Lyon College Regional Studies Center
Creation and Development of the Arkansas Folk Festival
and Ozark Folk Center – An Oral History Project
Interviewee: Lynn McSpadden
Interviewer: Brooks Blevins
Date: June 18, 2003
Place: Mountain View, Arkansas
Blevins: This is June 18, 2003. I’m Brooks Blevins. I’m here in Mountain View with Lynn McSpadden as part of the Lyon College Regional Study Center’s oral history project on the creation and development of the Arkansas Folk Festival and the Ozark Folk Center. Mr. McSpadden, is Lynn McSpadden your full name, or do you have a . . .
McSpadden: That’s enough of it.
Blevins: Okay, that’s enough of it. That’s what you go by.
Blevins: Okay. And where and when were you born?
McSpadden: I was born in 1937 in Bethesda, Arkansas, which is in Washington Township, Independence County.
Blevins: Okay. And we were talking earlier before I actually turned it on; your father was a Methodist minister.
Blevins: And you moved around a lot because of that.
McSpadden: Moved around a lot. I moved from Bethesda, really, when I was about two and a half or three years old, I guess, but it’s always been home, because my grandparents lived there, and that was where we always went for Christmas and Thanksgiving and things like that.
Blevins: Yeah. Of course, you’re a craftsman. Were any of your ancestors involved in handicrafts or any kind of . . .
McSpadden: No, I taught my dad how to make dulcimers.
Blevins: Oh, is that right?
McSpadden: It would be nice if it were handed down through the generations, but I can’t come up with that story at all. No, our family, like a lot of other families, were if you needed something, do it yourself, and I learned that kind of attitude, I guess, from my father. He used to make me like high-jumping pits with sawdust and a few sticks and a few nails, you know, and he was always doing something. One of the earliest pictures I have of myself now - I was probably about two years old - and I was walking through the yard carrying a hammer. I’ve thought a lot of times that was a premonition of what was to come, but I didn’t know it at the time.
Blevins: Now how did you get into dulcimer making?
McSpadden: Oh, well. When I was a student at Duke University, Elliott Hancock was my roommate, and we both worked in the cafeteria, and he’d come in at night after finishing his work and eating, and sit down and play his guitar, and I thought, “Well. I’m going to defend myself. I’ve always liked the sound of a banjo.” So I went and bought a twenty dollar banjo at the pawn shop at Five Points in Durham, and I couldn’t tune the thing, and I certainly couldn’t play it. My fingers wouldn’t move in that direction. And I heard a friend from West Virginia, I guess - maybe Kentucky - was playing a record one night, and it had a dulcimer being played, and Billy Ed Wheeler, who was a semi-popular singer at the time, was singing and playing “Ash Grove,” and I thought, “Boy, that’s a nice sound,” you know. So I found a little bit of - I didn’t know anything about dulcimers then - I found a little bit of information about them, and in ’62 I started to build one, because they were about eighty dollars and I didn’t have eighty dollars. And I finished it in ’63, and it wasn’t any good, so I sent it to Elliott and thought, “Well, I could beat that,” so I made another one, and we finally ended up making some forty-two thousand and something of them before I quit, but we were still trying to find the right way to do it.
Blevins: Yeah. Did you find a book with instructions on how to make them, or just find somebody?
McSpadden: No. In fact, the first one was made from a photograph. I just drew off a design and tried to get the fret spacing right, and that’s very, very critical. A sixteenth of an inch, and it’s unplayable. I think I had two frets in the right place on the first one.
Blevins: Now you were in divinity school, is that right, at Duke?
Blevins: Okay, and where did you get your undergraduate degree?
McSpadden: At Hendrix College here in Arkansas. Dad had gone there, and we had lived in Greenbrier while he was a student there, and I grew up thinking of Hendrix as just a home campus, you know, and was there for lots of things.
Blevins: Now you eventually moved back, you were saying earlier, to Missouri, Farmington. What kind of time period elapses in between there? Now you were in Searcy, though, in ‘63.
McSpadden: Yeah, you don’t want me to go through the whole list of towns. I don’t think I can!
Blevins: Well, what were you doing in Searcy?
McSpadden: I was Associate Minister at First Methodist Church there.
Blevins: Okay. And you mentioned that you made it to the first Folk Festival in ‘63.
McSpadden: Yeah, I was there in ‘63. It was . . . Searcy’s not too far away, and I had gotten interested in folk music via the Peter, Paul, and Mary route and all of this. I came in from the front door, I guess, instead of the back door, and when the word . . . I had heard Jimmy Driftwood’s songs on the radio when I was in North Carolina, and I thought, “Hm. Kind of interesting,” you know. I hadn’t heard music like that. When they advertised they were having the Festival here, I thought, “Yeah. I’m going up, see what’s going on,” so I came, and there was a pretty large crowd here that first year, you know, because folk music was still very strong. And there were lots of well-known characters who were folk singers and who were noted as folk singers. It’s hard to find that many people today who are classified as folk singers. It was a big draw for the city of Mountain View and for anybody who had learned to appreciate folk music through modern singers who were picking up old songs.
Blevins: Yeah. What do you remember about that ’63 event? I guess you were there in the high school gym when they had the big . . .
McSpadden: Oh, yeah.
Blevins: Who kind of stands out in your mind, performing-wise?
McSpadden: Oh, well. Strangely enough, probably - other than Jimmy Driftwood, who of course was the star of the show, and everybody appreciated him - Mr. Holland. I don’t know if you’ve heard of him.
Blevins: Floyd Holland?
McSpadden: Floyd Holland playing his banjo. When I go back through my memories, the thing that keeps flashing in my mind is him sitting in that chair with his banjo, and he was all humped over it and singing his comic songs, and he was not a great musician at all. He was just a very, very human character, and I appreciated him for that. Got to know him better after we moved up here years later.
Blevins: And he was from Fox? Is that right?
McSpadden: His daughter lived here, and I’m not sure. I don’t remember if he lived here in town . . . I guess by the time we moved up here, he was living in Mountain View with the daughter.
Blevins: Well, were there any dulcimer players at that ‘63 event that you can remember?
McSpadden: No, I don’t. [laughs] I really don’t. It looks like I would, if there were some, but . . . I think . . . No, I’m not sure. I started to say I think that a guy from Chicago and his family, Bob Gann, were here, and may have played the dulcimer one night, but I don’t recall if it was at the first Festival or not. Strangely enough, there were not very many dulcimers around here very early. I got interested at one period in trying to document the use of the dulcimer in the Ozarks, and it never was great as it was in the Appalachian region or somewhere like that, but what I found was people - folklorists - who came through here researching folklore were basically interested in the lyrics and the music. They were not interested in the instruments that were being used. Through several contacts, I found out that there was an old fellow over at Leslie who had a dulcimer, so I took off to see him. He was a bootlegger, had made his living for years . . . It was way back in the sticks out of Leslie, and he had moved there from Kentucky in about 1920 - along in there somewhere - and his cousin, McKinley Craft back in Kentucky, had sent him a dulcimer or brought him a dulcimer, and he said that . . . Joe Craft told me that when he was young back in Kentucky that, if there was a band was going to play for a dance, there would be three instruments. There would be a fiddle, of course. There would be a banjo, and there would be a dulcimer. What’s missing is what everybody thinks of as the folk instrument now: the guitar. But Joe Craft had had at least two or three fairly well known folklorists come to visit with him. John Quincy Wolf and Bess Wolf were a couple who had visited with him and done some extensive recording of him singing and everything. Bess told me that they didn’t know anything about him knowing about a dulcimer. And I thought, “Hmm, interesting. I wonder how often this has happened.”
Blevins: Yeah. Well, tell me a little about the story you were telling about how you were in Missouri and ended up back in Arkansas and actually started making dulcimers on a regular basis.
McSpadden: Well, in the early sixties I started doing some, and I wanted to go to Scotland to do some graduate work, and I needed to make . . . I had a job over there, and I needed to make enough money to have a plane ticket back so I didn’t get stuck there forever, and so I put an ad in Sing Out! magazine, which was a folksong magazine, and sold enough dulcimers to buy a ticket back home, and I had enough to go on. And it was so much fun I just . . . As a hobby, I made them ‘til . . . really, until late ‘67 or early ‘68, when I started doing it full time.
Blevins: You mentioned that you had already, sometime in the sixties, bought a spot here in town where you had your original store. Is that right?
