Lunsford Festival Gears Up for 52nd Year at Mars Hill University

The 52nd edition of Western North Carolina’s second-oldest folk music festival returns to the Mars Hill University campus the first weekend of October. The Bascom Lamar Lunsford “Minstrel of Appalachia” Festival takes place from 10 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, October 5, 2019. It’s the same day as the Madison Heritage Arts Festival, which runs from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. in downtown Mars Hill. Admission to the festivals is free, although there is a charge for some of the Lunsford Festival music workshops.

Most of the Lunsford Festival activities, including the main stage performances, will take place on or near the Lunsford Commons, traditionally known as the Upper Quad of the campus, adjacent to College Street. A highlight of the day is the 11 a.m. presentation of the 2019 Bascom Lamar Lunsford Award, which will be given to dancer Loretta Freeman. Afternoon highlights include a community jam session in the Sunken Garden, adjacent to the Quad, and a ballad swap in historic Owen Theatre.

Workshops will give festival-goers the opportunity to learn traditional music and dance from some masters of the arts. Fiddler Roger Howell, guitarist Jerry Sutton, banjoist Jake Owen, and dulcimer maestro Don Pedi will offer workshops in their respective instruments. Laura Boosinger will lead a free workshop on shape-note singing. More information and registration for the workshops are available on the festival website at

The festival concludes with a community dance from 5:30-7:30 p.m. in Chambers Gym. The dance will be called by Beth Gunn, with music by Rhiannon and the Relics. The Bailey Mountain Cloggers of Mars Hill University and the Cole Mountain Cloggers will demonstrate their fancy footwork.

Among the performers scheduled to appear this year are the Buckner Family, Lillian Chase, the Lonesome Mountain Ears, and the Madison County Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM) Program. At least 30 performers or groups are currently on the schedule, and others may join the list.

Bascom Lamar Lunsford dedicated his life to traveling 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, but it wasn’t until Mars Hill pharmacist Ed Howard formulated a plan to name a festival in honor of Lunsford 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.

For updates and information, visit the festival website at