“You can’t have hurt anything, it can always be repaired!”: Jim Costa in Concert

Jim Costa and friends
Jim Costa warms up on the banjo and Zoe van Buren reviews her notes. Photo by Mike Keller

On January 25, we hosted our second West Virginia Folklife Program concert at the West Virginia Humanities Council, with a performance by old-time musician and collector Jim Costa, and a presentation by folklorist Zoe van Buren, who worked with Costa to document his collection.

Jim Costa, 67, is a native of Summers County, and an accomplished traditional musician and storyteller. He is also an avid collector and expert of 18th and 19th century farm tools and objects of rural life, including Hammons family fiddles, spinning wheels, cast iron cookware, and blacksmith tools. Costa has been building this collection throughout his life, and he restores many of the old tools and instruments himself. In addition to his public presentations on music and material culture, Costa appeared in the 1987 John Sayles film Matewan.

Jim Costa and friends
Costa’s smelting ladles, dulcimer, and notes. Photo by Mike Keller

In the summer of 2016, University of North Carolina folklore graduate student Zoe van Buren spent two months with Costa, conducting oral histories and documenting his extensive collection. Read more about van Buren’s work here.

Listen to the full recording of the event, with opening remarks by state folklorist Emily Hilliard, a presentation by Zoe van Buren (04:35), show and tell of objects in Costa’s collection (16:07) and a musical performance by Costa and special guests Kim Johnson and Pete Kosky (58:00).

“I’m gonna try an old tune here that Jenes Cottrell used to play– an old fella from Deadfall Run up in Clay County.” Jim Costa performs “Cherry River Line” on banjo.

“I want to sing an old song my grandmother used to sing when I was a kid… if I can remember– I haven’t thought of this for a long time. It was called “The Two Little Orphans” and she died when I was 12 years old and my sisters, they all, both remember her singing this. She’d sing us to make us kids cry, I guess! But let me see if I can remember it, it’s been a long time. I was trying to think of it coming up here on the road today.” Jim Costa sings “The Two Little Orphans.”

“Let’s see, my grandfather Costa on my dad’s side, on beknownst to me had played the accordion, and in 1964 my dad announces this to me. I was starting to play harmonica and dad said, you know, dad, Nonno is what we called him, and said, ‘Nonno used to play the accordion’ and I said, well, had no idea. So dad bought him this one from Sears and Roebuck. He had not one since the mid-thirties, I guess. He had not owned one. So he started playing again. Well I was listening to some of these old tunes that he played and he called this one, he played one called “La Spagnola.”

Jim Costa and friends
Costa was joined by Kim Johnson on banjo and Pete Kosky on guitar. Photo by Mike Keller

Listen to West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s coverage of the sold-out concert here.

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