This year will mark the 96th annual Mountain Dance and Folk Festival, and 57th year of the concert series Shindig on the Green, in Asheville, North Carolina. Judy Miller, a member of the Folk Heritage Committee which directs the events, shares this tribute.
During both the good times and the crises faced by this country over nearly a century, here in western North Carolina there has been at least one constant, a yearly respite from the worries of the region and the nation. The brainchild of Bascom Lamar Lunsford, then a young man from South Turkey Creek, the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival was first held in Asheville in 1927. Its earliest years coincided with the Great Depression, yet during that time Smoky Mountain team clogging was born, and a young Pete Seeger attended the festival and was influenced by the sound of mountain music. The dancing continued, and the storytellers, at least for a brief period, turned tears to laughter.
The 1940s and ‘50s saw victory in World War II, the polio epidemic, and the Korean War. In these turbulent times, the Soco Gap Dancers, under the direction of Sam Queen, clogged at the White House, and on the City Auditorium stage each summer, the music played on, and the dancing and stories were lively. In the ‘60s, downtown Asheville was largely boarded up, the streets nearly deserted – except on summer Saturday evenings, after the Shindig on the Green concert series began in 1967, and a mostly local audience flooded the area in front of the Asheville City Hall and Buncombe County Courthouse. On the festival stage, Luke Smathers, Byard Ray, and Ralph Lewis were among those who entertained thousands.
Bascom Lamar Lunsford passed away in 1973, yet at the festival, the music played on. In the ‘70s and ‘80s, audiences were entertained by Raymond Fairchild, Gordon and Arville Freeman, and Grover Sutton, who played on the stage of the City Auditorium, now known as the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, and on the “Green” of Pack Square. The dancing continued to the sound of Boyd Black and the Stony Creek Boys, while the storytellers eased worries of the day with their humor. The 21st century has ushered in the restructuring of Pack Square with the addition of the Bascom Lamar Lunsford Stage. Under the direction of the Folk Heritage Committee and with emceeing by Glenn Bannerman and Joe Bly, we’ve had music, dancing from Shirley Finger, Cleta McCall, and Ann Weir Sizemore, and storytelling led by Sheila Kay Adams, Joe Penland, and Connie Regan-Blake – and many others. During the last 25 years, award-winning bands such as Balsam Range, the Songs from the Road Band, the Steep Canyon Rangers, and the Waymasters have performed on the Festival stage. Locally, nationally, and globally recognized entertainers such as the Bailey Mountain Cloggers, Josh Goforth, Michael Reno Harrell, Bobby Hicks, David Holt, Jim Lauderdale, Don Pedi, and Bryan Sutton, have generously donated their time.
Then and now, a group of dedicated volunteers – along with an equally dedicated, talented, and generous group of musicians, dancers, and storytellers – carry on the legacies of past legends. Volunteers sacrifice personal time for seven summer Saturday evenings, and for three days during the first week in August, to continue traditions that are so familiar to many locals, while introducing them to new area visitors every year.
Since 1927 the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival has been a ticketed event, and beginning in 1967, each year’s proceeds have partially funded Shindig on the Green, a free event held in public space, welcoming all who choose to attend. Our audiences have numbered as many as 5,000 visitors, including local folks, and visitors from many states and foreign countries.
For the 56 years of Shindig on the Green and the 95 years of the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival, the Folk Heritage Committee has not strayed from its mission of promoting and preserving the music, dance and storytelling of the Southern Appalachian mountains. In 2023, the 57th year of Shindig on the Green will take place in its downtown location, Asheville’s front porch, on July 1, 8, 15, and 22, and August 12, 19, and 26, at 7 pm. Our third Youth Talent Celebration is on Saturday August 5 at 2 pm, and the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival will begin at 7 pm on August 3, 4, and 5, with a different show each night, in Lipinsky Auditorium on the campus of the UNC-Asheville. Tickets are available through Eventbrite, via a link on our website, folkheritage.org. Please join us for the 96th year of this celebration, as the music plays on, the dancing continues, and laughter rings out as storytellers share tales of the mountains.
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