McSpadden: No, it was in the early seventies. We opened our shop here the year before the Folk Center opened. My brother was a partner with us in the shop, and it took us about a year to get moved, because we had to set up the shop and everything. Had no idea what I was doing. But that was . . . The year before the Folk Center opened, we opened our shop here, and I think we were the only tourist attraction - or whatever, tourist shop - around for that first couple years.
Blevins: Okay. So that would have been 1972.
McSpadden: It would have been ‘72, I guess. Since the move took about a year, I kind of lose track of exactly when you want to count it as actually moved.
Blevins: Yeah. But you had been making dulcimers pretty much full time for a few years before then?
McSpadden: Yeah, from early ‘68 ‘til then. Yeah, I was in it full time, and did an instruction booklet at the time, and another one with hymns in it that a lady helped me with. See, I don’t read music, and so I had to have help, and I realized that if people were going to play the dulcimer, they were going to need some kind of simple book to go with it, and it was the right thing to do at the time. There was only one or two little booklets out at the time, plus one by Jean Ritchie, who was a well-known folk singer from Kentucky. And I wanted one with Ozark songs in it, so I kind of let Vance Randolph do some advance plowing for me, and I found some songs in his books and heard some on tapes that I liked and wanted to put in.
Blevins: When you first came to Mountain View, was your original store or shop where it is now?
McSpadden: It was not. It was on the corner of where the road that goes in, but they moved the highway, so it’s behind where the red Dulcimer Shoppe is now. It’s now a real estate office, and the fellow who’s . . . But we sold that and built the “new” shop in ‘79 or ‘80, because we had just run out of room to work in, and we had to have more space. But we stayed on the same corner. The highway just moved.
Blevins: Yeah. Well, tell me what Mountain View was like when you first moved over here.
McSpadden: Between our shop there on the Folk Center road and 5, 9, and 14 and the junction - it’s called, just the central junction that everybody who goes through Mountain View has to pass through - there were only one or two commercial establishments. One of them was a little grocery store, now a pawn shop, and . . . I don’t remember. I don’t believe there was anything else until you got to the junction itself. There was a cafe there that I used to eat at, and we could get meat and three vegetables and a salad and a good piece of chocolate pie for about a dollar and a quarter. Now you can’t get the pie for that! That really makes you feel old, when you realize that. But between the junction, then, and downtown at the courthouse square, the Mountain View Motel was there, and I don’t . . . There were no other businesses until you got to across the road from the Bank of Mountain View parking lot, those older buildings that are in there, and as far as east of the junction, there was a G&B Texaco, and that’s about it out that way. The school wasn’t out there then, so that made it less traveled than it is now. We get impatient now. I don’t know if you’ve heard the story about the stop light. You know, we’ve got one now, had it for about six or eight years, I guess. But there was one put in several years ago, and the joke was going around that the City Council delayed putting it in because they could not decide on the colors they wanted for it. But they put one in very early on the southeast corner of the courthouse square, and it lasted just a week or so, I think, and somebody shot it out. They never put it back.
Blevins: So much for progress.
Blevins: Now, when you moved here, I guess in the early seventies - permanently - of course, at that time the Folk Center was in development and hadn’t opened yet, but they were involved with it, and what was the mood around town like with that?
McSpadden: It was varied. We needed to borrow some money to get the shop going. Somebody told me to go to SBA, that they could help. The Small Business Administration was very active at the time, funding small business, so I talked to a guy in Little Rock about it, and he said, “They’re not ever going to build that Folk Center.” Said, “You can’t get any money for that,” that it won’t be done. And I said, “Well, okay.” I didn’t know to persist, you know, so I backed off from that. But a lot of people in town, when they first started hearing about it, said the same thing. “They’re never going to build that, you know. It won’t happen.” “We don’t particularly want it and don’t care about it.” I remember the first time when I was at Jimmy Driftwood’s house in Timbo, I stopped at a service station, which was probably the only thing that was there at the time, and asked where Jimmy Driftwood lived. They said, “Right up the road here.” They said, “Why do you want to see him?” and I said, “Oh, I kind of like his songs.” They said, “Which ones?” and I’d named one. They said, “That old thing?” They didn’t care anything at all about it. A lot of the local people, and especially the natives who had been here for years and years and years didn’t view those old songs as anything special, anything worthy of the kind of attention that was being given to it by building a folk center, you know, and that attitude was there, kind of “Well, they build it they can. I don’t like the idea, but it’s not going to kill me. There’ll just be a bunch of tourists in the way in town.” There were others, though, who saw the benefit of it, and there was a new and more progressive mayor who was elected at the time, Tommy Simmons. He moved back here recently, lives right down the street.
