Ballad singers and buck dancers do Lunsford proud

From staff reports

Musician and folklorist Bascom Lamar Lunsford dedicated his life to traveling the hills and coves of the Appalachian Mountains to find, memorize and record the songs and dances so intimately woven into the mountain culture.

The Mountain Dance and Folk Festival he started in Asheville in 1928 returns Oct. 3 at Mars Hill University. The 7 p.m. concert in Moore Auditorium will feature performances by the region's best ballad singers, dancers and string bands.

Enlisted to help start the National Folk Festival, Lunsford became instrumental in the creation of several festivals throughout the United States. But it wasn’t until Mars Hill pharmacist Ed Howard formulated a plan to name a festival in Lunsford’s honor that he ever let one of his festivals carry his name.

It was only with persistence and flexibility that Howard was able to convince Lunsford to allow the festival in his hometown of Mars Hill to be named the Bascom Lamar Lunsford “Minstrel of Appalachia” Festival, and then only with the clear understanding the festival would be dedicated to authentic mountain music and dance.

The 48th year of the festival will continue to honor Lunsford’s legacy by showcasing the talent and traditions of the region's finest musicians and dancers, while offering old-time craft demonstrations, local arts and crafts, food, and family activities.

This year’s festival will be held in conjunction with the Mars Hill Heritage Festival and Mars Hill University’s homecoming celebration. Parking will be limited, but a free shuttle will run from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. from the top of the hill near the Comfort Inn at the junction of U.S. 19-23 (Future I-26) and N.C. 213.

Daytime activities are free and will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Those activities include games, jam sessions, craft demonstrations, exhibitors, dancing, an apple-butter-making demonstration hosted by Madison County 4-H, a traditional ballad and story swap from 1:30-3:30 p.m. and a special premiere at the evening performance of the Roger Howell Documentary Project.

The documentary, created by filmmaker Rebecca Jones, will be screened in Moore Auditorium at 6:30 p.m., before the Lunsford Festival's traditional evening concert. The film is the culmination of a year of filming, interviewing and following master fiddler Roger Howell from festivals to hollers, mines in Mitchell County to his repair shop on Banjo Branch in Mars Hill. The filmmakers say his story is an important one for its reminder that music preservation, like that of Bascom Lamar Lunsford and others, doesn’t happen without dedication, forethought and hours of work.

Howell’s earliest memory of the Lunsford Festival is of standing in the back - there was nowhere to sit - with his small handheld tape recorder. His passion for learning the music drove him to record the older generations when he was young so that he could learn the tunes they played. This early interest led to a lifelong quest, as he calls it, to learn, share, and record the tunes of the people from who he learned.

Ticket information and a schedule for the festival is at lunsfordfestival.com. For more, contact hfurgiuele@mhu.edu or 828-689-1571.

Kick up your heels

What: Bascom Lamar Lunsford Festival

When: 7 p.m. Oct. 3

Where: Moore Auditorium, Mars Hill University

Cost: $10 advance, $12 door, $5 children under 12