A day in the pastFirst-ever Appalachian Lifestyle Festival a joy
Blame it on a zesty sense of adventure or perhaps an inherent lack of commitment, but I’ve lived many places since I was released into the wild after college.
In tiny towns in New Mexico, Utah and Colorado, and the cities of Portland, Oregon, and Austin, Texas, I have always found something to love. Maybe it was something as grand as the wide-open spaces or as specific as gourmet cupcakes, but no matter what, I have always discovered an aspect of these locales to cherish. Finally, after more than a year in Western North Carolina, I think I have chosen that special something.
It’s not the unending expanse of the Smokies, nor is it the steady supply of bluegrass on the radio. It’s not even the fact that I can buy beer at every movie theater I frequent in Asheville. Simply, what I love about this place is seeing people come together.
I’ve been feeling this way for months, especially when I watched that recent Fines Creek Jam honoring mountain music man Jim Sisk, but I don’t think I was able to put it into words until this most recent Saturday, as I strolled down Waynesville’s Main Street during the first-ever Appalachian Lifestyle Celebration. As I panned my camera over the scene of locals, many in old-timey garb, demonstrating everything from butter churning to weaving in front of throngs of onlookers, I couldn’t stop smiling. I was watching exactly what amazes me about Haywood County.
This statement is a big one for me, considering what a baby I can be about festivals. I mean that literally because, like a baby, I get all fussy in sun and big crowds of people. Normally, I can only go to a bustling downtown celebration for an hour or two, tops. But last Saturday, I spent a good five hours among the knitters and broom makers and local bands. I was reminded why right now, smack-dab in the middle of Season, is a special time to be in this part of the world — despite the heat.
Watching David Holt, a Grammy-winning musician and storyteller, captivate the crowd with his old-timey tunes and humorous little tales was a treat, as was seeing the local group the Rye Holler boys get a few people dancing. Making the acquaintance of a couple goats, including a skittish but adorable baby, from Jehovah Farms was a nice surprise. Like always, watching the Southern Appalachian Cloggers and their pint-sized counterparts, the Fines Creek Flatfooters, was a joy. There’s something, by the way, about watching clogging that makes me a little verklempt. Maybe it’s because in the West, where I’m from, the tradition is not to care a lick about tradition, so it’s a nice change of pace to be in a place where I can see history dancing right in front of me.
With the dancers, as with all of the other artists and artisans at the festival, the past wasn’t just being displayed, it was being shared, taught. And the crowd seemed to be eating it up. I walked past innumerable conversations about all things old-world, from toys to food to pine-needle baskets.
It was everything at the celebration — the cloggers, the barnyard animals, the fiber artists and wood turners — that brought some things home to me as I finally headed away from the festival after being immersed in it for hours. Spontaneously, I thought about how lucky I am to live in this town and have the job that I do. A wave of euphoria swept over me, and it was enough to make me forget about my dehydration and sunburn. It was enough to make me forget that, as a rule, I’m not really a festival person.
Well, at least I wasn’t before landing in Haywood County.