BRATTLEBORO -- Traditional music may have one eye fixed on the past as the source of songs, styles and inspiration.
But it's gaze is very much lasered in on the present and future, too.
Not merely the province of historical re-enactors clinging desperately to the old songs, traditional music is a scene crackling with energy, innovation and talent, with a future as bright and limitless as a galaxy.
For proof, you don't even have to leave town.
On Saturday, the Northern Roots Traditional Music Festival returns to Brattleboro for its seventh year, bringing together local and regional musicians representing the best of various northern musical traditions.
Celebrating and nurturing Brattleboro's vibrant community of traditional musicians, the festival features hands-on workshops, performances, pub sessions, a dance band, a family dance, and an evening performance honoring the best of the rich musical traditions of Ireland, Scotland, England, Scandinavia, New England and French Canada. Events take place at New England Youth Theatre and McNeill's Brewery.
All this makes the case that traditional music is in good hands, both now and in the future.
"It's an exciting time. What I'm seeing is we're having a second generation of players come, and I feel like they're bringing the tradition to the next place," said Andrea Larson, a fiddler from Peterborough, N.H., who is well-known to local dancers and musicians but is making her first appearance as a performer and workshop leader at the festival. "To me, they're making the tradition alive again."
"The renaissance of traditional music really began in earnest in the 1970s," said Keith Murphy, local traditional musician and director of this Brattleboro Music Center festival. "Traditional music is at an incredible place."
And Brattleboro is one small but significant reason why.
Murphy and his wife Becky Tracy lead classes for traditional musicians through the Brattleboro Music Center.
"Our classes are in an amazing place. They really kind of coalesced into a community of players. In our own student world in Brattleboro, it's thriving," said Murphy.
And it's not just budding students. Brattleboro is home to many traditional musicians, who work and play around the country and around the world, but who call our neck of the woods home.
The festival is a celebration of that, and a chance for all these musicians, whose paths typically cross only by chance, to get together and get to know each other better.
One important part of the festival is "showcasing our rich local traditional talent," said Murphy. "Also, the festival is a way of bringing together the players in the community. ... It's a chance for people to connect with players in the community, both as performers and as teachers."
It's also a chance to learn new things, play a lot, sing a lot, dance a lot, listen a lot ... and have a great time doing it.
Festival offerings begin Saturday at noon and continue through the day, wrapping up at 5:30 p.m. Then there's the evening performance at 7:30 p.m., at NEYT, which typically sells out.
Festival workshops and sessions include old favorites like French-Canadian fiddle, the Slow Jam, Irish fiddle, the Youth Showcase, the Family Concert, Dance Band Prep and the Family Dance at the New England Youth Theater.
Plus, there are the tree popular offerings at McNeill's Brewery on Elliot Street -- the Pub Sing, the French-Canadian Session and the Irish Session.
"McNeill's Pub is always just bursting at the seams," said Murphy, who estimates that upwards of 400 to 500 people may take part in some aspect of the festival.
As always, there are some new offerings to spice things up.
"It's going to be a busy year for singing," said Murphy.
The Gawler Family, which performed in Brattleboro last fall and has many friends here, is coming from Maine to lead a Harmony Song Workshop. They will also showcase their singing and playing by performing the Family Concert.
Singers will also appreciate the Harmony Singing Performance and, of course, the Pub Sing.
Another new feature is a session titled Matching Fiddles with Players. Local violinmaker Doug Cox will bring some of his fiddles and fiddlers Becky Tracy, lydia ievins, Andrea Larson, Armond Aromin and Mary Lea will play them and talk about the relationship between musician, maker and instrument.
Larson and ievins will lead Scandinavian Tunes for All, and Larson will also lead a workshop on the needlessly dreaded art of practicing.
Larson said she attended a workshop on practicing in Sweden, and the ideas completely changed the way she practices. She's presenting some of what she learned at the workshop. It turns out, "practice" doesn't have to be a dreaded thing.
"I really discovered that practicing is fun," said Larson. "It added a piece of motivation that was missing."
The lineup of musicians featured in the festival includes: Irish fiddler Armand Aromin from Rhode Island; the Gawler Family; Irish flute and whistle player Dan Restivo; Scandinavian and English Country Dance fiddle and nyckelharpa player lydia ievins; Swedish fiddler Andrea Larson; traditional English folk singer Tony Barrand; local guitar, mandolin, piano and foot percussionist Keith Murphy; folk singer Megan MacArthur; Douglas Cox, violin maker; and Vermont musicians Mia Bertelli, Carol Compton, Doug Creighton, Andy Davis, Louisa Engle, Mary Lea, Lissa Schneckenburger and Brendan Taaffe.
Returning for this year's evening performance is the ever-changing, crowd-pleasing Traddleboro ensemble. Traddleboro is a shifting conglomeration of local musicians who each year create and perform a set of music specifically for the Northern Roots Festival. This year's Traddleboro ensemble includes fiddlers Randy Miller and Becky Tracy, with guitarist Roger Kahle.
The Gawler Family will present a Family Concert that promises to engage the youngest followers of traditional music and their counterparts of all ages. The Family Concert will be followed by a Family Dance featuring a dance band that will evolve in a workshop earlier in the afternoon.
Since its inception the Northern Roots Festival has provided vehicles for engaging youth. This year's festival continues to showcase youth talent with a daytime performance by The Zeichners, Oliver, Yasi and Loula, on Ulliean pipes, flute, fiddle, tenor banjo; and fiddlers Emma Snope and Kyra Bleicher with guitarist Everest Witman.
Tickets for the Northern Roots Festival (combination day and evening $35, daytime only $20, evening only $20; youth combination day and evening $15, youth day only $10, youth evening only $10) are available from the Brattleboro Music Center at www.bmcvt.org, 802-257-4523). Advance ticket purchase is recommended; seating for the evening performance is limited. Admission at 3 p.m., for the Family Concert and Family Dance only, is $5 per person at the door.
On Saturday, during the festival, tickets can be purchased at New England Youth Theatre, with doors opening at 11:30 a.m.
For directions and the complete schedule of events, visit www.bmcvt.org or call 802-257-4523.