Mountain View, Arkansas: Folk Music Capital of the World

If you like folk music, traditional hand crafts, and places that embrace their “living history,” head on up to Mountain View, Arkansas.
By Joe Hart
October/November 2009
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No, it's not the state capital, but Mountain View, Arkansas is the place to go for folk music.
ILLUSTRATION: JÜRGEN PRIEWE/FOTOLIA


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At some point in the deep, forgotten history of Mountain View, Arkansas., one of our 11 Great Places You’ve (Maybe) Never Heard Of, a handful of farmers came to town for market day and brought with them those crucial instruments of Ozark culture: a fiddle, a banjo, and a guitar. With their town chores out of the way, they settled on the courthouse square in downtown Mountain View and picked out a few tunes. From this mythical beginning has blossomed what is arguably one of the world’s most fertile and well-attended jam sessions, with as many as 3,000 string players routinely descending on the square for all-night string band sessions.

“There’s a huge range of players involved,” says Jimmie Edwards, who works as a group sales manager at the Ozark Folk Center, a state park located in Mountain View. “We’ve got a young lady named Clancy who’s 10 years old and plays the fiddle, we’ve got one guy who’s 88 and plays the fiddle, and everything in between.”

These outdoor jams are typical of the cultural pride in Mountain View, a small town of about 3,000, situated in a valley in the northern Arkansas Ozark Mountains. But Ozark Mountain music is only one tradition preserved here. Thanks in part to the Center, Mountain View has grown into a hub of traditional folk craftspeople — candlemakers, soap makers, blacksmiths, fiber artists, woodworkers, herbalists and more — many of whom demonstrate their crafts at the center and belong to one of the handful of folk guilds in the region.

Edwards traces the flowering of traditional handcrafts to the 1960s and 1970s, when homesteaders moved into the area and learned subsistence skills from their old-timer neighbors. Today, the Folk Center caters to tourists with a “living history” experience of traditional crafts — but more importantly for the community, it serves as an incubator for traditional crafts (and some cash income for artisans) through classes, seminars, and school programs. “Our aim is to keep the culture alive,” Edwards says.

Beyond the folk-craft enclave, there is much to recommend about the town. The thriving business district boasts a strong, independent, locally owned roster, ranging from a hardware store to a luthier (someone who makes string instruments). Nearby lies some 130,000 acres of national forest and other protected wilderness areas, with hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking trails (including the popular and challenging Syllamo trail), as well as trout streams and the incredible Blanchard Springs Caverns, a huge network of caves (and locale of an annual Christmas caroling adventure).

While the regional economy relies in large part on tourism, the independent Ozark farm tradition lives on in the homesteaders and craftspeople who today make their home in the hills around the town. In some regions, both of these economies tend to generate a little hostility to outsiders. Not so in Mountain View, according to Edwards (himself a transplant). He calls it the “shake and howdy” culture: People are usually happy to slow down and shoot the breeze. “It’s just an open, friendly place,” he says.


Mountain View Stats

Population: 2,876
Median Household Income: $19,302
Weather: Temperate with mild winters and warm summers. Average snowfall is 5 inches.
What Makes It Great: Traditional folk crafts and music are central to the town’s culture.


Check out the other towns featured in the 2009 installment of Great Places You’ve (Maybe) Never Heard Of.


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Post a comment below.

 

For Mother Earth
5/17/2010 10:02:34 PM
Our natural products store is located 45 minutes north of Mountain View on Hwy. 5 in Norfork, Arkansas situated on the banks of the White River...see www.ForMotherEarthNorfork.com We get alot of customers from the Mountain View area and we love going down to listen to the music on the square...get a massage at Massage Works, eat at Tommy's Pizza!! and shop at Timeless Treasures which is just off the square. This is an amazingly beautiful area and the city park in Mountain View is NOT TO BE MISSED! It's where my husband Tom and i got married :) But don't be fooled by what sounds like nirvana, as the locals are mostly rednecks (no offense guys : ), the politics are very conservative and the bible belt has it's big buckle right smack dab here in the Ozarks! Sandie Cloud

