Arkansas Folk Festival and Ozark Folk Center Logo

Lyon College Regional Studies Center

Creation and Development of the Arkansas Folk Festival
and Ozark Folk Center – An Oral History Project

Interviewee: Elliott Hancock
Interviewer: Brooks Blevins

Date: June 25, 2003
Place: Mountain View, Arkansas

Blevins: This is June 25, 2003. I’m Brooks Blevins, and I’m here at the Ozark Folk Center in Mountain View, Arkansas, with Elliott Hancock as part of the Lyon College Regional Studies Center’s oral history project on the creation and development of the Arkansas Folk Festival and the Ozark Folk Center. Mr. Hancock, a little background information to start off with . . . Could you tell us where and when you were born?

Hancock: I was born in 1937 in Southampton County, Virginia.

Blevins: Okay, and what part of Virginia is that in?

Hancock: It’s in the southeastern corner, what is called the tidewater region.

Blevins: Okay. And you grew up in Virginia?

Hancock: I did, yes.

Blevins: Okay, and you mentioned before we started that you attended Randolph Macon College . . .

Hancock: Right.

Blevins: . . . and did you get your Bachelor’s degree there?

Hancock: I got my Bachelor’s degree there and then I went to graduate school at the University.

Blevins: Okay. Is that Duke Divinity, or . . .

Hancock: Duke Divinity School.

Blevins: Okay, and did you plan, at that time, on going into the ministry, or . . .

Hancock: I did go into the ministry.

Blevins: Oh, okay, you did?

Hancock: I was in it, I think, about six years or so.

Blevins: Okay.

Hancock: What changed the course of things, while I was at Duke I roomed with Lynn McSpadden, and kind of got him interested in traditional music, and when he came back to Arkansas he started building dulcimers, among other things, and I then, after some time in Virginia, decided to come out and go into business with him, so in 1971 I came out to Arkansas and went into business building dulcimers, and we initially were at Forrest City, but the move to Mountain View was already planned before I came out here, and sometime - I can’t remember exactly what part of the year, but sometime during ’71 - we moved up to Mountain View.

Blevins: Okay. Was it at that time that you opened up your first shop down there on the corner, I guess?

Hancock: It was . . . Well, it wasn’t the first shop, because I think the first shop that Lynn had was a kitchen table in Black Rock, Arkansas, but when I came out he was working in his father’s garage in Forrest City, and he had bought this property up in Mountain View, and we came up and remodeled the building and rebuilt it, basically, and opened the shop there.

Blevins: Okay. How did you get interested in traditional music?

Hancock: You know, I don’t really . . . I’ve always been interested in it. I don’t recall, you know, any one incident or anything, but it’s just that, whenever I heard the more traditional music, it had a greater appeal to me. You know, I’ve gone through phases of listening to all kinds of music and even playing all kinds of music, but I’ve always had that interest in the traditions, and I’ve always had a natural interest in history as well, and it seemed like to me that, you know, a lot of the songs I would hear would stir my interest about particular historical incidents, and then I would read more about the incidents, and so the two have kind of gone hand in hand, and that’s still one of the things that I enjoy about the traditional music is that it’s usually tied to specific incidents and periods of time in history.

Blevins: You play?

Hancock: I play dulcimer and guitar, to some degree, and then sing a bit.

Blevins: And have you been playing and singing since you were a child?

Hancock: Ah, since I was about fifteen years old.

Blevins: Okay. Now, when you first came to Mountain View sometime in 1971, tell me a little bit about what the town and the surrounding area was like then.

Hancock: Far different from now. One of the things that . . . my most vivid memories is driving around on Sunday evening trying to find a place to eat somewhere around five or six o’clock in the evening, and there was nothing open in town where you could either buy food to make yourself or to sit down at a table, and . . . You know, there was a lot of music here, and I know there was several comments of people that came into different stores and salesmen who would visit . . . One in particular, in one of the parts stores . . . and they had a guitar laying there, and everyone who came in the store while that salesman was there picked up the guitar and played it, and it kind of blew the salesman away to think that everyone in town played music, but you know . . . This area, when I came here . . . And I don’t have the facts . . . I don’t know where I got them, but it was somewhere . . . Let’s see, and I think they said they had . . . I think there were ten families in town that had an income of over six thousand dollars.

Blevins: Hm.

Hancock: It wasn’t a thriving metropolis at all. It was a nice, quiet little community, and people made their own entertainment. I had a television set at one of the places where I lived, and it had an antenna close to a hundred feet high, and I still couldn’t get anything on TV or radio. Even radio reception in this particular area was pretty weak, and so one could get outside broadcasts, but you had to have pretty fair equipment to do that, so people were pretty much, even in the seventies, making their own entertainment and, you know . . . It soon changed. I think the first roads . . . You’ve probably found this somewhere. The first roads were paved into Stone County in the 1950’s, I believe.

Blevins: I think so.

