, guitar, drums, harmonica, accordion, recorder and banjo. He's performed regionally at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire. He's also the author of "Returning to the Civil War, Grand Reenactments of an Anguished Time."

Courtney frequently appears on The History Channel and has been heard or seen on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," "Good Morning America," The Travel Channel, BBC, PBS, A&E, CNN, C-SPAN, and National Public Radio. He said he appeared on The History Channel 72 times in July 2011, in repeated programming that marked the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. He recently appeared as Terrence Mullens, one of the conspirators, in The History Channel's "Stealing Lincoln's Body." Mullens was one of many who, in 1876, tried to take Abraham Lincoln's body out of his mausoleum in Springfield, Ill., and hold it for ransom.

In The History Channel's "April 1865," Courtney portrayed General Breckenridge who, as Secretary of War, surrendered the Confederacy to General William T. Sherman. He also played the concertina in a tavern in the opening scene of the PBS documentary, "Slavery and the Making of America," with Morgan Freeman. He said he's currently working on a music project in collaboration with New Age pianist/composer Kori Linae Carothers on the reading of letters written during the Civil War.

A graduate of the University of New Orleans with a concentration in geography, Courtney said he was always drawn to "old-time things and living history" and credits his father, a Civil War buff, who would bring him to historic battlefield sites and tell him stories of heroism and valor. His parents were musically inclined, he said, with his mother in the church choir and his father a "barbershopper." He grew up on the lyrics of Stephen Foster's "Camptown Races" and "Oh! Susanna," both Civil War favorites sung by his parents.

"Music of the past brings alive the consciousness of people," Courtney said. "There's a commonality of experience that's shared." With that, he said he hopes those who experience his music at the Kutztown Folk Festival "will feel a close kinship to America's past and closer to fellow man."

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Arts Roundup

Music has gone to the birds for the Pennsylvania Sinfonia Orchestra, who has paired nature with classical music and come up with a "Musical Salon" fundraiser on Saturday, June 30 from 1 to 5 p.m., at the stately Allentown residence of Ken and Pam Burton of 2803 W. Chew St., Allentown.

The event will feature live chamber music by Sinfonia musicians while guests stroll through gardens on the grounds and hear gardening presentations that relate directly to the city's designation as an Audubon Bird Town. Local gardening and birding experts Claudia Steckel and Barbara Malt will describe how particular plants can promote backyard habitats that create food and shelter for birds and other fauna.

Steckel is a consultant to the Pennsylvania Land Trust for plant community and plant species surveys, a member of the Rose Garden Neighborhood Association (Park and Garden Committee) and owner of her own business, Botanical Inventory. Malt is vice president of the Lehigh Valley Audubon Society, and co-author of "Birds of the Lehigh Valley and Vicinity" (with Peter Saenger and Kevin Crilley). Both Steckel and Malt are active with Allentown's Friends of the Parks.

Talks are scheduled for 1:30, 2:30, 3:30 and 4:30 p.m., to alternate with music.

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