Blevins: Oh, he does?
McSpadden: Yes. And I became friends with him, and he had a genuine vision of what he could do for Mountain View, and as you’ve probably found, what really happened is they needed a water and sewer system in Mountain View, and to justify that there had to be something in town, you know, and the Folk Center happened to coincide with the times, and so the Folk Center, in a sense, is responsible greatly for the water and sewer system in Mountain View, which had to be there because the whole situation was very primitive. Tell me if I answered any of your questions.
Blevins: Oh, you did. Before we go on, let me just ask you to give me your opinions or descriptions of some people who were influential in the Folk Center. You’ve already mentioned Tommy Simmons as sort of being a progressive, and what do you think his role was, exactly?
McSpadden: Well, of course, he was . . . He went to Washington, D.C., to lobby for the money to get the Folk Center, along with Jimmy Driftwood and a lot of the local people who go to play music, and . . . I don’t know who else I could . . .
Blevins: Tell me about Jimmy Driftwood. Everybody has an opinion about Driftwood.
McSpadden: Oh, yeah.
Blevins: Personality-wise, who was Jimmy Driftwood?
McSpadden: He was a hillbilly with a flamboyance that made him appealing to people and made him unusual. He loved to be on the stage, to be the center of attention. Any singer has to love that to stay with it as long as he did. Down to earth, oh my, yes. You go out to his place to see him, his boots have been through everything in the barnyard, and he would yell, “Come on in,” or if you went out to see him and he wasn’t home, he said, “Well, just go on in. I’ll be back later,” so very trusting, very friendly, very helpful. Tremendous memory in his younger days. Knew people from all over . . . I guess his wife, Cleda, really was his memory bank even then, because she remembered people and places and events that sometimes he would forget, and when he became more forgetful in his later years, he would be singing on stage and Cleda would prompt him to his lines of the song, which is interesting to watch, because the interplay between them was really something. He was . . . To some people here, because he became well known, they didn’t like that. I think there was a jealousy that came with it that probably happens a lot with any home boy who’s done well and still lives at home, you know. But he was definitely part of the earth here, you know.
Blevins: Would there be a Folk Center without Jimmy Driftwood?
McSpadden: Oh, no way. No way. He was not the only one; it was the interplay between several people and the times that brought the Folk Center about. No, it wouldn’t have been done without him, because he was able to capture enough attention to make it possible. That’s on the music side. On the craft side, I was active in the Ozark Foothills Craft Guild from very early, and the craft people of the time had a lot to do with creating the crowds for Mountain View and providing us a stage for the music and a setting for the music to be in, so I think they all worked together, you know, all those factors, in bringing it about. It was no single person; it was no single group; it was lots of people.
Blevins: Well, tell me about the Craft Guild. You got involved with that, I guess, in the late sixties?
McSpadden: Yeah, before I moved up here, even, because I was making dulcimers and needed to eat, needed a place to sell dulcimers if I made them, you know, so from coming to the Festival up here, I don’t remember exactly what year I joined the Craft Guild, but I know it was before I moved up here, which would have been probably ‘67. It started out very small and eventually got up to three or four shops around north Arkansas, and Leo Rainey, of course, was very influential in pushing the Guild and getting it started and seeing that there was a tourist market for crafts, and he and Tommy Simmons went on that. Edwin Luther was president of the Guild for several years and was very influential in helping get it going, but they went to Gatlinburg and saw what had happened out there. I don’t think any of them wanted to have the kind of traffic and be the size of Gatlinburg - I really don’t think anybody wanted and we never will be, which is good - but they found people making baskets and doing wood turnings and all kinds of craft things, and Leo helped locate teachers to come here and teach people how to do some of these things that used to be done here years ago but were forgotten because they were no longer really necessary. And his insight into what that meant for this area was - Leo Rainey’s - was very, very . . . Initially, I think Tommy Simmons, as mayor, saw it as a chance to have people coming into town and providing jobs. I don’t know what else I can tell you about that.
