By Kevin Ridder
Within the storied hills of Appalachia is a wealth of cultural and ecological diversity. Take the time to look and you’ll quickly find celebrations of every shape and color.
There are festivals steeped in decades of history, festivals that arose from environmental movements, festivals centered around music, art and storytelling, and festivals that are more than a little bit quirky. Some are simply an appreciation of natural beauty.
But they all have one thing in common: you, the people of Appalachia. While this is by no means an exhaustive list of every happening around the mountains, it showcases some of the homegrown celebrations that tell the story of people who are proud to call the mountains home.
For a listing of Appalachian environmental and cultural events updated throughout the year, visit appvoices.org/calendar.
Founded in 1869 by Swiss craftsmen, the town of Helvetia, W.Va., holds a strong connection to its cultural roots. On the Saturday before Ash Wednesday, hundreds of visitors join the village’s 59 residents to celebrate Fasnacht, “the night before the fast.”
The General Store and Helvetia Mask Museum open at 10 a.m., and festivities begin Saturday afternoon with a Swiss feast, drinks and open mic in the Star Band Hall, known locally as the Red Hall. After nightfall, a lamp-lit parade featuring larger-than-life and often frightening masks travels to the Community Hall, where the costumes are judged and traditional flower-shaped fried doughnuts are served. A masked ball whips up a frenzy under the piercing gaze of an effigy of Old Man Winter. At midnight, the massive effigy is cut down, carried to the bonfire outside and set alight to signify the end of winter.
Free. Bring a sleeping bag and stay at the Red Hall for $5. Visit helvetiawv.com for details on this and other Helvetian festivals.
April 15. Knoxville, Tenn.
Knoxville’s EarthFest brings a host of food, fun and entertainment for the whole family. This year’s zero-waste festival will be in the Knoxville Botanical Gardens, which offers an incredible view of the Smoky Mountains as the backdrop to music, environmental exhibits and a scavenger hunt through the bamboo maze and gardens, to name a few.
Free. Visit knox-earthfest.org.
April 22, 11 a.m. – 11 p.m. Pipestem, W.Va.
Celebrate Earth Day at the Appalachian South Folklife Center. This event features panel discussions, educational activities, demonstrations and live music. Their website states, “activities in years past have included a butterfly pavilion, giant telescopes and astronomy demos, puppet and dance performances, recycled art fashion shows and more.”
Free. Visit folklifecenter.org.
May 4-7. Near Pittsboro, N.C.
Shakori Hills Community Arts Center hosts its 15th annual festival on 72-acres of farmland just outside of Pittsboro, N.C. In addition to over 50 bands on four stages, children and families can visit the expansive kids village with hands-on art projects, a climbing wall and even a parade. Attendees can also learn to dance, play an instrument and make their homes more sustainable through various classes and workshops. Don’t forget to stop by the Appalachian Voices table!
For tickets and camping information, visit shakorihillsgrassroots.org.
May 11-14, Oct. TBD. Black Mountain, N.C.
Now in its 44th year, the LEAF Festival brings thousands of people each spring and fall to the shores of scenic Lake Eden. The festival will feature over 400 performing artists, six stages featuring musicians and slam poets, eight family adventure villages and 100-plus vendors on its 200 acre expanse.
For tickets, lodging and camping info and more, visit theleaf.org.
May 12-14. Cincinnati, Ohio
Entering its 48th year, the Appalachian Community Development Association will celebrate Mother’s Day Weekend with food, dance, crafts, storytelling, music and what their website describes as “educational Living History that embraces the Appalachian Heritage.” The first day also features an “Education Day” at Coney Island. Festival proceeds fund grants supporting organizations involved in Appalachian life.
Fri.: $5, Sat. and Sun.: $10. For information, visit appalachianfestival.org.
May 19-21. Damascus, Va.
For the 31st year, the town of Damascus, Va., will celebrate Appalachian Trail thru-hikers with a weekend festival. Past festivities have included a Hiker Parade through the town, free gear repair, auctions, outdoor movies, music, vendors and more. Stop by the Appalachian Voices table!
$5 campground fee, $20 parking fee. Visit traildays.us.
May 20. Matewan, W.Va.
On May 19, 1920, a shootout between miners attempting to unionize and the enforcers sent to fire and evict the pro-union miners erupted in the town of Matewan, W.Va. The massacre and the event that followed led to an uprising of some 10,000 coal miners at the Battle of Blair Mountain and their eventual unionization. Today, Matewan celebrates their history each year with reenactments, street vendors, plays and scavenger hunts.
Free. Visit historicmatewan.com.
May 27. Oconee Valley, S.C.
Now in its sixth year, Rally in the Valley brings well over 100 cyclists and conservationists each year to the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. A 60-mile bike ride kicks off the day at 8 a.m., followed by a 30-mile ride at 9 a.m. At 11:30 a.m., bikers and non-bikers alike can enjoy locally slow-cooked barbeque, craft beer and music on the shores of Lake Jemiki. All proceeds will go toward conservation efforts in Oconee Valley.
$35 for cyclists, $25 for non-cyclists. Visit oconeeforever.org/rallyvalley.
Summer, dates TBD. Beattyville, Ky.
Founded in 2011 with roots in the anti-mountaintop removal movement, the Whippoorwill Festival’s self-stated goal is “to promote sustainable living in Appalachia by sharing earth-friendly living skills with one another in a joyful, healthy, family-friendly atmosphere.”
The festival emphasizes connecting more young people with nature. Whippoorwill has several kid-friendly workshops, but also encourages unstructured play and activities.
