Historic Fiddle Performance Caps 50th Lunsford Festival

The Bascom Lamar Lunsford “Minstrel of Appalachia” Festival celebrated its 50th anniversary in grand style, capped by a historic fiddle performance.

For the festival’s golden anniversary, the sponsoring Liston B. Ramsey Center for Regional Studies at Mars Hill University enlisted a local craftsman to restore two rare fiddles from its archives. Roger Howell of Mars Hill, a master fiddler who also repairs and restores the instruments, worked several weeks on fiddles once owned by Bascom Lunsford and by “Fiddlin’ Bill” Hensley. Lunsford was the namesake of the Mars Hill festival and also founded Asheville’s Mountain Dance and Folk Festival. Hensley was a legendary fiddle player from east Tennessee. The two musicians were charter members of the Mountain Music Hall of Fame.

At the Lunsford Festival evening concert on October 6, 2017, Howell and Lillian Chase, a 13-year old fiddle prodigy from Weaverville, North Carolina, pulled their bows across the strings for the first stage playings of the two fiddles in decades. Howell estimated that Hensley’s fiddle, called “Old Calico,” likely had not been played in public since well before the musician’s death in 1960. Lunsford’s “dehorned fiddle” likely last was played onstage in the 1960s, Howell said. Lunsford died in 1973. With Howell on Old Calico and Chase on the dehorned fiddle, the duo got the instruments, as Howell put it, “singing again.”

Watch Case and Howell perform “Soldier’s Joy” on the restored fiddles: