The Folk Heritage Committee
by Laura Boosinger
Western North Carolina has a rich history in the traditional arts. While Marguerite Butler and Olive Dame Campbell were beginning the work of the John C. Campbell Folk School and Cecil Sharp was searching the Southern Mountains for English ballads, Madison County’s own Bascom Lamar Lunsford was combing his native land searching for fiddle tunes and folk songs, ballads and banjo pieces, and square dance calls and figures. His “Memory Collection,” over three hundred musical examples of the culture of his Southern Appalachian people, was preserved by The Library of Congress. In 1928 the City of Asheville invited Lunsford to bring a group of musicians and dancers to the town square to provide a Mountain Music and Folk Song Festival. The Asheville Citizen reported the next morning that 5,000 people had attended the program on Pack Square. They crowded around the dance platform, clustered on the monument to Zebulon Vance and were hanging from office windows on the square shouting appreciation for the music. The Citizen went on to say that the scene suggested “a permanent thing, something that might be continued from year to year as a festival of Western North Carolina.” This year marks the 83rd year of the longest continuing folk festival in America but more so a celebration of western North Carolina.
In 1967 volunteers from the community recreated that first outdoor festival by inviting musicians and dancers back downtown to the City-County Plaza, to the “green.” This created a gathering place for young and old musicians, audience members and dancers, to mingle under a dogwood tree and a summer sky. Each Saturday night during the summer season, this Shindig on the Green brings a crowd of over 3,000 home folks, visitors, and participants from at least four states and several foreign countries to Asheville’s downtown. Asheville is a cultural destination for many visitors and Shindig on the Green is part of that destination. But most importantly Shindig provides an opportunity for young people to learn from masters and maintain this community of traditions in western North Carolina.
Today, both of these events remain relevant through the efforts of The Folk Heritage Committee. This group of dedicated volunteers belongs to no city or county office. They receive no funding from government organizations. They solicit donations from businesses in the community to support the production of the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival and The Shindig on the Green. The Festival is a ticketed event, but the eight Saturday nights of Shindig are free and open to the public. The committee sets up the park for this mini-festival and the musicians and dancers provide the entertainment for free. Shindig on the Green has been a breeding ground for young musicians and dancers, a showcase for local talent and a place for families to gather on a Saturday night. There are family values all around, in the best sense of that phrase, with families sitting on blankets enjoying a picnic supper, families dancing together, and families picking and singing as they always have here in the Blue Ridge. I am proud to write this citation for The Folk Heritage Committee, but I will let members of the community of these events speak to their importance:
“Shindig on the Green just might be the most important season-long series in western North Carolina with regards to delivering Appalachian styles to audiences that are both newcomers to and long-time supporters of these traditions. WNCW listeners frequently call us to ask for details about the upcoming Shindigs and the artists that perform there. Sure, there are plenty of folk concerts and festivals throughout the state; but perpetuating one that is both long-standing and doesn’t require a charge to patrons (which no doubt reduces the chances of newcomers to discover these traditions) is crucial. I see Shindig as also a great marketing boon for western North Carolina, thanks to the numerous tourists who discover it while visiting Asheville. The Mountain Dance and Folk Festival is a real jewel in the crown for all of North Carolina. The nation’s longest running folk festival? That alone makes it worth supporting!”
Music Director and Morning Host
WNCW-FM, Spindale, NC
“I remember the very first Shindig. It used to face the courthouse with the big stone behind the band. (The stone was really big then because I was only 10 or 11 years old.) My father (Bob Lindsey) and Jerry Israel rushed about setting up the stage and hooking up extension cords. I remember looking up and seeing those in jail looking down at the festivities and thinking what a highlight it must have been for them. Year after year it continued with regulars coming with their chairs and blankets. My brothers and I sold cider and oatmeal cookies. The show was great but the highlight was afterwards with the small groups gathering under every tree to pick. You could hear the music wafting from far away.”
Toone Lapham, Daughter of Bob Lindsey
Dancer, Cider and Cookie Seller
“I can think of no better example of celebrating North Carolina’s folklife than Shindig on the Green! When I last lived in Asheville, Shindig was new and fun, a small little event that featured local talent. When I returned to the area ten years ago, I was amazed at Shindig’s growth and the energy it generated in the region. We have had the opportunity to take visitors from around the country and the world. The reaction is always the same: They feel as if they have learned and experienced the richness of the region’s culture. To see children dancing, hear the stories that Glen Bannerman and the other emcees weave into their introductions, to watch cloggers, hear bluegrass, folk, country music, blues, all in one evening is amazing. The organizers bring an event to the people that crosses all demographic lines.”
Jeannie C. Douglas
“I began attending the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival in the 1980s and it had a profound effect on me. It exposed me to the music of folks who lived in my Western North Carolina community and motivated me to learn more about the culture here and my heritage. Shindig has also been a regular event for me over the years and has done much to bring the music of our area and beyond to the locals and to visitors from around the world, giving them the opportunity to experience live music and performances. Both are signature events for North Carolina.”
Photographer and Author
“I love taking out of town guest to Shindig on the Green. I have never experienced anything quite like it elsewhere. Such a welcoming, inclusive atmosphere is created. And all that music makes you want to dance! I have also told stories there and appreciate the continuing support of the traditional arts. The Mountain Dance and Folk Festival deserves praise for its longevity. I remember the excitement, especially in the early days, seeing what seemed like hundreds of people back stage, from young children to elders, all waiting for their chance to go on stage and shine.”
National Storytelling Organization
“Having recently moved back to western North Carolina after living away for 45 years, I find the Shindig on the Green to be a treasure trove for reconnecting with musicians and dancers I previously knew and getting exposure to new talent. I was a member of the Canton YMCA Clogging Square Dance Team for six years in the 1950s and danced at the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival every year, and my dad and his band, Luke Smathers String Band, played at the Festival for many years. Along about sundown on the first weekend in August has and always will be the time to enjoy the best music and dance in this region.”
Audience Member/Former Dancer
“The Shindig on the Green is one of the main reasons that traditional music is still a strong force in western North Carolina. Shindig has provided a public meeting place for performing and jamming for decades. As a young musician in Asheville, I was able to meet and play with some of my musical heroes. And today, forty years later, young musicians can still find friendly jam sessions to hone their skills and even have a chance to perform on stage with musical veterans before an enthusiastic audience. For me, Shindig on the Green remains one of the foundations of a strong mountain music tradition in western North Carolina.”
“I married into the western North Carolina mountain music scene via the Smathers family. Although we lived away from the Asheville area for many years, we returned for regular visits and always included enjoying local music as part of those visits. We attended Shindig and Mountain Dance and Folk Festival to see favorite groups, as well as experiencing new up-and-coming musical and dance groups. lt has been gratifying to see young participants join family and other groups, maturing and carrying on the traditions. These are terrific resources, nurtured by our local Folk Heritage Committee, and very worthy of recognition by the North Carolina Folklore Society.”
Laura Boosinger is an award-winning performer and recording artist whose primary focus is the interpretation of traditional music from the Southern Appalachian region.
Original publication citation:
Boosinger, Laura. “The Folk Heritage Committee.” North Carolina Folklore Journal 57.2 (Fall-Winter 2010): 34-40.