Hancock: Fifty-one or fifty-two. When I came here, moved back . . . I lived here for several years and then left for a couple of years and came back in ’78. The main road north and south was not paved. It was in the . . . My daughter was born that year, and we drove back and forth to Calico Rock over a gravel road that was under construction. It makes it easy for me to remember that one particular date, which means it’s the only one I can remember.

Blevins: And that was in ’78?

Hancock: That was in ’78. They were . . . The state was in the process of paving the road between here and Mountain Home, so that was . . . The isolation of the area played a big importance in the fact that music did thrive here for as long as it did. It came in with the early settlers, and they just passed it on. There were certain tunes that were very prominent, that you would hear when . . . I played music and went to most of the shows that were done by the Rackensack Society, and . . . When I came here there were the two societies: Rackensack Society, which was geared more to the traditional old-timey music; and the Mountain View Folklore Society, which did a lot of old-time music, but also had a few more modern songs on the program too. The styles between the two were not very different at all, and I think personalities had a lot to do with the fact that there was two groups as much as musical philosophy, but because the people that I knew when I came here were associated with Rackensack, and that did more suit my interests, and I more or less played music with them . . . But you would hear the same tunes four or five times a night, some of the fiddle tunes - “Old Joe Clark” and “Soldier’s Joy” and “Eighth of January,” - every fiddler would probably play those tunes, and it didn’t seem to be a real wide selection of tunes that were played in public when people got together. After the Rackensack concerts, just playing in the homes you’d hear a lot more variety of music at that . . . And a lot of that went on just as well as the public performances. There was a lot of music just being played in people’s homes. I wonder if anybody’s mentioned to you the gatherings at Lonnie Lee’s, over in Fox?

Blevins: No, tell me about that.

Hancock: That was . . . I think Lonnie was a logger. I’m not sure, but at his house in Fox - now I believe it was every Saturday night - folks from Mountain View and Fox and surrounding areas would gather to play music, and he even had a microphone setting in the middle of the floor, which I doubt did any good at all, because people usually sat around in a circle of sorts, sometimes wider than others, but it wasn’t shoved in anybody’s face. When you started to play, it just kind of sat there, and I don’t know what purpose it served, but there would be square dancing - if you was in a big enough room for dancers - and a lot of music, and it wasn’t kind of as formal as some of the gatherings on the square now, where people go around in a circle and play. Everybody had a turn, and some of the best music I heard, I heard at those gatherings.

Blevins: Is that right? Do you have any idea how long that had been going on when you got here?

Hancock: You know, I don’t have any idea. I don’t know how long they had been doing that. It was a tradition of some standing, and I don’t know when it ended, either. I’ve asked about that several times, and I think there have been occasions in recent years when music has been played there, but back in the early seventies I know for several years it was going strong, and I think it was going strong when I came back, but I didn’t get out there then.

Blevins: Was Mr. Lee affiliated with either one of the musical groups here in Mountain View, or was he just kind of an independent?

Hancock: I think he played with both groups from time to time. He did play some at the Folk Center, but I don’t think he really had much interest in playing in front of the public. He was a fair musician, and for what people were doing back then, it was fine, and I don’t know even how it started, but his family, as far as I know . . . He had several girls who were really good dancers. I don’t know of anyone else in his family besides him who played. He didn’t play a lot at the Folk Center. He did play some, but I think he also played some on Saturday night as well. He was certainly a fine host, and people really enjoyed going there. I know several from Mountain View and different communities around that made that a regular thing.

Blevins: Was this the kind of a shindig that attracted . . . Of course, you were from off to people around here . . . Was this the kind of thing that was open enough to attract all different kinds of people from different walks of life and different areas?

Hancock: Anyone who chose, who heard about it and wanted to go, was welcome.

Blevins: Okay.

Hancock: Now, I never saw any incident where anyone was not welcomed with open arms. He was glad to see anyone who came in.

Blevins: Yeah. Well, you may not be able to answer this, but something that I have wondered a lot is, I wonder if for some reason Stone County, because of its isolation or something or another, was just . . . just had an overabundance of musicians who practiced traditional music, or if this same kind of thing could have happened somewhere else in the Ozarks? Do you have any feel for how unique Stone County may have been, or was this just the coming together of different forces that kind of created this here?

Hancock: From what I gather, there are a lot of places around in the mountains where people have played music. I know Salem had several different groups playing there. It kind of moved toward the country music of its day, but it was founded in the older traditional music, and I really think the thing that shaped Mountain View to hold onto the older traditions may be a little bit more . . . Because you could find musicians . . . I know of musicians in Marshall and other places who played old time music, but I think what happened in Mountain View is for one, the Extension Service got involved in trying to establish . . . As I mentioned earlier about the income in the area, it was in need of help, and the state Extension Service tried to improve that situation by teaching people crafts: old-time broom making, furniture making, and things of that nature. The result of that was a Folk Festival, and I wasn’t around at that time, so you know, mostly what I know is what I’ve heard people mention, but they held the Folk Festival, and I think the second year they held the Folk Festival, they decided to try to involve music as well, to make it a little bit more appealing to people, and at that point I think is when they asked Jimmy Driftwood, and he had had . . .

