Harmonica Man (Bateau Festival)

Joanie and I were at an art and craft fair about a month ago. Held in Scottsville, Virginia every June, it was part of the annual JamesFest—sometimes called the Bateau-fest or Bateau Festival—and was not a very lucrative—or comfortable show. We sat there almost 8 hours in temperatures in the high 90s and after expenses we cleared maybe 60 U.S. dollars—about 40 British Pounds.

Not a good day as far as selling photography.

But—as is almost always the case at shows—we met some nice, interesting people, among them this man who was wandering around the show playing the harmonica as you see and the banjo which you can’t see.

Those of you who speak French probably know that the word “Bateau” simply means “boat.”

In this country the term refers to a shallow-draft, flat-bottomed boat which was used extensively across North America, especially in the colonial period and in the fur trade. Usually it was pointed at both ends but came in a wide variety of sizes—some small enough they could be handled by one man and some almost 60 feet long requiring a crew of 5. These were river boats built mostly for transporting freight—often large casks of tobacco weighing up to several tons—that were poled or just drifted with the current if the river was high enough. When the water was low the crew got out to push and pull it over rocks and sand-bars.

At one time—back in the 1800s—the James River, which flows through this part of the state and enters the ocean at historic Jamestown—was a highly active freight route—the Interstate Highway of its time. And bateaux (plural) were the 18-wheelers of their day.

Today I guess the James is used just for recreation—unlike the Mississippi which continues to see lots of commercial traffic. But every year in June, a group (12-15?) of historical enthusiasts—“re-enactors” I suppose they are—float and pole Bateaux from Lynchburg down to Richmond (the old trade route) wearing period costumes. They’re not supposed to use any technology later than the late 1800s but I see guys cheating all the time with big beer coolers, radios, electric sump pumps etc.

The trip takes a week and they camp each night at an old former river town where in the past passengers and freight, were loaded and unloaded, supplies taken on board and other business conducted. Each night is, of course, a party—camp fires, lots of good food, beer, people playing musical instruments—everybody has a great time.

Beginning in Lynchburg on Monday morning the bateaux usually get to Scottsville Wednesday afternoon. Its great fun watching them come in—everybody dressed in their costumes, firing off small cannons like in the old days to alert folks in the town a boat was coming in.

In addition to doing the art/craft show I’ve covered the Bateau Festival for the paper I work for—The Fluvanna Review—for the last 2 years. I usually get some great shots—very painterly historical stuff that sells at shows (the good ones) pretty well. As you can see there’s some festival images rotating along with the featured image—enjoy.

Here are some links you might find interesting:    http://www.batteau.org/ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bateau

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