News & Events

49th Minstrel of Appalachia Festival Set for October 1

Lunsford Festival LogoThe second longest running folk festival in western North Carolina returns for its 49th year on October 1, 2016. The Bascom Lamar Lunsford “Minstrel of Appalachia” Festival will take place on the campus of Mars Hill University in Mars Hill, North Carolina. Most daytime festivities will be located on the upper quadrangle of the university campus from 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. and are free to the public. The Mars Hill Heritage Festival takes place on Main Street and College Street in conjunction with the Lunsford Festival, The evening concert in Moore Auditorium, featuring performances by the region's best ballad singers, dancers, and string bands, is a ticketed event. Adult tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door; tickets for children under 12 are $5. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the concert begins at 7:00 p.m.

Along with the traditional craft demonstrations that include apple butter making by the Madison County 4-H, Cherokee basket weaving, and the daytime stage’s music and dance performances, this year’s Lunsford Festival features two special photographic exhibits in Weizenblatt Gallery in Moore Fine Arts Building.

One of those is an exhibition that celebrates the work of Cecil Sharp, the English folklorist who is considered by many to be the most prolific collector of English ballads in the 20th Century. Sharp traveled to Madison County, home of Mars Hill University, in 1916. This exhibition, marking the centennial of that visit, will feature photographs by David Holt, John Cohen, Rob Amberg, and others, and audio recordings of singers old and new. The exhibit will also include video content from the Alan Lomax Archives, thanks to a partnership with Appalshop, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of the culture of Appalachia and rural America, and the Madison County Tourism Development Authority.

The other exhibit, “A Walk in Big Ivy,” features works by local photographer Steven McBride, and ties into the current theme of the Liston B. Ramsey Center for Regional Studies, “Exploring Southern Appalachian Forests.” McBride will share a collection of photos that represent his conservation project for Friends of Big Ivy, a group that is working to preserve the biodiversity and beauty of the Big Ivy section of the Pisgah National Forest.

This year’s Lunsford Festival includes a special focus on the ballad traditions of the region. The ballad and story swap, always a popular portion of the festival, will take place this year in Weizenblatt Gallery in conjunction with the photographic exhibits. The daytime stage will host musicians, dancers, and other performers carrying on the legacy of mountain music and dance. Following the ballad and story swap, which runs from 1:30-3:30 p.m., Dr. Betty Smith will give a special talk about Mrs. Jane Hicks Gentry of Hot Springs. Mrs. Gentry is an important person to the ballad traditions in Madison County, and is credited with sharing more songs to Sharp than any other singer.

The festival is named for musician and folklorist Bascom Lamar Lunsford, who 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. He started the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival in Asheville in 1928, and from there was enlisted to help start the National Folk Festival. He became instrumental in the creation of multiple festivals throughout the United States. Lunsford allowed creators of the Mars Hill festival to carry his name, only with the clear understanding the festival would be dedicated to authentic mountain music and dance.

For more information about the Bascom Lamar Lunsford “Minstrel of Appalachia” Festival, contact festival director Hannah Furgiuele at (828) 689-1571 or hfurgiuele@mhu.edu, or visit the festival website at www.lunsfordfestival.com. For information about the Madison County Heritage Festival, visit www.marshillheritagefestival.com.