“The Battle of New Orleans” at that time was fairly popular and had been, and so they asked Jimmy Driftwood if he would maybe put together some music, and I’ve heard Jimmy tell this many times, and at this point - as far as I know - it was probably true. Jimmy had a way with embellishing stories, and that was also a time-honored tradition in Stone County, is if you could make a story a little more interesting, you did, and he had a way of doing that. But he said when they came to him to ask him if he could provide music, what they had in mind was him asking some of the people at the Grand Ole Opry and the more ‘name’ performers that he knew of, if they would come to Mountain View and perform at the Festival, but what he chose to do is gather up local musicians, and that’s what the Festival became, is a display of music from the area, and one of the things that Jimmy was particularly good at is . . . None of these people were professional musicians. Many of them had never been on a stage of any sort before. They played at home and on the porch, but most of them were good, maybe, at one particular thing or certain types of ballads they were particularly gifted at or knew quite a few. He was able to find the thing that the performer did best, and that’s what he featured them doing. And everybody would do two numbers. I think at Folk Festival they may even have been limited to one, but on the Friday night gatherings, which were actually practice sessions for the Festival to begin with, and they, I believe, started in one of the local doctors’ offices, and they just would practice and get ready for Festival, and then they turned into gatherings on the square. When they outgrew the doctor’s office, they moved over to the courthouse and played outside. They even built a stage which is still there, I’m sure. I don’t know how many stages have been there over the years, but I fell off of one of the early ones, and they fixed that after I fell off of it.

Blevins: Is that right?

Hancock: They’ve repaired that hole in the stage. But they moved inside of the courthouse and played there for a while and then moved over to the fairgrounds and played there for a while, and I think then back to the courthouse again. I forgot where I was started there, but . . .

Blevins: Well, it was a good trail anyway. You mentioned that when you first came here in ’71 you started . . . Did you join the Rackensack Society?

Hancock: No.

Blevins: Okay. At that time, I guess Jimmy Driftwood was still the leader, or . . . I don’t know if you had a president or anything.

Hancock: They had presidents and officers, and as far as I know, Jimmy never held one of those offices, but he pretty much determined the way things would go.

Blevins: Tell me a little about Jimmy Driftwood, personality-wise and just . . . Who was Jimmy Driftwood?

Hancock: However many people you ask that, you’re going to get that many answers. I think Jimmy had . . . That’s the way we started before is with: What colored the music in Stone County, and I do think Jimmy had a lot of influence on that, and the timing was also probably as critical as anything else, because it . . . I think when the Festival really got going good was in the sixties, and at that time folk music was almost considered popular music, and it was . . . I know I was on college campuses in the late fifties and the early sixties, and folk music was a big part of that in those days and for some years after I was out, so there was an interest in what was going on here. Jimmy was invited to go to Newport and other places, and whenever Jimmy was invited somewhere, he would take a handful of musicians from Stone County with him, and he was invited once to perform at a Woody Guthrie festival in Oklahoma, and the festival was intended to be held at Okemah, where Woody Guthrie grew up, but the people of Okemah remembered his communist leanings and didn’t want anything to do with it, and so . . . Or they perceived communist leanings or socialist leanings . . . And so the festival was held in Oklahoma City, and he invited me to go with him. I had two flat tires on my way to Oklahoma City that day, but it was an experience that I will never forget. I met Woody Guthrie’s wife, and got to perform on the stage several times at that festival, but that was typical of what Jimmy would do wherever he was going.

He would take someone from Stone County with him, and he would promote them very nicely. He also made sure they had their place on stage and didn’t get in front of his, but still, he did a lot for the performers here, and he saw the value, I think, in the old music, and was able to communicate that to others, and so I do think his presence here had a big influence on the emphasis staying with the traditions, and then others started coming in here who had that same feeling, and . . . He drew people here. Wherever he performed, he invited people to come to Stone County. He invited them to sleep in his barn, and he was serious about it. If you showed up with your sleeping bag, you could sleep in his barn, you know. But he did, you know, serve as a real good ambassador. He also had some problems in working with people. With Jimmy, you did it his way, and that was it, and he created some ill will and some hard feelings among other people, and there were people who felt like he misused them a bit, and he probably did. So you know, he wasn’t perfect. He did a lot of really good things for the area, and I do think he deserves a lot of credit for the interest that has grown in Mountain View over the years, so . . . He was a human being, though. He had his faults as well as his graces, but his contribution is very significant.

Blevins: Well, do you think we would be sitting here today in the Ozark Folk Center if it weren’t for Jimmy Driftwood?

