OPINION

The Flatlander

Ozark Identity Remembered Through Festival Traditions

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In April 1963, the nuclear submarine Thresher sank 220 miles off Cape Cod killing 112 naval officers and enlisted men and 17 civilians. Civil rights protests escalated across the South.

The use of small, portable television sets in the U.S. had not quite caught on, but half a world away in Japan, where they were first developed, viewers were hooked on the miniaturized video machine, and took them wherever they went.

Here in Mountain View, someone decided it would be a dandy idea launching a down-home festival.

They were right.

Capitalizing on a growing tourism industry, that first festival combined the area’s two top draws to visitors from around the country – crafts and music. With more than $2,000 in craft sales and an estimated crowd of 10,000, the event was deemed a huge success.

The Stone County Leader’s special 50th anniversary commemorative program published in 2012 offered this sidebar: “More than 20 visitors from out of state stayed all night at Timbo with Jimmy Driftwood. Some of them pitched tents in the yard, and some stayed in the barn – but all seemed to enjoy their visit with the hospitable folk song author and his family.”

By its tenth year in 1972 the Folk Festival was taking on a life of its own, that year’s event coined by many as “big” in every aspect – big crowds, big rains, and big parking problems. Police crowd counts of the 1972 event varied widely from 75,000 to 140,000. But let’s be clear about this: throw an extra 75,000 people into a small, Arkansas town, and the situation is ripe for both the good and the bad.

Again, the Leader spoke to the resilience of that year’s crowd: “Fortunately, the people who attended the festival were a hardy crew with patience to spare, and for the most part, shrugged off the long lines, traffic snarls and drenching rain.”

In the festival’s twelfth year in 1974, growing pains continued with an early-morning fire at the craft fair, at least a couple of shooting incidents and camping crowds at the Sylamore District of the US National Forest where officials said drug use among the “young crowd” was common.

With all its evolution over the years, and despite a hiccup here or there, the event is one of the state’s signature events for both tourism and heritage.

“It’s still unique, and it’s still a very special festival, but we just don’t get the crowds we used to get,” said Pam Setser, who has performed at more than 50 of the 58 annual events, and is coordinator for this year’s music on the Square.

“We’ve seen a lot of change over almost 60 years now,” Setser said. “The parade was always a big deal and it got to be so big they’d let school out for a day to design all the class floats. And I think that was an important part of how we looked at it back then because so many of the floats would be dedicated to a period in our history and our heritage and it took a lot of research. It was an educational event in many respects.

“Back in the day cars would be lined up for miles all weekend. Some people came for the music, but it was just as much about the crafts and the artisans who sold their creations.”

Setser said two of her favorite memories about past Folk Festivals are the welcoming environments created by local musicians at “pickings,” and the times when locals would dress to replicate a certain Stone County era.
“There are so many years when we would just gather up at the house or in the park, and people would just show up and play with us, and it was no problem at all,” Setser said. “And in a lot of the past Folk Festivals people would dress up in their overalls or bonnets and dresses to represent a certain era. It was sort of like the entire community just transformed during that time.”

The 1976 Folk Festival was future Leader Publisher Rusty Fraser’s first. At the time, he was publisher of the Baxter Bulletin in Mountain Home, and had heard about Mountain View because of the annual event.
“I remember driving into town on that morning and the roads weren’t even paved coming up Sylamore Hill back then. The traffic coming into town was backed up all the way to the current Angler’s location.
“Still, I think today, when you think about Mountain View, the Folk Festival is just about the first thing you think about.”

It’ll be my first Folk Festival, and after more than a year of precautions and health department rules and regulations and canceled events altogether, I’m looking forward to it.

Best wishes to the Mountain View Chamber of Commerce, all the volunteers, police officers, and participants who will work making this year’s event a success April 16-17.

What are some of the most endearing memories you have about the Folk Festival and how do you believe it may evolve in the future?

See you in next week’s newspaper.

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