At 79 years and still counting, the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival has earned the distinction of being the country’s longest continuously running folk fest. And it’s not rife with hangers-on and wannabes: The event — a three-night staged version of the more casual Shindig on the Green — features genuine mountain singers, musicians and dancers coming together to do what they’ve been doing for generations.
Founded in 1928 by WNC native Bascom Lamar Lunsford, the happening was intended as the song-and-dance segment of the larger Rhododendron Festival. But Lunsford’s collection of square-dance clubbers and fiddlers received rave reviews — pretty soon, no one remembered the larger festival’s pretty-baby contests and craft booths.
Nearly a century later, MDFF — nurtured by the folk revival of the ’60s, a healthy tourism industry and the continued tradition of mountain music — still manages to come together like something homegrown and family-oriented, without too much flash.
Need proof? Just browse the performer roster. The list reveals long family ties (the Lunsford Family, the Herron Family, the Bannerman Family Dancers), a sense of humor (the Greasy Beans, the Bobcat Stompers) and a strong sense of place (the Cataloochee Boys, the Cole Mountain Cloggers, Buncombe Turnpike).
There’s evidence of youth stepping into the shoes of their elders (the Dixie Darlin’s dance troupe has spawned the Dixie Darlin’s 2nd Generation), as well as staunch conventionalism (the name Blue Ridge Tradition says it all).
But the connections between performers beg closer inspection. Like a sprawling family tree, the names seem to intertwine, illustrating a bigger picture — a clearer sense of what the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival is all about. Here, we’ve charted — Venn-diagram style — a selection of acts to show how they correlate.
The 79th Annual Mountain Dance and Folk Festival runs Thursday, Aug. 3 through Saturday, Aug. 5 at Diana Wortham Theatre. Performances are at 7 p.m. nightly; tickets cost $15/general, $8/children, with inclusive packages for $36. Info at 257-4530 or folkheritage.org.