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In Search of the Song: The 45th annual Smoky Mountain Folk Festival

art frMountain music, dancing and tradition will be on display once again as the 45th annual Smoky Mountain Folk Festival celebrates the culture and heritage of Western North Carolina Sept. 4-5 on the shores of Lake Junaluska.

As in years past, spectators will be treated to performances by over 200 mountain dancers and musicians in the 2,000 seat historic Stuart Auditorium on the grounds of Lake Junaluska. Each night will feature open tent shows on the lawn beginning at 5 p.m., with main stage performances at 6:30 p.m. The entertainment will continue will into the night with the last shows ending around 11 p.m.

The festival is one of the longest running and most authentic folk festivals in the South and offers spectators the change to experience a wide variety of the region’s finest traditional performers. Scores of the region’s finest fiddlers, banjo players, string bands, ballad singers, buck dancers and square dancers will be in attendance. Visitors will also be treated to the unique regional sounds of the dulcimer, harmonica, Native American flute, bagpipes and spoons, even a bowed carpenter’s saw.

While the festival is sure to entertain the thousands of people who attend, it also serves as a venue to preserve the mountains’ legacy of traditional music and inspire a new generation of artists as they swap tunes and licks, songs and stories under the open tents on the lakeshore.

“Our Appalachian heritage with its music, stories, song and dance is something we can be proud of and must share with others to keep it alive. It is that heritage that enriches all who experience it,” said Joe Sam Queen, festival director.

Now a tradition with over 40 years of history, the festival has established itself as a family and community gathering with performers returning each year to see old friends and make new ones. Families return each year with new generations to enjoy what is one of the richest cultural events of the year.

Main show tickets are $12 at the door, $10 in advance, with children under 12 admitted free. Advance tickets can be purchased at the Haywood County Arts Council at 86 North Main Street in Waynesville or at the Administration Building at Lake Junaluska. For more information, call 828.452.1688 or 800.334.9036. For a full list of performers and times, click on www.smokymountainfolkfestival.com.

The festival began 44 years ago as collaboration between Queen and master fiddler Earnest Hodges. Queen’s grandfather had passed away shortly before and Queen and his family sought to celebrate the music and dancing his grandfather had loved so much.

“My grandfather Sam Queen made mountain music and dancing was such a big part of this community’s life, we wanted to carry on this family tradition and share it with the community just as he had done,” Queen said.

The early years of the festival found itself in the high school gymnasium of what is now the Waynesville Middle School. It has continued on over the years as it began, with crowds of spectators filling the modest gymnasium to get a taste of the best of mountain culture. However, as the crowds steadily grew (numbering over 1,500 a night), it became clear a new venue was needed.

“About 24 years ago, we had the opportunity to move the festival to its current location at the Stuart Auditorium. It was a big improvement acoustically and also gave us both indoor and outdoor venues that could accommodate everyone comfortably,” Queen said.

While the festival has grown in size and scope, it has remained true to its original spirit of celebrating traditional mountain culture and heritage. Many of the original performers still make appearances decades later and traditions such as providing a cool slice of complimentary watermelon for visitors is still practiced.

“I think it truly has become one of the most authentic, established and prestigious folk festivals of this region. We have been genuinely blessed with talent. This is a performer’s festival. They put it on. It is a celebration of their heritage,” Queen said.

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