Hancock: Well, he certainly was not the only person. He was the public persona, the one that everybody saw, and he also was willing to take credit for everything, too, but he was in a position where his name did mean something in different places, and he used it for the good of the area, but Bessie Moore did a whole lot of work under the scenes, behind the scenes, that very few people ever knew was going on, but she also had the ear of the President of the United States, and her name . . . How in the world . . . She’s such a sweet lady, she had to be a lot shrewder than she appeared to be when you met her in person, but . . . And she had national stature in her field, in library science, and was an advisor to several presidents, and she stepped in on a number of occasions. She never mentioned it, didn’t talk about it. Jimmy did, and so . . . There were others too, but I think . . . Wilbur Mills happened to be in a position to provide the funding, but I would think his contribution would be [that] he happened to be a politician from Arkansas in the right place at the right time. There was no great concern for the culture or anything else. He was there; he listened to people, so . . . I would limit his contribution to that, but Jimmy and Bessie and John Opitz - have you heard his name mentioned? - was the person who actually came up with the concept of the Folk Center, and I’ve talked with Eddie Walker on occasion about that at great lengths, because Eddie Walker was the state . . . was the legislator for this region during the time that interest was developing, and he had invited John Opitz to come up and look the area over, so he’s the one who really came up with the concept of the Folk Center.

Jimmy certainly saw the advantage of having it here and had some vision as to what could be accomplished with that. I think most of the people of that day . . . dreams were a lot greater than what was really possible. For one thing, the location of Mountain View is pretty far away from everything, off the beaten track, and we used to say when people wound up here, they either intended to come here or they were lost, because it wasn’t on the way to anywhere. You didn’t just pass through, and so its location, I think, has had a lot to do with the fact that the facility has not grown. I think it . . . You know, here again, one questions whether the state’s operation of it, what that has meant for it. I think if it were operated by private enterprise, probably greater promotion would be done, but on the other hand, if it was operated by private enterprise, it would probably have closed fifteen years ago, because I think the state’s operation is what’s kept its . . . It’s never had the funding to promote it the way one would like to see, but on the other hand, they’ve remained faithful to the purposes of the Folk Center and have kept it open through trying times, which I think private industry would have abandoned it, and I kind of feel like the private industry, the Advanced Projects that had its . . . that had the contract to develop the Folk Center actually realized what the real potential for this was, and they were willing to take the government grant to build it, but I think they realized the actual profit from it was going to be far less than what people had dreamed, and that’s kind of why they bailed out. Jimmy, I think, was extremely instrumental, maybe more than anybody, in getting the state to take this over, and it has been a good thing.

Blevins: Now, you were living here when the Folk Center was being built and completed, I guess. You moved here in ’71; it opened in ’73.

Hancock: Right. It opened in ’73.

Blevins: Did you ever have any dealings with Advanced Projects, or just kind of here in town with them?

Hancock: My only . . . I really never had any dealing with them. Ed Nantel was their representative. I was at quite a few pickings and gatherings where he was present, but I never sat in any meetings with them or had any personal dealing with the company at all.

Blevins: Did you know him personally? What was he like?

Hancock: Well, I knew him. I did not know him well, and most of . . . Like I said, my contact with him was limited to being in groups in which he was present. I really don’t know that we ever even had any conversations other than just to greet each other, so you know, he seemed to be a personable man. He did seem to have an appreciation for what was going on here. The best I could tell, he was pretty well accepted by the folk in the community. They realized he was doing something for them that was worthwhile, and I don’t know of any . . . If there were any conflicts at all, they were not well-known. I did know some people who . . . and was fairly close to some people who were in on the inner circles of dealing with it, and I’ve never heard them mention anything at all negative about the company.

Blevins: Okay. Now, the Center opened in ’73, and under the operation of the state. Did you play at the Center that first summer it opened?

Hancock: I did, uh huh.

Blevins: Did you happen to play on opening night here?

Hancock: I was here for the opening night, but I don’t really remember whether I played that night or not, but I performed and emceed here for several years before we moved away in ’74. I was here quite a bit, and people used to talk about what big crowds we had the opening year. In later years, they’d look back and say, “Well, we used to have such big crowds.” What they remembered was Folk Festival. We had big crowds at Folk Festival. In fact, we had two shows, I think, in ’73 and ’74 both. At Folk Festival there were so many people here we couldn’t get them all in one concert, so they would even do two concerts. And so it is kind of likely that I played . . . maybe if not the first show, I certainly played the first weekend, that first Festival when we opened, but we would also have twenty-five or thirty people in the audience on the other nights, and I think my first paycheck . . . In fact, I don’t think my paycheck ever exceeded three dollars in the first two years I played here. Nobody did it for the paycheck.

Blevins: And that was for one night.

Hancock: Well, we were paid . . . That was . . . I can’t remember if we were paid monthly, or . . . I think it was monthly, so that was for the month.

Blevins: Three dollars for a month?

Hancock: It was less than three dollars.

Blevins: Whew.

