Having English, Scottish, Irish, Welsh and African roots, Appalachian music has been a cherished pastime throughout the Smoky Mountain region for centuries. And while the earliest Appalachian settlers brought with them the traditional sounds of their home land, they also brought timeless tales that have been passed down through many generations. Those traditional tales and authentic mountain sounds can be heard at the 20th annual Townsend in the Smokies Spring Festival and Old Timers Day, which will be held May 4-5 at the Townsend Visitors Center.
“The traditional Appalachian music and entertaining mountain tales are two key festival elements that celebrate the area’s history and heritage,” said Jeanie Hilten, special events coordinator for the Smoky Mountain Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Seeing the children’s faces light up while listening to adventurous Appalachian tales or watching festival visitors relaxing to the sounds of a banjo and fiddle brings joy at each spring festival.”
Traditional mountain music is at the heart of each Townsend Spring Festival. This year, festival-goers will have the opportunity to bring lawn chairs, sit back and enjoy toe-tapping Appalachian sounds emanating from the main stage and impromptu jam sessions throughout the festival grounds. On Friday, May 4, “The Sons of Bluegrass,” a youngband of bluegrass musicians from the one-of-a-kind bluegrass music program at East Tennessee State University, will showcase its high-energy musical talent in a free concert at the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center beginning at 7:30 p.m. As a celebration of Highland music and Scottish heritage, the festival will host a Knoxville Pipes and Drums concert and parade in front of the Visitors Center at 6:30 p.m. on May 4.
On Saturday, May 5, festival visitors will have the opportunity to experience traditional shape note music with the East Tennessee Old Harp Singers from 3:30 to 5 p.m.; and at 7 p.m., they can kick up their heels at the festival square dance with caller Don Tipton and music by the Carolina Bluegrass Boys. Another festival favorite – the Young Pickers Talent Contest – will take place at the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center from 2 to 5 p.m. The annual contest gives young acoustic musicians an excellent opportunity to showcase their authentic talent and bluegrass music while competing for a chance to win a hand in more than $1,000 worth of prize money, ribbons and studio time.
“The Young Pickers Talent Contest is a great way to showcase our region’s talented youth, and it helps us continue this time-honored tradition with another generation,” said Ms. Hilten.
The Townsend Spring Festival would not be complete without the age-old tradition of storytelling. The ability to convey the words, images and sounds of Appalachia is one that is long-established and cherished in the East Tennessee area. Local storytellers, including Robin Goddard and Lendel Abbot, will educate and entertain visitors on Saturday, May 5, from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. in the storytelling tent. Goddard will perform children’s stories with the help of hand puppets, and Abbot will delight festival-goers with mountain stories that will paint a picture of old Appalachia.
The spring festival also hosts featured authors and has each share his or her writing talents with festival visitors, young and old. A book signing with Roy Oliver, author of Last Man from Tremont, will take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday, May 4. And on Saturday, May 5, Missy Tipton and Paulette Ledbetter will sign their newest book, Cades Cove, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in front of the Townsend Visitors Center hearth.
“Each spring, we are proud to showcase the storytelling and writing talent of our featured guests,” said Ms. Hilten. “It always amazes me how their words really bring old Appalachia to life. And I like to think that the children hearing these entertaining mountain stories will pass them down to their own children one day.”