Opening up Appalachia for all
Amid the cherished traditions of Western North Carolina is the deep foundation of family and friends getting together to celebrate their heritage, whether it be through music, dance, food or craft.
“This regions provides a wide range of festivals, each rich in traditions that have been passed down through our generations,” said CeCe Hipps, executive director of the Haywood Chamber of Commerce. “Festivals tell the story of who we are, how we live and where we came from. They portray a sense of pride in which you walk away with an enhanced understanding of our land, culture and people.”
See also: WNC Festival Listings
Of the numerous events held throughout the year, Folkmoot has become a centerpiece. For the last 30 years, the Haywood County international dance and music festival has provided a cultural exchange between world countries and Southern Appalachia. Through music, dance, costumes and art, there have been around 7,000 performers from more than 100 countries visit Western North Carolina.
“Folkmoot brings a unique world perspective to this region that exemplifies diversity, tolerance and peace,” said Karen Babcock, executive director of Folkmoot USA. “Today’s audience continues to enjoy conversations and swap stories with the performers. These cultural exchanges continue to highlight human similarities through differences.”
That worldly influence extends to Macon County, where a rich Scottish history is highlighted each year during A Taste of Scotland. The county also celebrates its heritage with the Franklin Folk Festival.
“These festivals absolutely represent our heritage and aid in the education and preservation of our culture,” said Linda Harbuck, executive director of the Franklin Area Chamber of Commerce. “Both of these festivals bring together our local residents and visitors from all walks of like in a festive, inviting atmosphere for all to enjoy.”
In the fast-paced modern world, these festivals provide attendees with an outlet to sit back, relax, to unplug from the outside world and focus on what matters most – family and friends.
“Mountain festivals have a way of capturing the feeling of small town America, where we celebrate the heritage of who we are and what we stand for, and at the end of the day you leave with a smile,” said Julie Spiro, executive director of the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce.
Besides a bevy of annual mountain culture events, including the WNC Pottery Festival and Greening Up the Mountains, Jackson County also boosts the Southeastern Fly Fishing Festival. Showcasing the pristine and stocked rivers that flow through the surrounding landscape, the innumerable fishing spots have been incorporated into the WNC Fly Fishing Trail – the first of its kind in the nation.
“We have some of the best fly fishing waters in the Southeast, and Jackson County has an emerging reputation as a destination for anglers,” Spiro said.
Each Labor Day weekend, the Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual and Gallery presents its Open Air Indian Art Market, an annual celebration bringing together Cherokee artisans and tourists from every corner of the globe.
“It gives the tourists and guests a chance to meet and talk with the artists,” said Vicki Cruz, manager of the gallery. “The artists get to interact with each other. It’s a great energy.”
The gallery, the oldest Native American craft cooperative in the nation, showcases the work of more than 60 artists year-round, offering craftspeople a chance to display and sell their wares, learn from one another and pass on their traditional ways. Dozens of tables offer up the finest in Cherokee creative talents, which ranges from stone carving to wood burning, beadwork to basket weaving, among other trades.
“What we love about this is that some people may be demonstrating, and some may be storytelling, but it’s a good example of culture and history in this social community,” Cruz said.
Coming into its 43rd year, the Smoky Mountain Folk Festival at Lake Junaluska is one of the longest-running, most authentic events of its kind in the South. Bringing to the stage some of the region’s finest fiddlers, banjo players, string bands, ballad singers, buck dancers and square dancers, the weekend festival is a much-needed platform to ensure the preservation and evolution of the storied mountain traditions.
“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, the festival director.