Folklife at Fifty

Annual festival turns half a century
The draft horse pull is always one of the big draws at the Folklife Festival.
The draft horse pull is always one of the big draws at the Folklife Festival.
Courtesy of Marcomm

The fourth Saturday of October is always distinctive in the Village of Ferrum and on campus.

This year was no different. It was a golden day.

One of those late-autumn October mornings and afternoons. Warm.

The yellow and amber of the leaves almost glinting in the sun, creating a gilded hue.

It was also golden in another way–it was the 50th anniversary of the Blue Ridge Folklife Festival.

“It was better than I could have imagined,” Director of the Blue Ridge Institute and Museum Bethany Worley said.  “The scope of the festival is huge, so I was happy with the outcome.”

The Folklife Festival, held on campus and at the Blue Ridge Institute and Museum’s living history farm museum on the fourth Saturday each October, is not just for those in the Village or Franklin County. This is an event that pulls people in worldwide.

“We don’t know the exact number yet, but it was definitely one of our biggest turnouts in many years,” Worley said.  “Folks came from Philadelphia, Florida, and Colorado. One family from Germany planned their trip traveling The Crooked Road around the festival.”

Fifty years is a long time, and tradition is established during an event like this. But the Blue Ridge Institute did some things differently to make a splash for the anniversary.

“We had four large stages of music. We brought back the checkers tournament from years past. We had a group of midwives discussing the history of midwifery in the Blue Ridge, the herbs used for the mothers, and how it is making a comeback,” Worley said.  “We also worked all year looking for traditional food vendors that had the capacity to serve large crowds.”

Not as many craftspeople were a part of this year’s festival, but more food vendors were on campus.

“Fried apple pies, pork rinds and ham biscuits, bbq, and the fried fish from the True Friends of Truevine Community group,” Worley said were the most popular vendors.

It was 50 years of celebrating for some but a first for Ferrum College President Mirta Martin.

“The Folklife Festival is an opportunity for us to showcase to the community the beauty of this campus, the welcoming spirit of our students, faculty, and staff,” Martin said.  “It’s also a way to reminisce about the past and yet explore on how we go into the future.”

Feedback from the festival goers seemed as warm as the 82-degree temperature.

“We have heard only good things, which is unusual,” Worley said.  “We all worked hard to make this a very special event for the attendees, and the weather certainly helped us pull off one amazing day.”

An amazing day, filled with activities like the coon dog races, draft horse pulls, shepherding, hearing a steam engine, and all the music stages.

“The Folklife Festival was good,” Clayton Michael, senior, said.  “I watched the coon dog race and saw a horse pull 10,000 pounds on a sled.”

Hillary Klug was a part of the festival as she sang, danced, and played the fiddle.

“She (Klug) was overwhelmed by the number of kids that could dance,” Worley said.  “She has never seen such interest in all of her previous events.  That was thrilling to hear.”

The Folklife Festival is the largest regional event of its kind in Virginia, sharing folk traditions that have been a part of families and these communities for years.

“This festival had so many events and special offerings going on simultaneously, that folks need to attend more than once to really see everything,” Worley said.

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