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West Plains Council on the Arts gears up for the Old Time Music, Ozark Heritage Festival

West Plains Council on the Arts

The annual event, now in its 30th year, seeks to preserve and celebrate traditional Ozarks music and culture.

The schedule for this year features two stages worth of musicians, jig dancing and mule jumping competitions, several history and art exhibitions and workshops with subjects ranging from Dutch oven cooking to gardening.

To learn more about the history of the festival, KSMU talked to Kathleen Morrissey, festival committee member and president of the West Plains Council on the Arts.

"We had a lot of traditional artists who came to the arts council and asked about the possibility of a festival that could feature their kind of music," she said, "which at the time they called it 'old time.'"

That genre label, “old time,” is a nebulous one, so much so that the festival’s website has a “What is Old-Time Music?” page. Morrissey stressed the traditional, regional nature of old-time music, noting the influence of European folk music and calling it "pre-modern" and "pre-bluegrass."

Over time, the festival grew to encompass the humanities. For example, retired Texas State Professor Kitty Ledbetter is stopping at the festival as part of a book tour for her history of Si Siman and the Ozark Jubilee.

There are the aforementioned workshops, which emphasize the how and why Ozarks folk traditions came about. They also have an emphasis on living tradition:

"One of the unique things about living here is that a lot of it is very close to the surface, because the live traditions are still happening," said Morrissey.

The Old Time Music, Ozark Heritage Festival takes place in and around the West Plains Civic Center on June 7 and 8. Admission to all festival events is free. More information at