Dance and Folk Festival: A Living Tradition
By Loyal Jones
of Minstrel of the Appalachians:
The Story of Bascom Lamar Lunsford.
University of Kentucky Press, reprint 2002.
North Carolina native Bascom Lamar Lunsford developed, from an early
age, a passion for the ballads, folk songs, and dances of the Southern
Appalachian Mountains. As a
young boy, he began playing the banjo and fiddle, learning many songs,
tunes and dances from his neighbors. By the time Lunsford settled in
Buncombe County, then an attorney and gentleman farmer, he had also
established himself as a well known singer, musician and collector, the
General Phonograph Corporation already having released two disks with
four of his songs.
1928, the Asheville Chamber of Commerce planned to stage the
Rhododendron Festival to call attention to the beauty and climate of
what the promoters had taken to calling the 'Land of the Sky.'
Chamber officials approached Lunsford to arrange a folk song and
dance program as a part of the Festival, which also included handicraft
displays, romantic pageants, and beautiful baby contests.
recruited five square dance clubs to compete for prizes and invited
ballad singers, fiddlers, banjo pickers and string bands to entertain on
Pack Square. Five thousand
people descended upon downtown Asheville and were backed up against
office buildings, draped across Zeb Vance's statue and hanging out of
the windows of local businesses. The
Asheville Citizen described
the music as a "...throwback from the modern jazz
world..." and went on to say that it should be "...a permanent
thing, something that might be continued from year to year as a festival
of Western North Carolina -- on the order of the great festivals of
older nations which have been handed down from generation to
Like any event, though, the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival has had its ups and downs. With the coming of television, social activation, the Civil Rights movement, Rock and Roll, and other attractions, the audience dwindled in the early 1960s. However, the folk revival of the late 1960s rekindled interest in the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival, the oldest festival of its kind in the country. People from all over the United States had moved to Western North Carolina as part of the back-to-the-land movement, and many of these young people were drawn to the folk arts as an example of the simple and honest lives they were seeking. Also, many tourists loved to return to Asheville during the Festival to get an annual taste of Appalachian folk arts. Thus the 1960s stood for a time of rebirth for the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival, which continues to cater to sold out shows through its 75th year.
Bascom Lamar Lunsford died on September 4, 1973, his legacy lives on
through the work of the
Folk Heritage Committee
. The Festival, as it remains today, is forever indebted to
Lunsford and others who shared, and continue to share, his vision.
Mountain Dance and Folk Festival
is now held on Pack Square in the Diana Wortham Theatre.
It showcases the best in Western North Carolina folk talent, just
as it did when Bascom Lamar Lunsford presided over it.
the complete essay and additional information regarding the Mountain Dance
and Folk Festival
contact the Folk Heritage
Committee and request a copy of the 75th Anniversary
publication, “Along About Sundown… The Mountain Dance and Folk
Festival Celebrates 75 Years.”