Folklife Festival Draws Thousands


Photo by Bob Pohlad

The coon dogs are always one of the featured attractions at the Blue Ridge Folklife Festival. Here they race into the water at the start of the competition.

Abigail McGovern, Staff Writer

The sound of dogs baying splits the air, lifting over the chatter and laughter of the families passing by. 

Children run past, wooden toys in one hand, cones of homemade ice cream in the other.

The scent of frying pies and barbecue drifts across the field.

The Appalachian region is steeped in folklore and tradition that is still very much a part of life in the mountains to this day. Every year, the Blue Ridge Institute and Museum (BRIM) on campus hosts the Blue Ridge Folklife Festival to honor this regional heritage and bring attention to local traditions. 

This was the 49th year of the festival, and the Blue Ridge Institute hosted an assortment of vendors and attractions on campus—including old farming machines, a moonshine tasting, indoor and outdoor crafts, local traditional food vendors, horse and mule events, and coon dog events. The festival also featured several stages of folk music played by local musicians, including the Jam Stage, which was only youth performers.

“We had more food vendors this year, although three food vendors canceled at the last minute,” said Bethany Worley, director of the Blue Ridge Institute and Museum. “We had less craft vendors though, due to sickness and (people) just getting too old to participate.” 

Despite a different breakdown of vendors this year than in previous years, reactions to the event seemed overall very positive, and there was still a massive crowd at the festival.

 In fact, the Blue Ridge Institute are still calculating the numbers, but they believe that the turnout was even larger than at last year’s festival as the event draws visitors not just from the campus, but from the broader Franklin County community, as well as from alumni.

“Coming back to campus for Folklife was like coming home, by talking to students and alumni that I had already met from my time here and reconnecting,” Sierra Helton, an alum who graduated last spring but returned to visit Folklife, said. “It not only brings the Ferrum College community together, but the whole Ferrum and Rocky Mount communities for a day of fun and remembrance.”

This aspect of the Folklife Festival is part of what makes it such a popular event—it serves as a bridge between the campus and the broader Appalachian community it is a part. This helps to ensure that local traditions are celebrated, adapted, and carried on by the younger generations. 

“It was a great day for the festival; there was beautiful weather, great bread, and good times” said Kala Brubaker, who participates in the festival each year with her family making yeast bread over in the farm museum.

There were several events that consistently have more draw than others and continue to be featured year after year, particularly events over at the Farm Museum. 

“Any event with a coon dogs is popular, so the water race and the treeing contests. The mule jumping and draft horse pulls were very popular as well,” said Worley. “The music was exceptional this year, and many folks commented on the amazing variety and quality.”

It truly takes a village, or several, to make an event like this come together, and it is because of the enthusiasm of so many that these Appalachian traditions are still celebrated within the Folklife Festival.

This year’s festival was built by the hands of local volunteers and vendors, the school’s men’s lacrosse and wrestling teams, and Franklin County branch of Future Farmers of America (FFA). There were also several alumni volunteers, including former Iron Blade editor Mary Stoudt and Dakota Fletcher, who volunteered all day. 

The volunteers, community members, and the staff at the Blue Ridge Institute are already planning next year’s festival, the 50th Blue Ridge Folklife Festival held on Ferrum’s campus.

Because it will be the half century mark, there are some special plans in the works the group look forward to sharing next fall.