Arkansas: Sweet Mountain Music
Friend of IT Gerard Matthews sends along a tip on the best place to find some bluegrass in the hills of Arkansas.
Tucked away in the Ozark Mountains of northern Arkansas, between clear mountain streams and canopy-covered hiking trails, lies a small town where people come together to sit a spell, eat down-home cooking and pick a little old-time music. A folk or country music festival isn’t such a rare thing in the South, but in Mountain View, Arkansas, you can hear sweet gospel music, or lightning-fast bluegrass licks almost any day of the week, so long as the weather’s nice.
To say that Mountain View (population 3,000) is small might be a bit of an understatement, but from April to November the town square quite literally hums with excitement. The breeze up in the mountains smells like honeysuckle and feels good after a long, humid day. And in the center of town, as afternoon lulls into evening, the crowds begin to gather around the old courthouse, and local musicians—farmers, teachers, accountants, civil servants, shopkeepers, housewives, and their families—make their way to the surrounding town square, instruments in tow.
“On a regular night, there’s at least 100 musicians out there on the square. It’s like a festival, but it’s a little different ‘cause it’s something that we’re all used to,” says Dean Hinesley. “It’s really just a hunger and a craving that we have to take care of from time to time.”
Hinesley is a banjo picker who also plays the guitar, stand-up bass, mandolin, and fiddle (although never plays the fiddle in public, he says), is a fixture around the Stone County Courthouse on Friday and Saturday nights, and occasionally during the week, if he and his buddies get the itch. He’s 70 years old and has been playing music “for all but about ten of those.”
As musicians sit in small groups of five, six, or seven, taking turns yelling out the names of songs everybody knows, music lovers can walk from group to group, enjoying a glass of lemonade or basket of fried green tomatoes from the local vendors. Old couples sit in lawn chairs and young children chase each other in circles or play in the grass. The music scene here has become a favorite for out-of-towners over the past few years, but the people of Stone County have been pickin’ and grinnin’ for decades.
Carl Adkins, the director of music at the Ozark Folk Center, explains: “People have been playing here long before it was a public event. The gathering place was always the courthouse. Then in the folk music boom in the ’60s, Mountain View got discovered and a lot of people got caught up in it.”
“Folk music is music that’s passed down from generation to generation,” Adkins expalins. “It’s been around forever. It’s been handed down to us from the previous generations, from the British Isles, from African slaves… If you learned it from a CD or a record, it’s not folk music. If you learned it from your uncle, or your grandfather, or a friend, then that is what folk music is all about.”
Having grown up in the folk music tradition, Hinesley gets a kick out of seeing the youngsters follow in their parents’ footsteps.
“The biggest highlight for me is seeing the younger generations develop on an annual basis. I like it when I see families that get together and play, and then you see ‘em a year later and they’re so much better. I like to see the families and the bands develop and grow.”
The families, the music, the food, and the courthouse green are all part of a Southern culture where people talk a little slower, move a little slower, and life moves along at the pace of a slow waltz.
“A lot of people like what’s connected to the music,” Adkins says, “They like the lifestyle. It’s not electrified, we’re not selling anything, people just play what they like to hear.”
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Mountain View is about 100 miles north of Little Rock. To learn more about the Ozark heritage in Arkansas, visit Mountain View’s Ozark Folk Center at 1032 Park Avenue, Mountain View, Arkansas; +1 870 269 3851.
Photo: Col. Bob in Mountain View, by Shutterdog