An “all-American” instrument that originated in the Appalachian Mountains—with some lineage tying back to Europe—will headline a two-day festival this weekend.

On Friday and Saturday, the Southern Wisconsin Dulcimer Club, which consists of about a dozen members who informally get together to play and celebrate the stringed instrument, will hold a festival jam, workshops and a concert Saturday night to close out the event.

The jam session will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday at Chapel Specialities, 817 E. High St., Milton, and will feature mountain dulcimer players Lorinda Jones and Dona Benkert and hammer dulcimer player Pam Bowman.

The following day, a concert will be held starting at 4:45 p.m. at Rock Prairie Church, 8605 E. County A, Janesville.

The lap dulcimer is an hourglass-shaped, four-string instrument that is often played while sitting down but can be played with a bow, like a miniature cello, Southern Wisconsin Dulcimer Club leader Nancy Garrett told The Gazette. She has been playing the dulcimer for two decades after picking up the instrument with no previous musical experience in what she called her “second childhood” in her 50s. She now teaches dulcimer in Milton schools.

With the melody strings close together like those on another stringed instrument, the mandolin, a middle string and a base string, Garrett said the dulcimer pulls its heritage from the German scheitholt and the Norwegian langeleik. The people in the Appalachian Mountains couldn’t as easily frame up a fiddle in the 19th century, Garrett explained, making the dulcimer an easier instrument to produce.

The instrument was almost lost to history but was saved and grew in popularity after Appalachian dulcimer player Jean Ritchie brought it to New York during the folk era, Garrett said.

“It’s a true American instrument and it is going through many stages,” she said. “When (Ritchie) brought it out, then other folk musicians became interested in it. It’s spread throughout the country, and many people have a dulcimer in their closet or underneath the bed because of a grandparent that might have had one.”

The two-day festival will feature music from Jones, who hails from Kentucky and teaches tutorials on traditional music on the dulcimer and the harp; Chicago-based Benkert, an instructor at the Old Town School of Folk Music; and Bowman, a Michigan musician and recording artist.

People do not have to know how to play the dulcimer to attend the festival jam or the concert, Garrett said, but it is possible that instruments can be provided for people if they are interested in playing and do not have their own. To request a dulcimer, Garrett can be reached at 608-752-6514.

For more information, visit


Recommended for you