Blevins: Okay. The Folk Center opened up in ‘73, and by that time it was under State Parks & Tourism development, I guess it was. Before that, the actual buildings and all that kind of stuff had been built by a company out of New York, I believe . . .
McSpadden: Advanced Projects.
Blevins: Advanced Projects, and did you ever come into contact with any of the representatives from . . . There was an Ed Nantel, I believe. What do you remember about Nantel and Advanced Projects?
McSpadden: It was strange, because to us he was a Yankee from way off who didn’t know anything about the people here. For instance, he asked me how I got the dulcimers hollowed out on the inside. You don’t do that. You glue up the whole thing, you know. [laughs] But I don’t think . . . The company had a hard time understanding and dealing with the people in Mountain View. They thought if they came in and did the project - built the Folk Center - and, granted, it was really what they were supposed to do - that everybody would fall at their feet, and it didn’t happen. Then the company got into trouble, you know, went into bankruptcy and Parks and Tourism Department finally saved us from losing the whole Folk Center. It was sort of touch and go there for a while. I don’t think Parks and Tourism really wanted it. Sometimes now they think they’d like to get rid of it.
Blevins: I have heard different people say that - and you’ll probably remember talking about this - that a lot of people around town thought that the Mob was behind Advanced Projects or that they had connections and that that aspect of the company scared a lot of people locally.
McSpadden: Yeah, it did. I think, really, it wasn’t that people here actually thought the Mob was involved. We Ozark people tend to be a little bit suspicious of outsiders before we get to know them, and the personnel with Advanced Projects were so much . . . They had so little understanding of the area and the people here, I don’t think they would have ever been able to operate the Folk Center. I don’t think they could have managed it, you know. There would have been an explosion somewhere along the way, which nearly happened anyway, but . . . Now, I don’t know anybody who . . . There was no evidence of any Mob connection or anything like that. It’s . . . I won’t put anything like that on tape.
Blevins: Yeah. The Center opened in ‘73. You mentioned that you were, at the beginning, the craft director.
McSpadden: Yeah, I was vice president of the Craft Guild, and they were looking for somebody to kind of round up craftsmen to put in the buildings out there, and we had some trouble about that, because they had nothing in their budget for decorating buildings or buying fixtures. It was just a blank building, and they expected the craftspeople to come in and do this almost free, so there was a wrangle till that got straightened out where there could be a useful operation, but I was paid partly by the Craft Guild. It had the contract to run the gift shop there, along with putting craftspeople in the buildings and getting them set up, and the craftspeople had no money of their own, really, to set up the shops and do the decorating and so on, and that system of me working for both the Guild and the Folk Center was not a happy one, you know. In fact, Tommy Simmons and I got into some trouble over it. His wife was one of my finer employees in the shop . . . But we worked through it. We worked through it.
Blevins: So the original idea, basically, was to have the craft section be self-supporting, wasn’t it?
McSpadden: Right, and operated through the Craft Guild. But that split up the authority so much that it was not going to work unless the authority was centered either with the Craft Guild or with the Folk Center, and it’s best that it went the way it did. I didn’t think so at the time, but it is, because there’s one overseeing unit that can kind of control or guide everything there, and it’s much better. It just wasn’t working the other way. But I took the job only as a chance to help get started, and the understanding was, soon as I found a replacement, I could quit, so I did.
Blevins: How long were you in that position?
McSpadden: Just three or four months. I don’t remember exactly, but it was not long.
Blevins: Just more or less the first tourist season there, I guess.
Blevins: Now what was attendance like that first year?
McSpadden: It was pretty good, and I don’t remember, you know, numbers. My recollection of it is it was more than most townspeople thought were going to come, and less than some people who were in management would have wished for. What I saw as happening is, I thought, “Okay, say we get seventy-five thousand or a hundred thousand here for our Festival. What’s going to happen is that crowd’s going to spread out over the whole season. We’d still have a crowd for our Festival, but we’re going to get people who’re coming up when the Festival’s not going on, and it’s going to be family oriented,” which it is. But as far as attendance, I can remember lots of times when the auditorium was nearly full. A good crowd of people is like half of the population of Mountain View, and it had an impact, you know, an immediate impact. What else about that?