Hancock: But what was done is, there was a contract with the Rackensack Society to provide music, and I don’t know what the percentage was, but a percentage of the gate was paid to the Rackensack Society for the music. The Rackensack Society then wrote checks to the individual performers, and so what we received was a share of that percentage, but that would tell you . . . And I don’t know how many performers we had, so I don’t know how many ways that was split. But at that particular time, and like I say, I was a relative newcomer, had only been here a couple of years, and there had been at least ten years of work developing this and people had performed, and many of those people had been there from the beginning, and it was seeing a real dream come true to them, and so performing here, being paid for it . . . I don’t know anybody ever turned a check back in or didn’t cash the check, but that was not the reason for doing it. It was a matter of love, and that was true of everybody that came here. There were a few people who came here because they saw this as a stepping stone to real stardom with TV cameras and stuff, and they thought it would be a means of getting to be known, but most of the people lived here and just were happy to have a nice place to play.

Blevins: Yeah. Now those . . . I guess the first couple of years the Center was open, the music was handled by the Rackensack Society, and I have read that there was a lot of division in town because . . . Was it the - I guess the Mountain View Folklore Society - could they not play at the Center, or just how did that work?

Hancock: Actually, I believe some members of that society did play at the Folk Center. The contract was with the Rackensack Society, but I don’t know of any instance where a person was refused to play. I don’t think they recruited, they tried to get people to come over here from anywhere else. People offered themselves, and I’ve played here. I wasn’t closely involved in the selection and all. I emceed some of the shows. At that time, we had three groups, and group A would play on Monday night and Thursday night, and group B would play, you know, the other nights, and then it would be switched around on a monthly basis so that everybody got to do weekends from time to time, but you had the same people in each group, so each show had some similarities, and I do think we had some people over here . . . It seems like to me that Orville and Hazel Thompson played in those early years, and they had been associated with the Folklore Society, and I’m not sure but what Irvin Freeze might have played some, so I do believe that there were some people here that had been associated with the Folklore Society. One of the things, I think . . . At certain times the rivalry between the two groups got rather bitter, and people from the Folklore Society who would come over here to play ran the risk of actually making some enemies from the Folklore Society, and I don’t know all of what went on there. I think it was a part of . . . I know Jimmy was not always an easy person to work with, and I think some of the split had to do with a difference of opinion about things, and some people just weren’t going to have Jimmy tell them what to do anymore, and they started their own group. There was a slight difference in philosophy between what was played, but it wasn’t a drastic difference. I’ve been to lots of Folklore Society shows that there was a lot more dancing there. Practically every number would be a dance back in the early days. Although people would be singing, there would be people up on the floor dancing, and you would probably hear a few more contemporary songs than you would have, although in the early days of the Rackensack, the emphasis was on older music, but newer things would creep in from time to time. One of my more vivid memories is - I don’t guess you knew Lonnie Avey, but if you did, you could have appreciated it a lot more - of playing guitar for a kid from California who sang “Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog,” but it was interesting to see Lonnie tackling that particular song, but . . .

Blevins: Did he pull it off?

Hancock: Well . . . Lonnie had a unique style, and you never really knew what was going on when he played. He was like a lot of people, just . . . He was more colorful than skilled. Back in those days, people enjoyed . . .

Blevins: You’d rather watch him than listen to him, huh?

Hancock: Yeah. People enjoyed the . . . Yeah. That was one of the real . . . I used to sit and watch the audiences, the faces on the people in the audience, and they got a real kick out of seeing real people up on stage doing their thing, and there was no doubt about, you know, the authenticity of the music or anything like that. It’s a time we will never capture again. The people - the families - did not continue the traditions of the parents and grandparents. Times were changing a great deal. Modern life was coming - TV and, you know, everything. People were able to get in and out of Mountain View real easy, and a lot changed. It was mostly the old people that were interested in the music, although . . . Has anybody talked to you about the Young Rackensack?

Blevins: No, I don’t think so.

Hancock: Because there were a conscious effort among - and I don’t know who engineered this one; it was probably Jimmy’s doing or not, but - Coleman Gammill was very instrumental in it - he was a teacher, I think, in Timbo school, but - of keeping the young people doing the old time clubs, Young Rackensack clubs, in every school in the county, and took the kids to play at various places, and Folk Festival Thursday night show was all kids from the county that performed at that time, but then a few of them continued to perform in our regular concerts as well.

Blevins: Now, what time period are we talking about here?

Hancock: This was ’71. Well, it was prior to that. Well, in ’71, when I came here, Young Rackensack was very active in the schools. It began to drift away, I think, in the late seventies or early eighties. They stopped promoting it in the schools, and I think there was teachers that had been involved in it - were in the Rackensack itself - either left teaching or retired or got out of it. The school systems were changing. I think at that time Clinton’s standards in education became a big issue, and concentration went on other things, and so some of the extras like that kind of fell by the wayside, but I think the losing of people who were interested in keeping it going from within the school system had as much to do with it as anything. And so I’m going to guess a period of ten years or so - it may have been a little longer than that - they had this very active group in the schools that . . . were kids playing acoustic instruments and doing the old songs, and we have . . . We’ve been - in our digitizing projects - have found some of those old concerts and they were surprising, you know - some very good performances that took place. As it continued . . .

