8/3/2011 - Asheville's Mountain and Dance and Folk Festival carries on long musical traditions
by Carol Rifkin - Asheville Citizen-Times Correspondent
COME VISIT THE MOUNTAIN DANCE AND FOLK FESTIVAL! An 84 year tradition!!
When fiddler Arvil Freeman opens Asheville's 84th Mountain Dance and Folk Festival with the tune Grey Eagle, musicians and dancers from all over the mountains will join in, lending their talent to one of the most important cultural preservation events in Western North Carolina. Held at Diana Wortham Theatre on Thursday, Friday and Saturday August 4,5,6, each night features at least five dance teams, mountain string bands, bluegrass bands, ballad singers and more. This year's show opens Thursday at 6:30 p.m. with a special feature, Cherokee's Warriors of AniKituhwa.
"We are incorporating heritage as an annual theme," said Jackie Allison, festival chairperson and long time member of Asheville's Folk Heritage Committee, producers of both MDFF and Shindig on the Green. "This year is Native American, and the Asheville Art Museum will stay open through intermission each night so people can see the Cherokee baskets in their exhibit. Next year our focus will be Scotch Irish traditions," said Allison. Mountain music and dance is a melting pot of cultures passed down by the original settlers and the first team (the Soco Gap Dancers) included a Cherokee dancer.
Thursday night of the festival is traditionally family night with a strong local attendance and begins with 30 minutes of Cherokee dance and lore. "Grey Eagle with the Stoney Creek Boys and the opening with festival founder Bascom Lamar Lunsford's grandson Ed Herron will start at 7 p.m. as always," said Allison. Each act plays two songs and dance teams are interspersed throughout the evening. The Stoney Creek Boys (with Freeman on fiddle) play for the clogging teams to thunderous applause. Performers all donate their talent and range in age from preschool to 85 years young.
Created in 1928 by Lunsford, a celebrated Asheville folklorist, attorney and musician, the festival is the nation's oldest continuously running folk festival and served as a template for many to come, including the National Folk Festival. His idea to bring the mountain people downtown to sing, dance and compete for prizes on stage first took shape in Pack Square in 1928 as part of Asheville's annual Rhododendron Festival and by 1930 became its own event at McCormick field. Later it moved to the Asheville Civic Auditorium, Asheville Civic Center (where 15,000 people attended in the '50s), to Thomas Wolfe Auditorium, made one failed attempt outdoors and has been held at Diana Wortham Theatre, adjacent to its original site, since '99. After Lunsford's death in '73 (same year the Stoney Creek Boys were appointed house band), the Folk Heritage Committee began to oversee the festival.
"It has always been an invitation only event," said Allison. "We invite folks who have supported us during the year by playing at Shindig, our fundraiser or other events. These people keep the heritage alive and going, that's what we want, to keep it alive for our children as they grow up," Allison said. "We are based on tradition and that is what is im portant. a little change here and there is ok but you don't want to change too much," laughed Allison.
"There are 4 or 5 dance teams every night and several are children's teams," said Allison, who grew up dancing and remembers when each school had a clogging team. "On Saturday night we have the Cockman family band, the Snyder Family and the Trantham Family, a lot of what we do is family based," said Allison. Awards are presented each night to legacy performers and long time supporters.
"On Thursday night there are two kids teams, a smooth dance and a clogging team," said Allison. "Runners of the Green Laurel are a more progressive band including Dad Bucky Hanks and his sons Micah and Caleb, Brooke and George Buckner play Thursday too. Each night is a mix; Betty Smith is one of the nation's best ballad singers. Donna Ray Norton is the next generation of ballad singers. There are old time bands, traditional mountain music, and some progressive and traditional bluegrass. It's a general mixture of what makes up the music in these mountains," said Allison.
Carol Rifkin writes about bluegrass and traditional music for take5. Email her at CMRifkin@gmail.com
IF YOU GO
What: 84th Mountain Dance and Folk Festival.
When: 6:30 p.m. Thursday August 4, 7 p.m. Friday, Saturday august 5, 6.
Where: Diana Wortham Theatre, 2 South Pack Square
84th Mountain Dance and Folk Festival Schedule
Thursday, August 4: Warriors of AniKituhwa, MC -Carol Rifkin and Jerry Sutton, Ed Herron, Grey Eagle (Stoney Creek Boys), festival dance team, Runners of the Green Laurel, Mike Usher, Paul's Creek, Green Valley Cloggers, Donna Ray Norton, Crooked Pine, Mountain Laurel, Sit Down Square Dance, Avery Smooth Dancers, Peg Twisters, Don Pedi, Brooke & George Buckner, Southern Mountain Smoke, Whitewater Bluegrass Co.
Friday, August 5: MC-Laura Boosinger and Craig Bannerman, , Ed Herron, Grey Eagle (Stoney Creek Boys), Fines Creek Flatfooters, Clearwater Connection, Joe Penland, Jake and Sarah Owens, Extreme Tradition Cloggers, Flora McDonald Gammon, BearWallow Bluegrass Band, Cole Mountain Cloggers, Sit Down Square Dance, Dixie Darlings, Roger Howell, Bryan McDowell, Laura Boosinger, Southern Appalachian Cloggers, Bobby and Blue Ridge Tradition.
Saturday, August 6: MC-Richard Hurley and Glenn Bannerman, Ed Herron, Grey Eagle (Stoney Creek Boys), Mountain Tradition Cloggers, Betty Smith, Trantham Family, Paul Crouch, Southern Mountain Fire, Lenny Hollifield, The Cockman Family, Bannerman Family, Sit Down Square Dance, Stoney Creek Cloggers, Richard Hurley, Bryce and Katherine Parham, UNCA Smooth Dancers, The Snyder Family, Appalachian Mountaineers.