The Gatlinburg Folk Festival of the Smokies

R. Maurer writes about the good vibes at the Folk Festival of the Smokies, held in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

| July/August 1970

  • Folk festival guitar music
    The festival had the air of one huge commune, with good things happening.
    Photo by Fotolia/Andrii Muzyka

  • Folk festival guitar music

You know what commercialism in the music industry is after you've been to the annual Folk Festival of the Smokies in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. There's no commercialism there.

When Libba Cotton appeared from behind the curtain and sat down on a metal chair in front of a microphone, you just sensed something genuine was about to happen. She played and sang her famous Freight Train as if she were playing for grandchildren on her back porch. Libba then talked to the audience - young and old, long hair and short - the way she would talk to them in her living room.

The festival had the air of one huge commune, with good things happening — on schedule and off — inside the Gatlinburg auditorium, outside on the grass and in the nearby parking lot.

The original Scottish Highland fling was taught to a small group one afternoon on the grass. That night - in the parking lot - when a band with bass, guitar, banjo and mandolin got together to play old style country songs, the spirit got to a couple of bystanders who suddenly started clogging.

At one point, Paul Simon was spotted in the audience and several eager guitarists approached him. They talked Paul into listening to their songs but never asked him to play for them, or for the audience. The star system was never more absent than it was in Gatlinburg.

The other half of the festival was the giant display of mountain crafts. Good conversation — rather than sales — was the primary commerce among the people. Names and addresses were exchanged with promises of "let's get together". The spirit was moving all three days.

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