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CHAPTER 1 Mountain Bred To use a mountain saying, Bascom Lamar Lunsford would cross hell on a rotten rail to get a folk song. But folk songs were only a part of his calling and of the magic that he sought and used for a larger purpose. Across that precarious rail, Lunsford viewed Appalachian culture and identity that were being uprooted by the Irrevocable push of progress. The people of the Southern Appalachian Mountains are among the most oldfashioned and thus traditional In the country. The great treasure of ballads, songs and tales that the settlers brought from the British Isles and the continent of Europe was kept alive by their offspring to a degree not found elsewhere In the country. By the time Lunsford reached adulthood, however, this devotion to traditional ways had begun to weaken, especially among the progressive folk who were intrigued by new ways, and Lunsford made It his job to rekindle new Interest and respect for the old traditions. Long before this mission was revealed to him, though, he had been determined to learn all he could about the folk arts and ways of his people. Thus Lunsford became a walking library of Appalachian arts. As a performer, he reflected the breadth of Appalachian folk traditions. He was a remarkable performer, recording more than 300 songs, tunes and tales from memory for posterity. But more Importantly to him, he sought to present what he considered to be the best of mountain performers to a public that was growing away from the old folk traditions. The vehicle he chose was the song and dance festival, the first of which he began In 1928 and out of which other festivals grew. His Mountain Dance and Folk Festival, still going strong In Asheville, North Carolina, Is perhaps his greatest monument. He was an engaging and energetic man, and he achieved most of what he wanted to in his busy 91 years. And in doing so, he became a legend. Lunsford was born In the heart of his beloved mountains, at Mars Hill, Madison County, North Carolina, on March 21, 1882. He was later to call Madison County "the last stand of the natural people." It was, and remains, a rural county with numerous interrelated families who sang the old ballads, told folk tales, played the fiddle and banjO, danced and held on to other traditional ways of working, worshipping and coping with the problems of living. But just south of Madison, in Buncombe County, was Asheville, which had already developed as a shipping and trade center,whose civic leaders hawked the virtues of its healthy climate. The first railroad was completed to Asheville the year before Bascom was born. Asheville had real streets and brick buildings, several 1 hotels, a public library and was In the process of laying water and sewer lines.1 As people came out of the solitude of the rural counties surrounding Asheville to trade, they came Into contact with different kinds of people from the Lowland South or the North who spoke optimistically of the future and Invested accordlngly , and who described progress almost In religious tones and dreamed of wealth as a sure reward for the faith they held In the future. Eventually many country people moved to Asheville, like the Joyners In Thomas Wolfe's fiction ,2 to get ahead In the world. Others, like the homebound Joyners, stayed in Madison County or Yancey County, troubled and offended by the changes they observed In their former kin and neighbors. Bascom later was to set down an anecdote that richly Illustrated the differences between the Asheville folk and the country folk: One night I visited Mike Teague, and he said he had some people visit him from Asheville. They lii


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