When I was music director here I ended the Thursday night concerts, primarily because it was a hardship for the schools. They were no longer interested in it. There was only one faculty member who had any interest in doing it, and she had retired several years earlier, and still went back to Rural Special to put that show together. The interest was waning a great deal, and a lot of it turned into music classes doing choruses and things, rather than individual performance itself. It was in the flux of change, too. Nobody seemed to object when it was finally put to an end, but it had had some good years and some really good performances from young people in the county, but as they grew up, they didn’t continue to play, and so the . . . If it hadn’t been for outsiders, in many cases, the music - the traditional music - would have kind of drifted away, but the Folk Center itself had to, I think, maintain a certain interest in it and, you know, we all wish that we had more local people involved in it, and whenever we can find local people who have an interest in it, we do involved them in it, but that’s one of the things we’d sure like to see changed.

Blevins: Yeah. Those early years - ’73, ’74 - was there any written or maybe even any unspoken standard of what kinds of music could be played at the Folk Center or how old the music had to be, anything like that?

Hancock: I don’t know of anything written at all. There was kind of an understanding of . . . You know, for those of us who came in here and played, it was kind of refreshing to find a place that focused on the music that we liked, and so there was no interest in changing anything. Some of the music that was done was not really traditional to the Ozarks in a sense, but it was old and traditional somewhere. And most of the older musicians weren’t learning new tunes. They were just doing what they had always played, and I don’t think that there was any . . . I don’t think there was a written or a official policy of what could be played here until Bill McNeil was commissioned by State Parks, and he was working for the Smithsonian Institution at the time, and they commissioned him to help establish some guidelines for the Folk Center, and he did that from Washington, and then he came here when they were looking for a folklorist, and he came here to do, you know, applied for that and came here to do that. I think that’s when the written rules . . . No one ever mentioned to me that they were told they couldn’t do certain things. One thing Jimmy did do is encourage people to do certain things. If he found that they were either particularly adept at it, or if it was something that . . .

Blevins: The written standards that Bill McNeil established, what are they? What are those standards?

Hancock: I’m trying to think, and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen them in writing. The thing that we always say - we promote to people - is that the music has to have originated prior to 1941, and we’ve always encouraged people to do things that are more associated with the Ozark traditions, but I don’t think that there’s ever been any strong effort to eliminate things of Irish or Scottish traditions. They’re related to what we do in one fashion or another, but the primary thing has been the cutoff date, and it’s also been the most controversial, and there are arguments about it, though. Have you talked to Charley Sandage?

Blevins: Huh uh.

Hancock: You need to, because he was the first program director of the Folk Center, and he can answer those questions about the Folk Center. They more or less tried . . . Their philosophy when Charley was the music director was . . . Great changes occurred with the advent of World War II, and they were trying to stay with music prior to World War II, and Bill’s philosophy was based upon the official change that took place in country music with the 1941 recording of “I’m Walking the Floor Over You,” which had an electric guitar in a prominent role on the recording, and it wasn’t the first recording of an electric guitar. They’d been around for four or five years, if not longer, mostly in dance bands, but the thing that it did . . . In that particular recording, it became a phenomenal hit recording all over the country, and even Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass music, added an electric guitar to his band for a while, you know, following that particular recording. The electric guitar just became - with that recording - entered into modern country music, and so musicologists have placed 1941 as the year that . . . the beginning of modern country music - electrified country music.

What we have tried to do is stay with the premodern era of country music in which . . . and the virtues of that was most of the music was southern music, was a regional music. It was passed on orally from . . . Radio began to play a much more prominent role, too. World War II sent southern boys all over the world, and country music spread to other parts of the country. It was no longer a regional music as it had been prior to the World War, so there were several reasons for holding to the pre-1941 date, and we do make some exceptions to that. Now, what we try to do when we make those exceptions is point out to people that this is a development of music, and what we have done here at the Folk Center is artificial to a certain degree, because music has always changed. That’s the nature of music is to evolve and to grow and to change, and we have kind of arrested it at a certain point in history. I think there’s a virtue in that, as the park system does. The reason we’ve done it is when you put historical music on the same playing field with commercial music, commercial music usually dominates, and people forget their roots and traditions, and we’re interest in those traditions.

