The thing Mountain View, Arkansas is known for is its folk music. Named the Folk Music Capital of the World, you can’t go anywhere ’round these parts without being reminded of its musical roots.
On Friday night the place to be is around the courthouse square and the nearby Washington Park. The folk musicians literally come down from the hills with their instruments to sit around and “pick” with other musicians. It’s a completely informal arrangement in which the musicians find a spot to start playing and others join in. They sit in a circle and take turns with each calling the next song. Once a song has been called, those that know it, or who can play along by ear, join in and on it goes round and round the circle with players coming and going. Crowds gather around each group and listen to the free show. As the night goes on, new groups form and eventually there are musicians all around with each group’s sounds bleeding into the next group’s.
Coming from the city, the thing that surprised me most is that these musicians are there for only one reason – they love to play. After watching the first group last night I started digging for dollar bills to throw into the fiddle or guitar cases when I realized, there were no open cases in which to throw my money. They were not playing for tips. I thought about talking to them and alerting them to the fact that tourists like myself would be willing to toss a buck or two or some loose change in a tip jar. Do they not know that tourists are willing to spend money on pretty much anything and that they could at least make enough in tips to cover the price of new fiddle strings or banjo picks??
Honestly though, it was pretty refreshing. They clearly enjoyed what they were doing and that’s why they were doing it. They actually seemed pretty oblivious to the fact that crowds were gathering around applauding after each number.
I don’t normally listen to folk music or blue grass or country — all of which were represented — but I loved them all for this one night. It was great fun just watching them and listening. The instruments, many of which were homemade, were also fun to look at.
It was also nice to see the musicians welcome kids who were just learning. When it came this kid’s turn to call the next song he said he could play The Devil Went Down to Georgia really well. I got really excited thinking that to witness this group play that song would be the coolest thing in the history of ever. But none of the fiddle players, whose role is quite significant in that song, knew how to play it. The boy’s mom said he’s just learning so he’s good at the fast ones which are more forgiving if a note or two is missed.
There are more formal folk music performances at places such as the Ozark Folk Center or the White River Hoedown but you really get a feel for the people and the culture just hanging on the square watching art just happen.