At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.

Bringing the world to Western NC

Rolf Kaufman was there, at the beginning, 35 years ago. Now approaching 88, he’s spent nearly 40 percent of his life involved in the Folkmoot Festival.

“I guess I’m an old fella, and I’d like to preserve our traditions, to preserve the exchange of what we call ‘intangible cultural heritage’ with people from other countries,” Kaufman said.

Folkmoot’s been relatively consistent in preserving its traditions over those 35 years, but for any longstanding festival, there comes a time when tried and true becomes tired and taxing.

“It’s had variable numbers of foreign visiting groups, ranging up to 12, I think. I think there were 10 or 11 the first year,” said Kaufman. “Actually that was probably too many to give everybody an opportunity to see them and get well acquainted with them. We’re now at a level eight visiting groups, usually with at least one US-based group that features the traditions of its ancestors.”

This year’s lineup includes groups representing the cultures of the Czech Republic, Ghana, Italy, Jamaica, Mexico, Northern Cyprus, Thailand and Venezuela, per Folkmoot Group Relations Coordinator Elizabeth Burson. 

“We have fewer groups this year so we’re changing the way we do things,” said Angie Schwab, executive director of Folkmoot. 

What returning visitors to the festival will notice is a continued focus on festival events that feature authentic interactivity and cultural exchange, as opposed to more formal performances in years past. 

Those regional performances are still a centerpiece of the festival, and will again take place in Asheville, Canton, Clyde, Franklin, Hendersonville, Hickory, Lake Junaluska, Maggie Valley and Waynesville, but they’re not the only way people — especially the young people vital to the Folkmoot’s future — can experience the festival and its performers.

“Camp Folkmoot is an effort to have more opportunities for youth and families,” said Schwab of the July 20 children’s event, now in its second year. “It really is very fun. Four different groups teach their dance, alongside Joe Sam Queen, who will teach Appalachian dance, and then they’ll put on a little show for their parents all of those dances.”

That same day, in that same location, the Sam Love Queen Auditorium will for the first time play host to the Grand Opening Matinee. 

“This will be the first time we’ve had that event at the Queen Auditorium, and we suggest that kids and families attend that event as well,” Schwab said. “There’s plenty of room for people to run around, and it will be a great opportunity for people to meet the groups be able to speak with them.”

The next day, July 21, the well-known Parade of Nations kicks off on Waynesville North Main Street at 10 a.m., but an hour later, back at the Folkmoot Friendship Center in Hazelwood, a greatly expanded Many Cultures Day will begin. 

“There will be many, more vendors, more activities, more events and stages,” said Schwab. “It’s very inexpensive for people to come. Every one of our groups will have a booth at that event, so that’s again an opportunity for people to experience different cultures from all over the world right here at home.”

The increased utilization of the Folkmoot Friendship Center has also resulted in a stronger bond with the business community in the Hazelwood neighborhood.

“We are working to build our relationship with Hazelwood,” Schwab said. “The businesses in Hazelwood are hosting a stage over in the new town parking lot [on Hazelwood Avenue].”

Later in the festival, groups will again visit Hazelwood, travelling to local businesses that have been supportive of Folkmoot. 

“Many of the businesses are doing something special to celebrate the culture that’s coming,” Schwab said. “Nettie’s bakery loves the Czech Republic, I think there’s some kind of baked good that the bakery will put together for them.”

This year’s Sunday Soiree, on July 22, has been revamped from last year’s offering and this year focuses on foods that for many may come from parts unknown. 

“The Blind Pig Supper Club a group of foragers and hunters and chefs. Many of them have restaurants in Asheville, and they come together to do community development projects. It is really cool, and the food will be amazing,” Schwab said. “So they will do an education piece about the street foods of each one of our countries. It will also be out in the green space beside Folkmoot.”

Music will be provided by the Tuscola High School Jazz Band during the event, which will also feature a performance by Asheville’s Urban Arts Institute (see page X). 

New this year is a July 25 event at Elevated Mountain Distilling Company in Maggie Valley. 

“[Distillery owner] Dave Angel has been friend of Folkmoot for a good long time, and he made a request to us that we consider using his place as a performance venue,” said Schwab. 

Angel does more than just create fine spirits with locally made ingredients according to old family recipes — his facility is a former dinner theater with decent acoustics and plenty of space; he’s been hosting popular bluegrass jams right next to his distilling rig, which looks like a cross between Willy Wonka and The Yellow Submarine. 

“Based on our relationship in the past, we can count on him, everyone likes him, he brings a lot of people in from Maggie Valley and he shares our values,” Schwab said. “It will have a different feel.”

Not everything, however, is new and different, because sometimes tried and true is just that — tried and true. 

As usual, representatives of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians will not only host foreign groups in Cherokee, but will also remain heavily involved with festival events outside the Qualla Boundary, according to Folkmoot’s Cherokee Coordinator Lisa Wilnoty. 

“It’s very important, because a lot of times you can come to Cherokee and you can see the culture, but for some people — especially people who are visiting the area — a lot of times they don’t get a chance to make it over to Cherokee,” Wilnoty said. “This is a chance for Cherokee to kind of come to them.”

Colorful Appalachian groups — representative of the host culture of the festival — will again be well represented; this year five are featured, including the Appalachian Mountain Cloggers, The Dixie Darlins, The Blue Ridge Heritage Cloggers, The Fines Creek Flatfooters, Hotfoot Studios and Mountain Tradition Cloggers. 

And in what has become one of the festival’s most cherished traditions, the Candlelight Closing at the Stuart Auditorium at Lake Junaluska on July 29 will remain just as stirring as ever, according to Schwab. 

“It’s everything our loyal patrons have come to expect,” she said. 

Go to top