ARKANSAS | MOUNTAIN VIEW
Today we head up into the Ozarks to a little town with a big view and live music ringing out from every front porch. This week, we’re exploring the small mountain town of Mountain View, Arkansas- also known as the “Folk Music Capital of the World.”
Originally incorporated on August 14th of 1890, this community has been steeped in folk tradition & music since its inception. In fact, the town’s economy is largely based on tourism, specifically, drawing visitors in with its preservation of folk arts, a simpler way of life, and warm Southern hospitality.
PERSONAL Inspiration: Folk Art, Bandannas, & Album Covers
One of the main draws to featuring this town for me is that I am a long-time fan of folk, bluegrass, and similarly twangy genres of music. Additionally, I’ve always had a fondness for the personality and handmade-character of folk art in general. Art History categorizes Folk Art as “any work made without formal training from masters,” and if that’s to be believed, my own mural practice *technically* falls into this category!
I've been interested in making a piece like this for some time now, so when I first read this Mountain View’s tagline, I knew it would be the perfect fit. I’ve been drawn to a particular style of detailed patterns for some time now- from noticing them in masterful linocut prints to the ubiquitous design on everyday bandannas. I also drew inspiration from examples of international folk art- specifically, the clean symmetry seen in examples of Scandanavian Rosemåling art.
Then comes inspiration from the musical world. I wanted to find a way to incorporate that element of the town’s personality into this design without necessarily writing out the tagline this time. As a lifelong musical hobbyist and frequent letter-drawer, the calligraphic nature of musical notation came to mind as a good fit for this type of pattern making. Therefore, I added flourishes that resemble the “f-holes” seen in mandolins, ball terminals, and a treble clef focal point for good measure. It’s worth mentioning that my desire to make a piece like this was sparked by art surrounding music! The cover of the Wailing Jennys album “Bright Morning Stars” and the cover for the Apple Music “Southern Craft” playlist are a few particular favorites I drew inspiration from.
CLAIM TO FAME: FOLK MUSIC CAPITAL OF THE WORLD
Mountain View’s tagline as the Folk Music Capital is not one without substance. Though it is used to help drive tourism, locals also claim that “if a wall were put up and all the tourists kept out, we’d still be out here pickin’ away.” Here, stringed instruments are kept in truck beds and on-hand like power tools, always at the ready.
It only takes a quick Google search to find more than a handful of open mic nights, concerts, and outdoor jam sessions going on in Mountain View on any given week. On Saturdays in “season” (mid-April to November), it’s customary for the whole town to be out on porches twangin’ away on instruments from basic acoustic guitars to mandolins, dulcimers, banjos, and the like. There are even school programs in place to keep the tradition of playing these more uncommon & folk-specific instruments alive!
The musical traditions of Mountain View are at the heart of their economy all year but come to a head at the annual festivals they host, which bring thousands of folk fans to their town. The Arkansas Folk Festival has been running every third weekend in April for fifty-eight years strong and marks the start of the town's annual tourist season. They also host the Mountainview Bluegrass Festival in mid-March & November, largely to welcome overflow visitors that the town simply can’t fit on Folk Festival weekend! Local music draws massive crowds to Mountain View for each of these events- and that warm Southern hospitality keeps visitors coming back year after year.
HOMETOWN HERO: Jimmy Driftwood
In my research on Mountain View, I kept asking myself the same question: “where did this town’s ties to folk music come from?” And though it predates him to a degree- I think this man’s involvement is what really put Mountain View on the map.
Jimmy Driftwood was born in 1907 in the backwoods town of Trimbo, which is right next to Mountain View. He grew up to become a well-known musician and prolific songwriter- he wrote over 6,000 songs that have been recorded by more than 300 artists. I specifically recognized his pieces “The Battle of New Orleans” and “Tennessee Stud,” as both have been covered by renowned musician Johnny Cash. Jimmy is often credited as one of the earliest artists to amalgamate folk and country styles with popular music- so you’re welcome, Mumford & Sons.
Throughout his storied career, Driftwood always called Arkansas his true home, and in the 1960’s he started using his love of music to help build up Mountain View. Jimmy was one of the founders of the Arkansas Folk Festival (which I mentioned previously) in 1963 and was key in the creation of the Ozark Folk Center (which we’ll discuss in the next section!) He also helped build the Jimmy Driftwood Music Barn and Folk Hall of Fame in 1982, which is still an actively used musical venue.
After a long life of making sweet music and building up his community, Jimmy Driftwood passed away in a hospital near Mountainview in 1998. He may not be around anymore, but the legacy of his contributions to music and Mountain View lives on to this day.
TO SEE & DO: Ozark Folk Center
Now that we understand folk music’s ties to this town, what is here to actually *do* on a visit to Mountain View? In my eyes, the main “must-see” on a trip here is the Ozark Folk Center State Park.
Originally built by a community guild as a place to keep folk traditions alive, the Center was incorporated as an Arkansas State Park in 1973. Today it boasts several different facilities and programs focused on keeping the crafts, music, and herblore of the Ozarks alive.
What really piqued my interest was the park’s Craft Village, which features artisans from all types of folk art practices who showcase their work and educate the public on their traditions. On a visit here, you can see traditional blacksmiths at work, watch fiber and stained glass artists, throw pottery, make candles, see traditional woodcarving and leatherworking, and even learn how to letterpress! This community values and supports expert craftsmen and their art, and in return, the artists teach tomorrow’s practitioners and keep these traditions alive. I, for one, am dying to visit here and see it all in action!
And -lest we forget we are in beautiful mountain country after all-, there’s also no shortage of outdoor adventure to be had in this park! There are two attractions here I’d love to experience for myself: the Blanchard Springs Caverns and the Loco Ropes high ropes course. Whether you’d rather swing among the treetops or keep your feet on, er, underground, there’s plenty of wilderness here to explore when you need a break from all of the music & making.
As a whole, Mountain View is a small town with more talent and heart per capita than is fair to hope for. This Arkansas community isn’t simply stuck in the past; it celebrates music and craft as some of the best aspects of history we can carry forward. That alone is reason enough to add it to my list of Small Towns to visit- and pairing an artistic community with Southern hospitality is sure to be a match made in heaven... I d better start practicing my banjo pickin’ now.
See you next time, as we venture into the “C” states for a walk by the “c”-side!... (Sorry-not-sorry for the bad pun- I’ll show myself out.)
"If I could rest anywhere, it would be in Arkansas, where the men are the real half-horse, half-alligator breed such as grows nowhere else on the face of the earth." -Davy Crockett