News & Events
"Looking to the Past, Looking to the Future" – The 45th Bascom Lamar Lunsford Festival is October 6
This October will be 45 years since Bascom Lamar Lunsford, a man who came to be known as the “Minstrel of the Appalachians,” and Mars Hill pharmacist Ed Howard teamed up to create a festival that would honor the music and dance traditions of the region and ensure that those traditions live on.
The theme for this year’s Bascom Lamar Lunsford “Minstrel of Appalachia” Festival is “Looking to the Past, Looking to the Future,” a phrase which reflects the central intent of the festival — passing on traditions to future generations, according to Hannah Furgiuele, festival director and program coordinator of the Liston B. Ramsey Center for Regional Studies at Mars Hill College.
“Older musicians are the foundation of the Lunsford Festival. They are the treasures of our past, who learned the musical techniques, the songs and the dance traditions from their elders,” she said. “And the young people of today are the future of the festival. Without a younger community of musicians stepping into the shoes of those that have carried these traditions for generations, the unique musical character of this region would die.”
Lunsford, a musician and folklorist, dedicated his life to collecting and promoting the music of the Southern Appalachians. Lunsford is considered by many to be the father of the modern folk festival. He founded the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival in Asheville, among many others, but the Lunsford Festival at Mars Hill College is the only festival that he allowed to bear his name. The festival takes place on the campus, mere yards from Lunsford’s birthplace, on the site where Cornwell Hall now stands. The festival is coordinated by the Liston B. Ramsey Center for Regional Studies at the college.
According to Furgiuele, this year’s festival seeks to honor both the commitment of the older generation, and the incredibly talented, passionate, and inspired young people who are committed to learning the traditional ways of the Southern Appalachian mountains. This is especially true, she said, in and around Madison County, where Mars Hill College is located.
“That passing of personal knowledge not only reflects mountain culture, it also reflects the intent of Bascom Lamar Lunsford, who envisioned the festival, not as a place of competitions and trophies, but as a time when the appreciation and understanding of traditions would be passed from one generation to the next,” she said.
In looking to the past, the festival will feature a reunion of the Midnight Plowboys, a bluegrass and roots music band from Asheville, NC, which performed and recorded professionally from about 1980 until 1990. Musically, the group’s main focus was bluegrass songs and fiddle tunes, but often blended in cajun, honky-tonk, waltzes, Texas swing and early rock and roll. The sound featured harmony vocals supported by banjo, fiddle, guitar, and bass.
Fiddler Ed Partridge and guitarist Brian Hunter, both original members, will be performing with master fiddler Paul Crouch, who played with the Plowboys for several years. They will be joined by Laura Boosinger on banjo and Mark Davis on bass.
In looking to the future, the Lunsford Festival will bring back this year for the first time in many years, the Lunsford Festival Youth Award. The award will be presented publically at the festival during the evening concert. Also presented will be the Bascom Lamar Lunsford Award, which has been bestowed annually at the festival on a musician who has dedicated his or her life to preserving and honoring the music and dance traditions of the region. The youth award will go to a young person whose talent and passion show promise in leading a new generation of traditional musicians.
As always, the Lunsford Festival will showcase the talent and traditions of the region’s finest musicians and dancers. It takes place simultaneously with the Madison County Heritage Festival, a celebration of heritage, complete with old-time craft demonstrations, local arts and crafts, food, and family activities.
This year’s festival is Saturday, October 6. Daytime activities are free and will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Those activities include: games, music, dancing, an apple-butter-making demonstration hosted by Madison County 4-H, a traditional ballad and story swap in Montague Hall, from 1:30 until 3:30 pm, a silent auction to benefit and enrich the festival, and a number of free workshops. Workshops in guitar, banjo, fiddle, ballad singing, and clogging will be held at 10:30 and 11:30. Workshops are free, and participants can sign up at the Lunsford Festival information table or by contacting the festival director to reserve a spot.
This year’s festival will bring back another old tradition from 10 am until 10:45 when anyone with a song to sing or play is welcome to the daytime stage. According to Furgiuele, this is something Lunsford did before a festival began.
“From what I have heard and read, Lunsford liked to give young or new talent an opportunity to perform while the crowd was still settling in,” Furgiuele said. “In the spirit of this tradition, we are excited to offer a similar “open stage” for folks to kick off the daytime stage of the festival. So, if you have a song to share we would love to give you a place to play and be part of the festival this year.”
From 10:45 until 4 pm, the daytime stage, emceed by Jon Roten, will feature the following tentative lineup: Cole Mountain Cloggers, Lonesome Mountain Ears-Gary Spence, George and Brooke Buckner, Kathryn Parham Brickey, PegTwisters, Fox and Winegar, Whitewater Bluegrass Company, the Cockman Brothers, the Butterpats, Rhiannon Ramsey, Clarissa Roberts, Carly Mae Buckner, and Bailee Brandon.
An evening concert featuring performances by the region’s best ballad singers, dancers, and string bands will begin at 7 p.m. in Moore Auditorium and will cost $10 for adults and $5 for children under 12. Tickets can be purchased at the event or in advance through the Mars Hill College Bookstore on Main Street in Mars Hill. Musicians currently scheduled to perform include: Midnight Plowboys, Betty Smith (pictured), The Buddy Davis Family, Phil and Gaye Johnson, Green Valley Cloggers, Stoney Creek Boys, Joe Penland, Roger Howell, Trantham Family, Appalachian Harmony, and Richard Hurley.
Check the Lunsford Festival website for more details, pictures, most current list of performers, times, and workshop leaders at www.lunsfordfestival.com.