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Susquehanna Travellers

No matter how many times we're warned about the wrath of nature, it doesn't hit home until, well, it does.

And in late August and September it did. Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee caused massive flooding in the mid-Atlantic region.

Irene came first. York County didn't get swamped, but parts of New York and New England were devastated.

The damage caught the attention of The Susquehanna Travellers, a Civil War-era music quartet from York County. Allen Brenner and Craig Hershock formed the group about a decade ago. They met as Civil War re-enactors in the 87th regiment of the Pennsylvania volunteers, company C. The re-enacting led them to band members Mark Ehrsam and Kevin Smith as well as John Quinn, who helps organize the Civil War Heritage Music Gathering in Windham, N.Y.

For eight years, the Susquehanna Travellers donned wool period clothes in August and traveled to the Catskills to play tunes in a historic church converted to a concert hall. They made friends with other musicians who traveled to the event as well as locals. They went up for the 2011 gathering Aug. 6 to 8.

It never occurred to them that the quaint, historic mountain town, miles from a major river, would ever flood. Until it did.

Torrential rain turned a small creek into a raging river that ran through the middle of town and washed away structures.

A friend of the group nearly died when the water lifted his home off its foundation and smashed it to bits.

The Susquehanna Travellers kept in touch with their friends throughout the ordeal and offered to help any way they could.

But about a week after Hurricane Irene hit, the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee flooded the band's namesake and caused major damage. It was the worst flooding these parts had seen since Hurricane Agnes.

We were all reminded of the destructive power of Mother Nature.

The Susquehanna Travellers learned about the healing power of music. The group knew it was impractical to ask people in the area to give money to people in New York, so they focused on their tunes.

During the mid-1800s, songs spoke of hard times, but they afforded people a chance to socialize with neighbors. And, like the event in Windham, the Susquehanna Travellers had a mission to preserve that music.

So, on Saturday, the band will gather with other festival participants in the converted church to play a benefit concert. They won't wear period dress. They might have to navigate around roadblocks. There might not be electricity. But they'll be together.

"We don't know how much money we'll raise, but it will be a moral boost," Ehrsam said.

Brenner said that he's sure there will be a Civil War Heritage Music Gathering next summer.

"We'll sleep in a truck and play under a tree," he said.

The chance to play their type of music with friends is rare. They wouldn't miss it.

During a recent band practice at Smith's home, the group talked about the genre. Most of the musicians are also history buffs. Hershock has an education degree on the topic.

Ehrsam and Smith backed into the history when they became students of folk music and bluegrass, respectively.

"The music we play is a precursor to all of that," Smith said. It shares themes of love and loss with modern music. But, of course, Civil War music - battle marches, jigs, Irish session tunes and reels - is played acoustically on wood instruments without amplification. Songs are often accompanied by stories and folklore passed down through generations.

The group discussed and played an old song called "The Whiskey Set," which has survived some 170 years. Think of how many people it helped through hard times.

Music will surely outlast nature's unexpected violence. And while people in the mid-Atlantic rebuild homes and lives, that, at least, is a comforting thought.

PopEye is a bi-weekly column focusing on the ever-changing landscape of popular culture. To reach writer Erin McCracken, call 771-2051 or send an email to

Susquehanna Travellers

Allen Brenner - Fiddle

Mark Ehrsam - Banjo/mandolin

Kevin Smith - Guitar

Craig Hershock - Whistle/recorder

Hear the band

Susquehanna Travellers - a Civil War-era ensemble - rarely plays in the area, banjo player Mark Ehrsam said.

The group plays mostly in other parts of the state, Maryland and Virginia. It even appeared at a January 2009 Inauguration ball in Washington, D.C.

In hopes of booking more local gigs, the band is expanding its repertoire to include Prohibition-era tunes.

The group plays Oct. 21 at The Strasburg Creamery, 1 W. Main St., Strasburg. For details, visit or

Disaster recovery center opens for York County

A joint FEMA/Commonwealth Disaster Recovery Center opened Oct. 4 at the Pleasant Acres Annex, 118 Pleasant Acres Road, in Springettsbury Township. This is for people needing help from the September storms.

Hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily.

To register for help online, visit, or call 1-800-621-FEMA (3362).