Mars Hill College celebrates American roots music

New Harmonies: Celebrating American Roots Music, a traveling Smithsonian Institution exhibition, explores the history of American blues, country, folk and gospel music in a display that includes photographs, instruments, sheet music and artist profiles. The exhibition, now on display at Mars Hill College, in the Weizenblatt Gallery located in Moore Auditorium, is presented by Museum on Main Street (MoMS), a nonprofit partnership between the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) and the Federation of State Humanities Councils, which “serves small town museums and residents of rural America,” as MoMS’ website states.

Mars Hill College is one of six locations in the state chosen to host New Harmonies, which will be on display through Saturday, Nov. 6. The exhibition spotlights musical inspirations like blues singers Ma Rainey, blues artist B.B. King, country singer Jimmie Rodgers, gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, folk musician Woody Guthrie and folk singer/songwriter Joan Baez, to name just a few. “The main beat of the exhibition,” as MoMS’ website states, focuses on “the on-going cultural process that has made America the birthplace of more music than any place on earth.”

Coinciding with New Harmonies, Mars Hill College also honors the musical history of Madison County by showcasing works from the college’s Southern Appalachian Archives and from the Bascom Lamar Lunsford Collection. But that’s not all the college has in store: On Saturday, October 2,  the public is invited to the 43rd annual Lunsford Festival, an all-day event celebrating the music and dance traditions of the Appalachian Mountains.

The festival, which was named after Bascom Lamar Lunsford, a musician/folklorist born in 1882 in Mars Hill — on land that is now property of the college — is held each year on the upper quad, literally “within feet of Lunsford’s birthplace.” 

The festival features dance performances, jam sessions, ballad and storytelling circles, plus evening performances by regional string bands, ballad singers and local dance troupes. Morning and afternoon activities on the quad are free and tickets for the evening showcase at the Moore Auditorium are $10 for adults and $5 for children.

“We are so pleased and honored to be selected to host New Harmonies,” says Dr. Karen Paar, director and archivist for the Liston B. Ramsey Center for Regional Studies and the Southern Appalachian Archives, in a press release. “I believe we were chosen because of our longstanding commitment to the fine music traditions of the region demonstrated by hosting the Lunsford Festival.”

For more information on the upcoming festival and to secure tickets go to For information about New Harmonies check out

About Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt
Aiyanna grew up on the island of Kauai, Hawaii. She was educated at The Cambridge School of Weston, Sarah Lawrence College, and Oxford University. Aiyanna lives in Asheville, North Carolina where she proudly works for Mountain Xpress, the city’s independent local newspaper.

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