Tucked away in Lago Linda Hideaway, past festivals have held four days of guest speakers, tent camping, a community campfire, folk music, dancing and over 75 educational workshops about topics such as foraging and organic beekeeping.
For tickets and more, visit whippoorwillfest.com.
Summer, TBD. Whitesburg, Ky.
Appalshop, a multi-media cultural arts organization serving southeast Kentucky communities for over 40 years, hosts this annual festival in Whitesburg, Ky. Seedtime’s self-stated goal is to be “a mirror for the mountain people and communities,” with a festival full of music, arts, crafts, dance, writing, filmmaking and more.
Visit seedtimefestival.org for schedule, ticket prices and more.
June 9-17. Across Southwest Virginia
Pack your bags for a 330-mile musical road trip along The Crooked Road. Twisting and turning throughout Southwest Virginia, attendees will see musical performances at nine historic venues and have the opportunity to explore what the festival’s website describes as “a thriving network of over 60 traditional music jams, festivals, and concerts in gracious communities all along the way.”
For tickets and more, visit mtnsofmusic.com.
June 10, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Hot Springs, N.C.
This grassroots conservation festival started in 1996 as a humble gathering of musicians, artists, hunters, environmentalists and community members from around Hot Springs, N.C., who raised funds and awareness to successfully stop a destructive logging and road-building operation on Bluff Mountain. The festival continues as a fundraiser for the Madison County Arts Council and other local non-profits.
Free. Visit madisoncountyarts.com/bluff-mountain-festival
June 17-18, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.. Roan Mountain, Tenn.
The Roan Mountain Citizens Club first held this festival in 1947 to celebrate the world’s largest natural rhododendron gardens. The festival is held at the foot of Roan Mountain, with traditional music, handmade craft and food vendors, auctions and hikes up to the 6,000 foot peak to contemplate the scenic vista.
Parking by donation. Visit roanmountain.com.
July 6-9. Pine Mountain, Ky.
Supermoon brings a potpourri of music, fun and Swarp to Wiley’s Last Resort on top of Pine Mountain, one of the the state’s highest peaks right outside of Whitesburg, Ky. What’s Swarp, you ask? There’s only one place to find out.
For tickets, visit facebook.com/supermoonfest.
July 26-30. Near Floyd, Va.
FloydFest is a 5-day annual music and arts festival near Floyd, Va., that highlights musical performances from stellar artists of all genres. The festival also features family-oriented camping, outdoor activities and workshops. FloydFest’s environmental ethic ensures that 74 percent of waste stays out of the landfill, and Appalachian Voices has been the featured nonprofit for the past two years!
For tickets and more, visit floydfest.com.
Sept. 23-24, Sat: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Sun: 12 p.m. – 5 p.m. Kingsport, Tenn.
The aroma of Brunswick Stew and apple butter kettles greeting you as you walk onto The Farm at Exchange Place is the perfect way to get into the autumn spirit. Heritage craftspeople dot the 62-acre expanse demonstrating 1850’s crafts such as vegetable dyeing, blacksmithing, chair-making, weaving, toymaking and more.
$3. Visit exchangeplace.info for details on this and other festivals at Exchange Place.
Sept. 29-30. Near Morehead, Ky.
Although Carolyn Franzini was first inspired to hold a storytelling festival in her hometown after attending the National Storytelling Festival. The Twin Knobs Recreation Area in the Daniel Boone National Forest provides a striking backdrop for the wide variety of stories shared at this festival.
For tickets and more, visit caverunstoryfest.org.
Oct. 6-8. Jonesborough, Tenn.
Every fall for 43 years, storytellers have flocked to circus tents in Jonesborough, Tenn., to breathe life into folktales old and new. In addition to the main performances, attendees can experience the Ghost Story Concerts, Wine and Beer Garden, the Swappin’ Ground and the (adults only) Midnight Caberet.
For tickets, visit caverunstoryfest.org.
Oct. 13-15 & 20-22. Shepherdstown, W.Va.
Now in its 15th year, this film festival describes itself as “promoting outstanding films and the arts to educate and inspire people to become engaged in conservation.” Independent, historic, publicly funded and Appalachian films are showcased. Submissions are open through April 1.
For tickets and more, visit conservationfilm.org.
Oct., TBD. Flag Rock Recreation Area, Norton, Va.
The Woodbooger, Bigfoot’s Appalachian cousin, is said to wander the hills of Norton, Va. To preserve the enigmatic ape, Norton was declared a sanctuary for the Woodbooger in October 2014 with a festival centered around conservation of the area and possibly catching a glimpse of the noble beast.
Annual search events have been held ever since, attracting hundreds of people. Past festivals have also included guided mountain bike rides, food vendors, salamander hikes, and kayak and canoe rides.
$3 park admission. Visit woodboogerfest.com.
Nov. 3-5. Dahlonega, Ga.
In 1951, the Hemlock wooly adelgid was accidentally brought to Virginia. The adelgid, an aphid-like insect native to Asia, quickly infested hemlock forests in the Southeast, causing a massive decline in the tree species.
In 2005, HemlockFest began as a music festival to raise funds for hemlock preservation efforts. Now in its 13th year, the festival has helped several Georgia labs in their efforts to breed and raise predatory beetles to combat the wooly adelgid as an alternative to chemical controls.
At HemlockFest you can listen to live music, experience primitive camping, engage in knife throwing and archery, canoe on Lake Merlin, attend interactive exhibits, presentations and kid-friendly activities, talk to experts in the field of hemlock preservation and much more. HemlockFest is run by the Lumpkin Coalition, a nonprofit organization that supports environmental quality and responsible growth in North Georgia.
For tickets and more, visit hemlockfest.org