One example of how music changes is when I was working at the Dulcimer Shoppe one day, I was playing a tune called, “Wayfaring Stranger,” which I learned in Virginia, which is a predominantly minor-sounding song. Lucy Johnson was in the store at the time, and her comment was, “I haven’t heard that since I was a little girl!” So I started asking about it, and she said when she was young, those minor-sounding songs were associated with the old people, and the young people did not play the minor songs, or if they did, they changed the chords to major chords, and it was an example of what young people have always done, is rejected the music of their parents and made changes to suit themselves, but for them they took the same songs and took the minor chords out of it. And it started putting things together for me, because I had noticed that one song that was done here a lot called “Rose Connolly,” which I knew from Virginia, had minor chords in it, but the Ozark musicians who played it didn’t put minor chords in it. There were several. “Butcher’s Boy” was another song that was a strong minor song, but when Ollie Gilbert sang it, it didn’t have minor chords to it, and Woody Guthrie used that tune for about seven of his songs, and most of them didn’t have minor chords in it, so it was one way that music changed from the . . . Lucy’s in her nineties, I believe, now - to give you an idea about the time frame when she was a young girl.

Blevins: So they were singing the modern versions.

Hancock: They modernized the songs.

Blevins: Yeah. I can’t imagine “Wayfaring Stranger” without the minor chords.

Hancock: They eliminated that one. She said . . . This was in the seventies, and she hadn’t heard it since she was . . . fifty years or so. The ones they couldn’t change, they dropped, and the ones they could change, they did.

Blevins: Well, do you know what prompted the Folk Center to decide “Well, we’ve got to have a written standard.”?

Hancock: I don’t know that.

Blevins: Yeah, you were gone during that time, weren’t you?

Hancock: I left in ’74. I came back, I think, actually, in ’77, and I kept some contact with people here, but what happened while I was gone is . . . Charley Sandage was the music director here, I believe, for the first two years, and something occurred after I left in which . . . Something occurred when I left, and . . . Charley left, or whatever, but Jimmy Driftwood became the music director at the Folk Center, and Jimmy was a member of the Travel Commission, and so there would have been a conflict of interest there. He didn’t take any salary. The way he avoided the conflict of interest was not to take a salary. It was a volunteer position, and something occurred at that point in time that caused Governor Pryor to remove Jimmy from that volunteer position. At the same time, he removed the general manager of the Folk Center, another position for him, and I think it was at that point in time, when Jimmy left, that they decided to go to someplace like the Smithsonian to establish the written guide rules. Prior to that, Jimmy had pretty much established whatever guidelines, and as long as he was present, he had the interest in traditional music, and his influence was enough to keep that. Without him there, there was no constant . . . nothing else to establish the rules, so . . . And no one in our park system was prepared to do that, so the logical thing was to go to the Smithsonian and do it at that particular time. The only thing, you know . . . Jimmy gave the . . . He would tell people that he was dismissed over a controversy over electric instruments. For whatever reason he was left, that was not the reason. Electric instruments had never been used there. There may have been questions about it in various places, but it was never an issue at the Folk Center, and it is not an issue now. Special concerts from time to time, electric instruments may be used. They’re not used in any mainstream program at all, so . . . There were other issues, for whatever they were, but it just meant a major change in personnel at the Folk Center.

What they did then is send a career park person, Jack Quaill, to manage the park, and when that changed, Tommy Simmons, I think, was the manager of the park at that time, and Tommy and Jimmy had worked very closely together in the development of the Folk Center, and . . . Tommy really deserves a lot more credit than he’s ever been given, I think, for the growth and development of the Folk Center, and I cannot think of Mr. Henderson’s [first name] - he’s been Mr. Henderson to me for so long - was the park director. He also deserves a lot of credit for the early progress of the Folk Center. I think he took a lot of flak for incorporating the Folk Center into the park system, because at that time it was a radical move for the park system. Now we have fifty-one parks, I believe, and four or five of them are museums. Several of them are historical parks. Several are archaeological parks, but then it was mostly camping and fishing and lakes and boating and things of that nature. Dale Bumpers made a speech at one of the gatherings of the Travel Commission in which he credited Mr. Henderson with persuading him to take this into the park system, and he knew the names of practically every person who performed here then, which was an amazing thing to me . . .

Blevins: Mr. Henderson did?

Hancock: He did, and remembered them twenty-five years later, when we had our 25th anniversary. He walked up to me and called me by name and shocked me to death that he would remember, you know. He was a unique man, and . . .

Blevins: Has he since died?

Hancock: I believe he is now dead. I think Richard Davies, who has been a park director, may . . . I guess he was on Bumpers’s. He was either on Mr. Henderson’s staff or Bumpers’ staff once he came up here in the earlier days, too. If you could ever get to talk to Richard, that might . . .

Blevins: Yeah, I hadn’t thought about that.

Hancock: He is a sharp man, and he has somewhat been involved right from the early days.

Blevins: Okay. Now, you mentioned you moved back here in ’77, and did you immediately go to work for the Folk Center when you moved back, or . . .

