Mountain View, Arkansas: Folk Music Capital of the World

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No, it's not the state capital, but Mountain View, Arkansas is the place to go for folk music.

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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