Don Peters
2/15/2010 7:49:23 PM
We live in the Memphis area but have a house about 6 blocks off of the square in Mountain View. We play music on the square most every night that we are there and many days also. The pickers on the square are from all over the country, many having moved to the area because of the music. If you come to Mountain View and walk around you will hear a variety of styles being played by different groups. Fiddle tunes, bluegrass, old time, country, 50's rockabilly, folk, and even some blues. There are RV parks all over town and a lot of folks come and spend most of the summer there. The man who complained about the Folk Center's music not being authentic may have a point if authenticity is replicating what was played in the region many years ago. The Center does require its artists to only play tunes written before a certain year. However, what happens on the square is true folk music, which is people getting together and making music. We have many friendships with folks from all over the country because we have made music together. In answer to the complaint that the folk center artists were from everywhere but Mountain View, I would say that only retirees can afford to spend their time learning the crafts that are presented, because they have moved to Mountain View for the folk environment, have retirement income, and love meeting the folks who come from all over to see the Center, observe the craftsmen/women, and listen to the old-time music played on fiddles, banjos, and guitars.

marknh
10/12/2009 11:39:16 AM
I live about an hour away from Mt. View - It's a really nice little town. if they had technology jobs I probably would have moved there. There are some other towns in the region that have a bit more in the way of job prospects and that are nice as well. We decided to go with Harrison - about 12K people.

JGarrison
10/4/2009 6:49:57 PM
Mountain View is a great little town, with a lively music scene around the town square! People playing music everywhere! I was there for a week, about a month ago (from Colorado, and my first visit), and had a wonderful time listening to all the different types of music, taking in the sights, and visiting with the local people. Out of five stars, I’d give it five. Just a wonderful place to visit and relax. While there, I bought three CDs, “Sounds of the Ozark Folk, The 1963 Arkansas Folk Festival” (2 CDs) and “The Rackensack, 1972”. Delightful music, and so naturally expressed! And yet, I heard nothing at all similar at the Ozark Folk Center’s music show, and I went two different nights. It was an admix of several styles of music. This was disappointing, as I expected to hear authentic folk music, not rehashes of commercial styles of music. Prior to visiting the OFC’s craft village, I had visited the local historical society, and seen numerous photos of days gone by, as well as authentic attire. This is not what I saw at the craft village. In talking with some of the people working there, it became obvious why. The majority were not from the area at all. Only two of the people were. The rest were from places like Minnesota, Michigan, Vermont, Florida, etc! The OFC’s Skillet restaurant had great food, great service, and very reasonable prices. The host was from Minnesota. My waitress was from Illinois. Nice people, but it just didn’t seem right. While I had a good time, I have to say that the OFC is everything but what it advertises itself to be. If their “aim is to keep the culture alive”, they’ve utterly failed. That’s really sad too, since my experiences with the authentic culture were so endearing. I’m back in Mountain View now, for the rest of the month, but I’ll skip the OFC altogether.

MC_2
9/21/2009 4:59:52 PM
I want to go here so, so desperately. I think I'm going to load up the kids and just go, with TSIM or without him. It could be my Samhain present to myself. Early Samhain present-- load up the tent, load up the kids, give him the option of going, and head for Mountain View for the weekend. I've read wonderful things about the Ozark Center in our electric co-op's monthly mag. Part of me wants to move to Mountain View. There are some properties listed there here on TMEN that I absolutely drool over. Places that I wouldn't mind being 900 miles from my family for (at least, wouldn't mind as much). The evolution of the Bear Tribe is around there somewhere now. They probably wouldn't have me, being as I'm white thru and thru. I probably wouldn't ask, as I've had that experience with Native American groups before (and can't really blame them). There are no engineering jobs (and therefore no interest for TSIM). Moving to Mountain View would almost certainly entail a divorce (or at least a legal separation) and an ugly custody fight. I could probably win that fight. It's just that what I'd have to do to win it would cost him his parental rights and possibly have him branded a criminal for life. Anyone in Mountain Home want to offer an "adoptive" (not literally) family to a prospectively single mom whose enthusiasm and willingness to work exceeds her knowledge and three kids under the age of 10??? Fraternal relations only please.








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