Save The Balladeers: Keep the Professional Musicians at Colonial Williamsburg's Taverns

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Colonial Williamsburg has ended their popular Balladeer program, which has for nearly half a century provided much-loved musical entertainment at the taverns, using 18th century instruments and song. These 21 world renown professionals, who  provided coverage for outstanding entertainment day and night throughout each tavern 7 days a week, have been replaced by a group of 6 singers and musicians who play limited performances at each tavern, 5 days a week, and only during the day. These performers do not provide the same level of entertainment and can often only be observed by a small number of patrons who are standing in the lobby or seated next to it. CW has hired consultants to “re-imagine” the tavern experience and they deemed the Balladeers unnecessary. But these consultants do not understand that the Colonial Williamsburg taverns are not just about food, but more importantly, the magical experience of stepping back in time to the days of our country's birth, which they are seriously diminishing even as they continue to raise prices. Guest comments on sites such as Trip Advisor and Open Table state that the Balladeers are what make the high prices at the taverns worth paying. Especially popular was the nightly “Gambols” — a combination of beautiful and lively period music interspersed with fun tavern songs you could sing along with, as well as 18th century table games you could play in between performances. Sadly, that is entirely gone. 

The Balladeers aren't the average musicians you hear playing at bars and weddings. They are respected figures in early and traditional music and are highly educated, knowledgeable and talented people, with an amazing variety of accomplishments. There are many advanced degrees and honors held by them, including 5 doctorates, an Emmy award, a National Endowment Fellow, two national Scottish Fiddling Champions, a Fulbright Scholar, and a Metropolitan Opera Competition winner.   (And a Tony award by an earlier balladeer). They have given concerts to such places as the Kennedy Center, The White House, The National Press Club, Wolf Trap, The National Geographic Society, The Smithsonian, Grand Ol’ Opry, Plymouth Plantation,The Bethlehem Music Festival, The Chautauqua Institute, Vienna Staatsoper, the Teatro Gran Liceo in Barcelona, and festivals too numerous to mention. They have performed for kings and queens, presidents, and other dignitaries, as well as for ABC, NBC, CBS, SPAN, and PBS.

 And they don't play ordinary instruments! You’ve likely never seen many of these before and probably will never see them again.  The Balladeers have purchased their own authentic instruments (some are 18th century originals), often for thousands of dollars out of their own pockets, and mastered them, including the fiddle, mandolin, hurdy-gurdy, pochette, recorder, flute, 18th century guitar, lute, serpent (which played for Napoleon Bonaparte), harpsichord, whistle, English Guitar, various bagpipes, glass harmonica, bones, Irish harp, pardessus, viola da gamba, and bodhran.  They maintain these expensive instruments at their own cost.

The Balladeers’ performances are historically correct for a tavern setting – they are not scripted, theme park skits. The musicians are highly educational, able to answer questions off the cuff and explain the events that led to a particular song being written.  They make us understand and FEEL how the folks of the colonial era were just like we are today.  But besides being educational, they are also very entertaining to all ages – their music is exceptional and their energy and friendliness are contagious.   While they have the ability to be the center of attention and draw a crowd, they can also fade into the background and provide pleasant background music for any function.  They can alter their performances to fit the audience, whether it be religious groups, children, historians, teachers, musicians, etc.  They can do this because they are very educated and experienced and have memorized a plethora of musical pieces and songs. They are also familiar with each other’s repertoires and can perform interchangeable ensembles to meet the needs of an occasion or the request of a client.

If you enjoyed the music, education, and fun that these professionals brought to Colonial Williamsburg, please join this petition.  Please also write to Dr. Mitchell Reiss, President and CEO of Colonial Williamsburg (mreiss@cwf.org) and Peter Seibert, Executive Director Historic Area (pseibert@cwf.org).  Letters can be mailed  to: PO Box 1776, Williamsburg, VA 23187.  If you are a donor, be sure to note that, especially if you are considering stopping your donations.  Call the donor societies directly at (757) 565-8610 or email donorsocieties@cwf.org .

A short URL to this petition is: http://bit.ly/2nBDMnD (case sensitive)

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