Smoky Mountain Festival – Part II

Our Mountain Music Heritage

Women cutting up mountains of watermelon, folding chairs all over the lawn, ducks waddling here and there begging for food, the air is charged with the anticipation of shared music and heritage. The Smokey Mountain Folk Festival is about to begin.

For two days the fiddle tunes and gospel songs mix, mingle, and float over Lake Junaluska like they belong there.

They do.   Story by Emilie Trantham Fleenor
For Part I of this story please read here….

Church music was often unaccompanied as well.   Shape note music, a way of notating music using shapes to indicate notes on a Solfege system, became an easy way for churches to participate in musical worship together without the help of a piano or organ. Mountain churches used shape note books like Christian Harmony and others to weave hymns with intricate and unusual harmonies into their worship until instruments like the pump organ and pianos became more readily available.

As time marched on, instruments became more readily available in cities and old time music began to take off. It wasn’t until the arrival of mail order catalogues around the turn of the century that instruments became widespread in rural areas like Haywood County. Companies like Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward sold banjos, guitars, and fiddles at extremely low prices. Old time music was born.

The arrival of electricity in this area and with it the radio, brought changes to the musical scene that were inevitable. Country music shows being produced out of Tennessee introduced the people of Haywood County to different styles (and speeds) of playing than what they were used to. Some people loved it and took off with it, adapting the new styles, even traveling across the Tennessee line to make a living at it. Others continued to do it the way they always had.

In 1907, the Champion Paper Mill was established in Canton. Industrialization usually has a negative effect on an area’s unique culture. However, the owner of Champion recognized the value of the local culture and sought to encourage it. A band was organized at the paper mill. The mill also sponsored a YMCA that organized Dance teams for children and adults. Mill workers who had once been subsistence farmers now found themselves with free time. All of this helped maintain the desire for music in this county.

To be continued…

The 40th Annual Smoky Mountain Folk Music Festival begins September 3rd and lasts through September 4th, 2010 at the Lake Junaluska Conference and Retreat Center.  For more information please visit

"The main shows begin at 6:30 p.m. both Friday and Saturday, on the grand stage of Stuart Auditorium overlooking beautiful Lake Junaluska. Both nights will include a rich variety of the region's finest fiddlers, banjo players, string bands, ballad singers, buck dancers, and square dance teams as well as the marvelous sounds of dulcimer, harmonica, jew's harp, bagpipes, spoons, saws, and folk ensembles."