The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

Visit us on FaceBookGenerations of Memories
from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Blue Ridge Folklife Festival - Preserving Mountain Traditions

By Ferrum College

Issue: December, 1984

blue ridge folklife festival 1Pete, the coon mule from Fincastle, Virginia kicks up its heels after jumping a four-foot jump in the coon mule contest at last year's Blue Ridge Folklife Festival at Ferrum College."Old 'So-and-So's' wife came with him today. She'd rather come along than kiss him goodby," rattled the announcer from some unseen spot among the onlookers. The crowd had gathered around a 15 foot tall pole which a rather puzzled looking raccoon was being hoisted up and down, from within the safe confines of a wire mesh cage, much to the raccoon's consternation, and the frustration of an assorted lot of "coon dogs.” This event was labeled a "treeing contest." The dog that barked the most in a specified amount of time would be chosen as the winner. After the winner had been chosen and the raccoon was being carried from the circle of onlookers in the safety of his cage, an overzealous hound dog mistook the carrier of the cage for his quarry and the resultant "nip" on the bottom brought a chuckle from the crowd and a jump and brisk rub of the nipped area from the carrier of the cage.

The "treeing contest" was only a small part of the activities at Ferrum College in Ferrum, Virginia on October 27, 1984. Each year the Blue Ridge Institute, a division of the college, sponsors the Blue Ridge Folklife Festival. The traditional crafts, music, customs, tales and beliefs of the Blue Ridge are featured in the day long activities.

blue ridge folklife festival 2The "treeing contest" at last year's Blue Ridge Folklife Festival at Ferrum College in Ferrum, Virginia.Crafts exhibits included wood carving, basket making, rag doll making, chair caning, rug hooking, quilting, crocheting and tatting, just to mention a few.

Other activities were horse and mule pulling contests, coon mule jumping, antique car and photography exhibits, sawing contest and much, much more.

One of the highlights for me was the music. Stages were set in two different locations on the campus grounds and also in the beautiful Ferrum College Chapel. As I entered the Chapel, the rhythm of traditional black gospel music literally started my feet to patting. I could have spent the day listening to the excellent music being made at the various stages and under the numerous shade trees scattered around the campus.

Food and beverages were being served by local groups and individuals and the varieties ranged from fried pork skins and black pot chicken to candied apples and old fashioned yeast doughnuts.

The Blue Ridge Institute, under the directorship of Roddy Moore and a very dedicated staff, is racing against time to preserve a heritage that is vanishing fast. Their commitment to authentic tradition bearers is evidenced by the wrinkled hands and weathered faces of those who have been chosen to demonstrate their old time crafts at the festival each year. This is truly a celebration of old time mountain ways where friendly smiles and a family atmosphere together with all the sights to see and things to do make the day far too short.

As the kids and I climbed in the car to head home at the end of the day's activities, next October 26 was already being planned in my mind. "I'll get here sooner and stay later," I told myself. Such old time fun is hard to find nowadays, but its a tradition at the Blue Ridge Institute of Ferrum College.

In addition to the Blue Ridge Folklife Festival, the Blue Ridge Institute also offers a folklife museum and craft shop and on June 8-9, 1985, there will be a Blue Ridge Country Crafts Days. On July 27, 1985, the Blue Ridge Draft Horse and Mule Show will exhibit true old time farming skills.

For more information on these and other events sponsored by the Blue Ridge Institute, write the Blue Ridge Institute, Ferrum, Virginia 24088.