Shindig on the Green celebrates 51st season in downtown Asheville
You can find Laura Boosinger in the back of a building in downtown Marshall, right next to the Post office. WART, 95.5 Radio, is set up in the front window. Upon entering, you may or may not see Boosinger, who is Executive Director of the Madison County Arts Council, right away.
More likely, you’ll have to walk to the back of the old structure because she’s busy in her office and probably won’t hear the creaking boards as you come through.
That’s okay, though. It’s Madison County. People strolling around is normal.
Boosinger knows Shindig on the Green. The beloved Appalachian mountain music festival at Roger McGuire Green at Pack Square Park in downtown Asheville, is celebrating its 51st season this summer.
She’s been involved with the festival in one way or another since her college days at Warren Wilson in the late 1970s and she now emcees at least twice a year.
“Don’t call it old-timey. (Shindig on the Green) is all old-time music. It’s important to get it right,” Boosinger stresses. Old-time music is mostly an upbeat, instrumental music, where the clawhammer banjo is king. The fiddle and guitar round it all out.
Shindig on the Green is also known for the headliner bluegrass bands, ballad singers, mountain dancers and cloggers and storytellers who perform on the mainstage, but it’s the informal jam sessions that bring many a mountain musician into Asheville.
Dates in 2017 for Shinding on the Green:
August 12, 19, 26 • September 2 Free admission
“They could care less about being on stage,” Boosinger explains. They’re there to visit. “Music is their conversation.” Musicians come from miles around, from such counties as Madison, Haywood, Pickens, Yancey, Rutherford and more.
“There’s even a few musicians who visit from around the world to join in. Some take their one or two week vacations here. One musician comes from Japan and stays here six weeks,” Boosinger happily explains.
And Boosinger should know. Thanks to taking a banjo class in college, and going to the festival with a friend who was the daughter of one of the festival’s first organizers, Boosinger was invited to join in with some of the old-time musicians at their homes back in the day and has earned her own reputation in the music world.
She is an award-winning performer and recording artist whose primary focus is the interpretation of traditional music from the Southern Appalachian region. She recently earned a prestigious place in the Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame in Wilkesboro.
Boosinger likens the jam sessions to house gatherings that have taken place over the years in various living rooms around Western North Carolina. One big happy family of mountain musicians.
Some of the jam session groups are made up of regulars who play in the same place every time. Like in City Hall Portico or under the beloved magnolia tree. Regulars know who has dibs on what locations.
Often, however, groups are made up on the spot.
“What’s really fun is to get there before the house stage opens and just see who shows up,” Boosinger explains. Once there, spontaneous circles of musicians – experienced or beginners, young and old – gather to create their own magical mountain music world.
Dancers twirl nearby and listeners stand close, hoping to experience moments that take you back in time, up to the hollers where everyone really does know your name. It’s not unusual to find musicians playing a handmade instrument pass down through generations.
And if you’re lucky, you’ll even find someone who’s invented their own kind of musical delight – a washtub base that fits in just fine. Sometimes there is singing; sometimes there’s not. It is a jam session, after all.
There’s another part to Shindig on the Green that Boosinger loves. And that’s how it brings together families for the event. The families who listen and those who participate.
“The younger people get to learn from the older musicians who feel it’s their responsibility to pass the traditions on to the younger musicians. It’s a nice, safe, comfortable space to enjoy a Saturday night. It’s nice to know a square dance and some mountain music can pull everybody together.”
**Official start is 7 p.m., or “along about sundown,” but folks gather earlier to stake out their seating. Attendees are welcome to bring lawn chairs, blankets and picnics. Food and drink are also available for sale on at the event. No alcohol or pets allowed.
For more information: www.folkheritage.org/shindigonthegreen.htm
All photos by Aaron Dahlstrom
Tracy D. Hyorth has been writing about Asheville and Western North Carolina since the late ‘80s and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org