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A Busy October Saturday in Mars Hill

Composite photos courtesy of Bascom Lamar Lunsford Collection, Southern Appalachian Archives, Mars Hill University. Photo bottom right by R.L. Geyer

Two historic festivals come to the Mars Hill community on Saturday, October 6. Started in 1967, the 51st Bascom Lamar Lunsford “Minstrel of Appalachia” Festival will take place on the campus of Mars Hill University (MHU) from 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. The second oldest folk festival in Western North Carolina, the Lunsford Festival “helps to perpetuate the musical traditions of the region both by sharing the music with audience members, and also creating space for the musicians to come together and jam and share tunes and visit,” says festival director Leila Weinstein. A popular part of the festival is the ballad swap from 1:30–3:30 p.m. “You can hear Madison County ballad singers singing traditional ballads, a cappella—songs like “Black Jack Davy” and “Little Mathy Groves,” which came over the ocean with their relatives from England and Scotland hundreds of years ago,” says Weinstein. “It’s a pretty special opportunity and experience.”

One new feature of this year’s Lunsford Festival will be a large community square dance, from 5:30–7:30 p.m., called by Phil Jamison and with music by Rhiannon and the Relics. “If you’ve never been to this kind of dance before,” says Weinstein, “it’s really fun and welcoming and absolutely no experience is needed. The caller walks everyone through the dance beforehand. It’s a great way to actually participate in the rich musical traditions of Western North Carolina.” The festival will also feature fiddle, banjo and guitar workshops, an open jam in the Anderson Amphitheatre and performances by several clogging groups.

On the same day, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., more than 60 vendors will market an array of arts and crafts on College Street for the annual Madison Heritage Arts Festival. Items include pottery, jewelry, scarves, hats, wooden sculptures, painted gourds and local honey. “The combination of the two festivals completes a circle of arts, which has a rich tradition in the Southern Appalachians in general and in Madison County in particular,” says festival organizer Rod Bowling. “The long-traditional formats of these festivals have proven to be successful in showcasing the abundance of creativity in this area.” The MHU Upper Quad where the Lunsford Festival will be held adjoins College Street, making for easy access between the two events.

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