Folk Festival Explores Breadth of Mennonite Roots

MennoFolk poster logo by Jerry Holsopple

Acoustic music festival "Mennofolk" will make its debut in Harrisonburg Nov. 4-6, bringing visual artists, musicians and fans together from across the eastern United States.

This event will offer delightful performances for all ages at venues around the city – from downtown Harrisonburg to Eastern Mennonite High School to local churches.

Most performers have some connection to the Shenandoah Valley, and what brings them together is the experience of roots or membership in the Mennonite Church. A variety of genres are represented, but the common thread is "folk music" written about themes of faith, love and hardships of the everyday life of regular people. Many hymns began as folk songs or take their melodies from older folk tunes.

Using the theme, "Tis a Gift," organizers have encouraged performers to create new music for the festival as well as interpret traditional music. Mennofolk represents a homecoming for many artists.

Featured Artists

J.D. Martin (aka Jerry Derstine)
J.D. Martin (aka Jerry Derstine)

Headliner Jerry Derstine (stage named JD Martin) grew up near Harrisonburg. At a young age, he wrote several songs which have become well loved among Mennonites, one of thenm included in the latest hymnal for Mennonite and Brethren churches. However, Jerry spent most of his career living and writing music in Nashville and Los Angeles. There he hit the big time, writing songs for Wynnona Judd, Reba McEntire, and Peter Cetera, and had a number of top ten hits to his name.

Now, Jerry returns to his roots, bringing with him recent songs that reach a new level of spirit and hope meant to inspire people towards themes of the heart. He is accompanied by his wife Jan Garrett, a renowned singer-songwriter in her own right, who performs "music for soul retrieval." Garrett will also lead a women’s singing workshop entitled "Finding Your Authentic Voice."

Locals who were in high school or college in the 1970’s may remember a popular Christian band called "Daybreak," which toured in this area. This year, Mennofolk will feature a reunion of the Daybreak band members, some of whom had lost touch with each other but are now coming together for this encore performance.

Reunion Vocal Band
Reunion Vocal Band

"Reunion Vocal Band" also brings old friends to the stage. For over 20 years this eclectic group has been meeting to perform from all corners of the country. They will play at Mennofolk as their reunion concert of this year, blending folk, spiritual and jazz influences with good old rock and roll.

Appalachian music will take the stage at Mennofolk through Liz McGeachy and Tim Marema’s haunting harmonies, The New Johnson’s fiddle tunes and Alex Albright’s Appalachian Blues. Phil Ruth, a Mennonite historian and dulcimer player from Pennsylvania, claims that the mountain dulcimer may have originated in the Shenandoah Valley, a mix of early Swiss/German and Irish instruments. Dave Landes develops the dulcimer theme further with hymns and folk songs played on a hammered dulcimer, one of many instruments he regularly plays at the Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton.

Bluegrass fans will be well-satisfied with the sound of local bluegrass/gospel group, "Daphna Creek." "The Goldmine Pickers," a young up-and-coming band from Goshen, Ind., features Jay Lapp, originally of Harrisonburg, and blends newgrass and jazz with a traditional bluegrass idiom. Songwriter Dave Nealon plays bluegrass style and includes banjo and guitar in his set of originals.

Mennofolk will also include "Trent Wagler and the Steel Wheels," with original and American roots music material. Wagler recently made his CD release debut at Court Square Theater.

Musical Styles

Mennonites are known for their tradition of a capella singing, an influential foundation apparent in the harmony focus of many Mennofolk acts. At the festival, this tradition will be explored with performances by "Finely Tuned," "Cantore" and "Sons of the Day." Ruth Stoltzfus Jost will tell the moving story of her family history during the Civil War through a song she sings without accompaniment.

On Sunday, Mennofolk will conclude with the "Festival of Praise" at Park View Mennonite Church, a celebration through men’s choral singing.

Singer-Songwriter styles at Mennofolk range from rock to pop to roots music and include themes of peace, faith and the complexity and beauty of everyday life. Original material will be presented by Chris Kniss, Andru Bemis, Konrad Wert, Brad Yoder, Jerry Holsopple, Heather Kropf, Gina Holsopple and Jonathan Reuel. Saturday night’s Songwriter’s Circle gives a chance to hear a smorgasbord of contemporary music being produced by Mennonite writers.

Visual arts are a special part of Mennofolk Harrisonburg. Oasis Gallery is presenting a show by Cyndi Gusler, and Gusler has coordinated local artists for a show at Eastern Mennonite High School. Art will be for sale, and Artisan’s Hope will create an off-site sale of fairly-traded gifts by artisans from around the world.


Mennofolk begins Friday night with concerts downtown at The Children’s Museum, Court Square Theater, Oasis, St Stephens Church, The Little Grill, Luigi’s and the Daily Grind. Saturday during Mennofolk at Eastern Mennonite High School, food will be sold from The Little Grill Collective and music will run from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sets will be divided into three stages. A concert/jam session continues after 11 p.m. at Common Grounds Coffeehouse at Eastern Mennonite University featuring the Goldmine Pickers.

Sunday, participants are invited to local churches to hear their favorite Mennofolk musicians play. Sunday afternoon brings "The Bob Show," a Ted and Lee comedy, to the Court Square Theater, Jan Garrett’s women’s singing workshop at Cups to Go, and the Festival of Praise at Parkview Mennonite Church.

A complete schedule and admission prices can be found at:

Local organizations and business sponsoring Mennofolk are Garrison Press, The Little Grill, Artisan’s Hope, Harrisonburg Downtown Rennaisance, Court Square Theater, Eastern Mennonite University’s music department, Common Grounds Coffeehouse, WEMC radio, Virginia Mennonite Conference, Shalom Congregation, Park View Mennonite Church and the Arts Council of the Valley.

Organizers plan to make Mennofolk a yearly event. To volunteer or make a donation (both provide free admission to the festival) check the Mennofolk website or call Trent Wagler at 540-438-1842.