Mars Hill’s Bascom Lamar Lunsford Festival celebrates a folk hero

THE MUSIC MAN: Bascom Lamar Lunsford, third from left, appears in this photo from the Bascom Lamar Lunsford Scrapbook, Southern Appalachian Archives, Mars Hill University. The caption reads, “The Lovingood sisters and the Greer sisters with Bascom about 1933, ‘still feeding my soul!’”

While many people wear multiple proverbial hats and dabble in more than one career, Madison County-born Bascom Lamar Lunsford epitomized that concept. A lawyer and a folklorist, the Mars Hill native campaigned against hillbilly stereotypes while preserving Appalachian mountain music traditions. A performer himself — his recordings are included in the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress — he also taught school, gave lectures and traveled to isolated areas to collect songs.

Thanks to Lunsford’s knowledge base, he was tapped by the Asheville Chamber of Commerce to find local musicians and dancers for the 1927 Rhododendron Festival. The event was aimed at attracting tourists (because even in 87 years, some things haven’t changed). That celebration gave way to the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival which continues to this day. Lunsford, known as the “Minstrel of Appalachia,” organized and performed at the event for nearly 40 years. And, even after suffering a stroke, he co-founded (with Lamar Lunsford and Ed Howard) the Bascom Lamar Lunsford “Minstrel of Appalachia” Festival, held each year in Mars Hill since 1967.

According to the festival’s website, its creators “hoped to distinguish the Lunsford Festival from other festivals by not only celebrating the region’s finest music, dance and crafts, but also by creating a space for preservation and authenticity.” The event — free during the day, with a ticketed indoor performance beginning at 7 p.m. — includes artists such as Bailey Mountain Cloggers, Green Grass Cloggers, Joe Penland, Don Pedi, The Peg Twisters and more.

Unlike other outdoor fetes, the Lunsford Festival includes a ballad and story swap. In keeping with Lunsford’s mission to collect and preserve the region’s unique musical heritage — including many songs brought to Appalachia by European settlers, and passed down through generations — a swap seems fitting. Ballad singers Dr. Betty Smith, Debbie Norton Chandler, Bobby McMillon and others perform this year. There are also demonstrations, exhibits and workshops. The latter, held for an hour each, cover instrument playing, clogging and ballad singing. The workshops are free to attend, but space is limited and signup begins at 10:30 a.m.

Find the full schedule at lunsfordfestival.com

WHAT: The Bascom Lamar Lunsford “Minstrel of Appalachia” Festival, lunsfordfestival.com
WHERE: Mars Hill University upper quad and Peterson Conference Center
WHEN: Saturday, Oct. 4, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., free. Evening concert in Moore Auditorium, 7-10 p.m.,  $10 adults/$5 kids under 12/free for Mars Hill University faculty, staff and students

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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