Cumberland Gap brings back FolkFest

Published 8:11 am Wednesday, August 17, 2022


FolkFest returned to Cumberland Gap on Aug. 13 for the first time since 1995. FolkFest was founded in 1974 by the Townlift Committee as an event to highlight folk arts and crafts to promote the historic town. The daylong event occurred on and off for more than 20 years, and now, after nearly three decades, it is returning in the hopes of continuing the tradition and promote tourism in the Cumberland Gap area.

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The event has been revived by the Guardians of the Gap, an organization dedicated to preserving, protecting and promoting the Cumberland Gap region. For the past two years, the Guardians of the Gap has successfully drawn interest to the area through popular seasonal events, like summer’s Outdoor Fest and fall’s Gap-tober, and community activities, like the Friday Night Movie series in Berkau Park.

“What really made everyone want to do it [FolkFest] again this year was the memories of FolkFest everyone had when they were younger,” said Natalie Sweet, program coordinator at the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum. “Some were teenagers, some were children, some of us were there when it was just starting and it had huge crowds.”

Sweet recalls seeing FolkFest in the 1990s when it was starting to end. The project has been in the works for roughly nine months – since early this year.

Sweet said Covid-19 had a part to play in the planning, but seeing as the event was outdoors – the weather in July and August was a bigger concern. The Hindman Settlement School, located in Knott County, originally had a part to play in FolkFest, but this was impacted by the eastern Kentucky flooding. The Hindman Settlement School had a different type of presence at FolkFest, with community meals and donation stations set up around the event so people could donate directly to Hindmans. Part of the idea of FolkFest is to preserve Appalachian culture.

A farm-to-table dinner kicked off the returning FolkFest on Friday. Before and after Friday’s dinner, guests had the opportunity to see first-hand the celebration of Appalachian people and culture during a temporary exhibit “FolkFest: Exhibiting Appalachian Tradition” that opened on Aug. 12, at the Lincoln Memorial University Convention Center in Cumberland Gap. The exhibit was open the entire day of FolkFest, and will remain open to the public through Aug. 20.

“This FolkFest benefit dinner is designed to support and highlight not only our local farmers, but also all of The Historic Town of Cumberland Gap’s businesses” said Guardians of the Gap board secretary Amber Chadwell. “The idea for our dinner is to position individuals, local farms, and businesses together to form partnerships that would foster growth and form a stronger sense of community within the area.”

The displays and events at Lincoln Memorial University were available from throughout the day at the Pioneer Village and the museum. At Lincoln Memorial University there were several historical demonstrations such as apple butter-making, quilting and quilting lessons, an appearance by Civil War fiddler – Diane Lovejoy, Appalachian authors, including LMU’s Dr. Mary Beth Babos speaking about herbalism in Appalachia called “Granny’s Medicine Cabinet.”

The Guardians intended to keep the event just as it was back in its glory days with vendors, artists, activities, and music that celebrates the Appalachian region and the amazing people that call it home. Of special note is its headline musician, Dale Ann Bradley, who was recently named the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Female Vocalist of the Year for 2022. She was joined along with multiple other musicians on stages across Cumberland Gap throughout the day.

FolkFest also gave the community the opportunity to learn about Appalachian traditions from masters in their craft. At the Berkau Park demonstration stage, audience members can listen to yarns from native East Tennessean Chip Bailey, a past member of Smoky Mountain Storytellers Association who uses his talents as a traditional fiddler to enhance his stories. Visitors had the opportunity to learn how to play spoons, learn a dance, make a piece of art, or take a hike with the popular TikTok personality, the Appalachian Forager.  At the children’s area, kids could sign up for the First Annual Appalachian Kids Games, which includes sack races, a bean breaking contest, as well as a corn shucking contest. Also included in the day’s events were demonstrations by professional craftsmen Keith Williams, one of the state’s master luthiers, or fiddle makers, or Jim Bordwine, a mountain man from Saltville, Virginia, who demonstrated the importance of salt production to Appalachian life.

Organizers say they raised $2,500 for Guardians of the Gap, which serves as the town’s not-for-profit group. The funds raised help enable the preservation, protection, and promotion of the historic town of Cumberland Gap, as well as offer new opportunities for farmers and consumers.

“This year is a building year,” Sweet said. “At the height, the bicentennial year, there were supposedly 20 (thousand) to 30,000 people.”