“I do this because I want people who come to our country to see something besides where they stay, for them to be waited on, appreciated, to see an actual residence and have a positive experience in Waynesville,” she said.
MacDonald is hosting one of the international groups that perform at the Folkmoot International Dance and Music Festival. Alongside the numerous shows around the area, a handful of local residents act as host families to the dancers and musicians from around the world that call Western North Carolina home for two weeks every year. And tonight’s guests are the Ena Sutton Highlands Dancers of Winnipeg (Canada) and Lous Gouyats De L’Adou (France). MacDonald is part of a group that has prepared a massive home-cooked meal for the two groups, feeding more than 60 people.
“By having them in my home, you get a one-on-one experience, talking and interacting with them,” MacDonald said. “I love Folkmoot. I love the performances and all of the people. I may never get to visit all of these countries, so to have these groups come here and perform is incredible.”
Just as quickly as MacDonald finishes her statement, dozens of voices echo from the front yard. The Canadian group has arrived. Dancers and musicians stream into the rambling Victorian home, shaking hands and introducing themselves to anyone they haven’t met yet. Smiles radiate from both sides of the conversation.
“The people of North Carolina and the South, they’re so friendly, and people here really go above and beyond to make you feel comfortable,” said Jillian Impey, a 20-year-old Ena Sutton Highland dancer. “Sometimes you can get so wrapped up in the festival, and here you get to see people, how they live, you get to mingle and feel more at home.”
The house begins to fill up with laughter, music and hearty chatter. The hazy summer sun soon begins to fall behind the high peaks of Southern Appalachia. The property is now a beacon of literal and emotional light within the neighborhood.
“I love interacting with all of the different cultures and learning about them,” said Hannah McLeod, a guide for the Canadian group who has volunteered and worked at Folkmoot for several years. “With the Canadians, we’re very similar in a lot of ways, and very different in some other things, and that’s great.”
Bringing together youth from around the region, the Folkmoot guides provide the groups with a direct outlet and helpful resource to the world outside of the stage and Folkmoot Center in Waynesville. It’s learning experience for both, which is the key to the festival – breaking down social barriers and sharing in the experience of new cultures and unique people.
“Without Folkmoot, we don’t realize that we’re living in a world with so many different kinds of people,” McLeod said. “You can get so focused in your own life, the way you live and that’s all that matters. But it’s not, because there so many other places and people that have a lot to offer you. Without this festival once a year, you might lose sight of that.”
A commotion suddenly arises from the street. The French group is finally here. Though you might not know how to speak French, what is understood, and is universal, is friendship. The large dance troupe fills the hallways and back porches of the home. At the center of the group is Annie Lasserre, director of Lous Gouyats De L’Adou. The ensemble is the only act to attend Folkmoot four times (2001, 2003, 2008, 2013).
“It’s magnificent here. We’re always surprised as to how welcomed Folkmoot makes us feel,” she said. “This festival is a great exchange. It’s about traditions, which makes us a better world.”
Standing next to Lasserre is Emily Burrus, a French teacher at nearby Pisgah High School. A Haywood County native, Burrus got involved in Folkmoot early when she was a student at Tuscola High School. She began answering phones, then became a guide for the French group, and now is a volunteer aiding in any facet possible.
“I’ve always loved the French culture and language, and I never had any inclination to become a French teacher, but Folkmoot changed all of that,” Burrus said. “Folkmoot shaped who I wanted to be. I wanted to travel and have made lifelong friends with the French group.”
Burrus encourages young people around Western North Carolina to get involved in Folkmoot.
“Do it. It will change your life,” she said. “It shows you that even though you live in a small mountain, the world comes to Folkmoot. There’s no other way you’ll get to see and meet all of these different cultures, unless you travel. Folkmoot is a great opportunity for those experiences.”
After a feast fit for a king, the performers, hosts and guides gather into a circle, singing songs, trading stories and dancing arm-in-arm. It’s a scene that makes you realize just how small this great big world actually is, and how striking up a conversation with a stranger from the other side of globe can reinvigorate the soul.
A guide for the last three years, 19-year-old Logan Samuelson of Maggie Valley is a guide for the French group this year. His work with Folkmoot has led to him majoring in international business and studying French at Appalachian State University. For him, it all started when he saw an advertisement in his high school French class looking for people to volunteer for the festival.
“Folkmoot is the only thing like it in the state. It’s so hard to explain to people because it’s so amazing,” he said. “Even though guiding and hosting may seem like a small opportunity, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime – you’ll never do anything else like this.”