“The Squire of Turkey Creek,” Bascom Lamar Lunsford

Lunsford at a Mountain Dance and Folk Festival in the 1960s.  Image from UNC Asheville

On June 6, 1928, Bascom Lamar Lunsford kicked off the first Mountain Dance and Folk Festival, an annual tradition that continues “along about sundown” to this day in Asheville. That event spawned similar festivals far and wide. Pete Seeger attended the gathering in 1935 and thereafter dedicated his life to folk music.

The festival was initially held in conjunction with Asheville’s Rhododendron Festival, but split off to become  a separate event in 1930. It was committed to portraying the participants with dignity and to showcasing the authentic culture of the region in a time when popular culture portraying the music and musicians who created it as “hillbillies.”

A program from the 59th annual  Mountain Dance and Folk Festival in 1986. Image from UNC AshevilleBilled as the “Minstrel of Appalachia,” Lunsford was an avid collector and promoter of traditional mountain music, and thus a natural choice to start the festival. In the course of song collecting, he claimed to have spent time in more homes between West Virginia and Alabama “than anybody but God.”  It was his native region which he loved and where he sought to preserve the old-time ways.  He was born in Mars Hill but moved in 1925 to Turkey Creek in Buncombe County.

Lunsford is widely known for his rendition of “I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground,” a plaintive tune that has amused and puzzled listeners for generations.  He penned “Mountain Dew” and performed for the Roosevelts, King George, and Queen Elizabeth in 1939.

Lunsford recorded his “memory collection” of 350 songs for the Library of Congress in 1949.  He was an eccentric, sporting a starched white shirt and black bowtie as a symbol of defiance against the prevalent hillbilly stereotype.

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