Hancock: I had been a woodcarver at Silver Dollar City in Tennessee, which is now Dollywood, and I came back here to spend the winter, and we were expecting our first child at that time, and from having been here before we had developed a certain affection for Calico Rock’s medical center and the doctors there, and so we decided to come back here to spend the winter so she would be born here and we’d use Calico Rock. I carved all winter, and then in the spring I was offered a part time position at the Folk Center.

Blevins: As a carver?

Hancock: Well, actually, as an assistant to the music director and an assistant to the craft director, so I would be working in both areas, and it was strictly for the summer, and my wife and I both were . . . While we enjoyed working at Silver Dollar City, we didn’t particularly enjoy the region that much. It was . . . I mean, wherever you get ten million people a year coming through, there was a little more volume than . . . We liked the region; we liked the people; but the traffic was horrible. I mean, there was several reasons, but we weighed the circumstances and decided to stay here, and I took the part time job, and that led to - the next year - a full time job.

Blevins: And when did you become the music director.

Hancock: I don’t remember the exact date. I worked assisting in music and the crafts for three or four years, I guess, and then Jack Quaill was the director then, and Joel Brady was the program director - assistant manager - and they left, I guess . . . I’m not sure exactly when, but when Joel left, we didn’t have a program director anymore, but I . . . We had lost so many music directors that I didn’t even call myself a music director for, I guess, ten years after I took it. I took it for one year with no title whatsoever, and I think up until that time, no music director had ever lasted more than three years. It always has been a controversial thing here for one thing or another, and it was one of the other political turmoils which people went to politicians to get people fired, and they ended up getting promoted, but they didn’t get removed. So I just kind of chose not to take that title, and there was no pressure to take any title, so I worked without one. I survived, I guess, fifteen, sixteen years or so.

Blevins: And now you’re the program director?

Hancock: Well, I’m the assistant general manager now.

Blevins: Okay, and how long have you been in this position?

Hancock: I think I’m in my third year.

Blevins: Okay. Now you’ve got a pretty good perspective on the Center. I mean, you’re maybe one of only a couple people who were here at the beginning - or were here when it opened - and actually had something to do with it when it opened, and you’re here now, even with that gap. What are your thoughts about the thirty years of the Center and how it’s changed and . . .

Hancock: Well, I feel like that, you know, we would all like to see more people coming here, and I don’t think we’ve ever reached the potential that we could reach. I do feel like, even though I’m a state employee, I would say it even though, I do feel like the fact that the state has been behind it has allowed it to survive where it would have never survived in private industry. It wouldn’t have survived as what it is. It may have become something different, but I don’t think it would have survived trying to promote traditional music, and we have seen a number of battles over the last thirty years of people trying to get us to convert this into something else and bring in modern entertainment. You know, they look at Branson and see what it’s done there, but I don’t think they see the whole picture. They’re only looking at one thing, and I have opposed making big changes in it, partly because we have a mission, and we feel that that’s significant. When you look at the growth of the community in Mountain View, and you drive through Mountain View and you don’t find . . . If you find the store that’s boarded up, it’s because somebody’s bought it and they’re converting it into . . . They’re remodeling it to open it. There aren’t any buildings closed in Mountain View like there are in a lot of little towns of two thousand, twenty-five hundred people. When you see Wal-Mart come to town, you know, half a dozen other businesses go out of business. Mountain View is a unique town, and I think that’s due largely to the Folk Center. It’s also due, in part, to the Forest Service and to Blanchard Caverns, and those two things together . . . I think you take either one of them out and you would see a difference in Mountain View. I think both of them are very significant.

For me to look back and see how the city has grown and - not necessarily in drawing in more people - but the lifestyle of the folks here has improved immensely. The education has improved immensely. The town itself, you know, has grown to some degree, but not overdone it, and I feel like we have really done what it was intended to do, maybe not the way it was expected in the beginning, but it has kept this little town alive for all these years, and I think the future is good for it. And then you look at places like the Ironworks and other businesses that have grown here, and they started as apprenticeships at the Folk Center, so we’ve contributed in many ways. There’s a recording company in town that was developed by a former employee of the Folk Center, but the music from the Folk Center allowed him to get started, and the Dulcimer Shoppe would have never located here if it . . . It came here before the Center opened, but Lynn would have never came here if it hadn’t been for the Folk Center. That was the reason for bringing it to Mountain View, and they did business worldwide. So the Folk Center has brought good business, and the other side of that is, our police force is mainly to keep our local people under control rather than our visitors. Because of the nature of what we offer people, we draw a better . . . There’s probably not a good way to put it, but we draw a class of people that are here to have a good time and enjoy themselves, but they do not have any destructive purposes at all for being here. It draws a good class of people that really improves . . . Well, it doesn’t improve things, but it, you know . . . A lot of tourist communities can’t say that. So I think it’s been a very positive thing.

Blevins: Well, do you have any departing comments, anything else you’d like to say about the . . .

Hancock: I guess that’s a good place to stop.

Blevins: That sounds like a good place, yeah. Well, thank you very much.

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