Folklife Festival: Commercial Free and Fun

The crowd for the draft horse pull filled the bank overlooking the course.
Preparing fresh walnuts the old way.

After 44 years of baying hounds, leaping mules, straining draft horses, belching antique tractors, hammering blacksmiths, baking bread and dripping moonshine, the Blue Ridge Institute’s Folklife Festival has remained relatively commercial free. Sure, you can buy lunch and a few genuine locally-made artifacts, but this isn’t Gatlinburg, nor will it become that.

Object of the hounds’ blood lust.

If anything, the festival is becoming a victim of its own purity, its own success. Ferrum is a short drive from Roanoke–maybe 40 minutes. Yesterday, the final three miles took 40 minutes, traffic backed up that distance for most of the day. Parking is primarily on green hills around the Ferrum College campus, meaning a brisk walk through thousands of people to the festivities on the BRI 19th century farm.

If you want commerce, you can stop at any of the 35 or so yard sales between Rocky Mount and Ferrum, many of them permanent. You can get fairly decent barbecue and hot dogs at the yard sales, too, if you don’t want to wait in a Kings Dominion-length line at the festival to eat. Warning: the buns are strictly white-bread. On the way out there’s an extra inducement: a radio station that plays old-time country and bluegrass music, based in Rocky Mount.

The festival’s top draws are mules that jump, draft horses that pull 2,000-pound iron sleds and hound dogs that chase a dead raccoon across a pond, and “tree” (actually telephone pole) another coon, howling unmercifully the entire time. If the hound’s baying is music to your ears, this is Emmylou Harris in concert.

The most obvious element in its absence, though, remains booths of ticky-tack, “crafts”

Big horse, big tack.

that aren’t crafty and fried junk food. I’m sure festival organizers have been tempted to open up to those vendors and they are to be commended for not doing so. There are some genuine crafts available: I bought a knife that had been hand-made Friday (and was dated on the blade) and a beautiful leather hair clip, which promptly fell out of my shirt pocket as I was taking photos and became an unexpected find for some lucky young lady. Enjoy it, dear girl.

This festival belongs to those attending, as it should. Here are some photos of those lucky people. And critters.

Hounds jump from their cage, chasing the dead coon …
There they go, howling and baying …
What happens if they catch it? Well, they don’t.
Nice horsie.
Waiting for the hounds.
Little girls love horses, even the huge ones.
A flock of Canada geese just passing through.
Yes, their toenails were painted pink. Sigh.
A view through the fence.
Old farm implements on the log cabin.
Hey, tattoos are antiques, too.
Kids will find a way to see.
Want traffic jam? Go to the festival.
Yard sales lined the route to Ferrum.
Waiting for their turn to pull the sled.
A fall afternoon in Ferrum.
Best friends forever.
Want some second-hand smoke, buddy?
Ran into my old buddy Keith Ferrell first thing.
Cricket and Jeff Maiden and their sweet kids.
These big boys pulled 2,000 pounds six feet, which isn’t a lot.
Pampa’s lunch (from a yard sale).
Pampa eating Pampa’s lunch. Note homemade bib.
Fall in Ferrum: a view from the hill.

By admin

Dan Smith is an award-winning journalist in Roanoke, Va., and a member of the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame. He is an author, photographer, essayist, father and grandfather. Co-founder of Valley Business FRONT magazine and founder of the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference. On Advisory Board of New River Voice.

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