Blevins: When the Center first opened, Jimmy Driftwood was the musical director.
McSpadden: He was music director.
Blevins: And, of course, by that time there was a split in the Mountain View musical community. I guess by that time there was a Rackensack group, Jimmy’s group, and then there was also a Mountain View Folklore Society, and I know that there was a lot of controversy in those early years about who was going to play at the Center and what kinds of music would be featured at the Center. What do you remember about all that?
McSpadden: Part of it’s a simple power struggle that went on, and it did. A lot of the people who pulled away from the Rackensack - which I was a member of - did so, and it was an issue of control - Who’s going to control this? - Stemming partly from jealousy over popularity of other people, but it stemmed partly from the kind of break with the Folk Center and Jimmy Driftwood. Stemmed partly from jealousy, and Jimmy was the music director, and some people didn’t like it because he was singing some of his songs that were later songs that weren’t . . . They were pop folk music, and based on really old traditions and everything, but they said, “Why can’t we sing our songs if he can sing his songs?” And they saw it as not being fair. And that hurt a little bit and took a while to work through that. Unfortunately, Jimmy was backed off from the Folk Center and wanted to disclaim it then during that time. Later on he came back for some things, and I think kind of . . . He made friends with people that he hadn’t been friends with for some time. It was a tough time to go through. It really was, because there were accusations flying one way and the other, and misunderstandings - a lot of misunderstandings.
Blevins: Yeah. Now in those early years . . . We’ve talked a little bit about the music side controversy, but there were also people who complained about the hiring of certain craftspeople, some of them who weren’t natives of the area, and things like that, especially in those first couple years of the Folk Center’s existence. What do you remember about that?
McSpadden: Well, I was from off. At the time, I was born twenty miles across the river here, but I’d been off the reservation a couple of times, and I think the people viewed me as a foreigner, so I think I was involved in that some, but when you start looking at . . . People were saying, “Well, we don’t like these foreigners coming in and doing these kinds of things.” Practically, what choice did we have? There were people from all over, primarily from around here, though. Mostly the ones we got in the craft shops at the Folk Center that first year were local people. There were some who weren’t, but they were filling slots and doing craft activities that we had no one who could do the thing that we wanted them to do, or would. So it was a practical thing. You’re going to have a building here, and you want a candle maker in there, and you go out all over Stone County, and no one makes candles or would want to make candles, even though their ancestors may have made them at home out of necessity. Like one of my great-uncles over at Bethesda got electricity put in when it came to Harmontown. The story around was that he was tight with a penny - and he didn’t have many to start with - so that’s okay. The story was that he would turn his electric light on in order to find his matches to light the lantern. But people around here didn’t use candles, you know, that late. They used lanterns for their light, or coal oil lamps. And when you can’t find somebody who can do that particular thing, and you’ve got people coming here, and you know it’s a tradition . . . People did it at home; they did it for their own use. They didn’t do it for money. That aspect of it made it very hard to get local people for everything, but a lot of the local people didn’t want to fool with this at all, and there’s still a few that way.
Blevins: Yeah, it does. Now one of the original concepts of the Folk Center, which never materialized, was more of a training center, that it would work to train local people in these crafts, more so than be kind of a tourist type of place.
McSpadden: Yeah, but what are you going to do with the crafts? I mean, you can’t just have people learning to do crafts, not really serious, but like . . . My mother-in-law lives right next door. She’s a quilter. You can spend a lot of time doing quilting. What are you going to do with it when it gets done? She gives them to this person and that person, and when I started making dulcimers, I’d made three or four and given them to cousins or something, you know, and I thought, “Hey, I’m spending too much money for pegs and strings and wire and wood. I’ve got to have five dollars, anyway, to cover my costs on these things.” And so I charged them, you know. Cousins, good friends, whatever. I said, “You pay for the parts. I’ll make the instrument.” I’m still doing that, by the way. I make guitars for the Folk Center for the guitar contests that they have over here, and they pay me for the parts.
Blevins: Yeah. Well, how did . . . Now, your business opened in ‘72, or about a year before the Folk Center. How did the opening of the Folk Center affect your business, the traffic in there?
McSpadden: The first two or three years, it did an awful lot for us. Probably if we hadn’t moved here at the time we did, and been able to get through that first winter - that’s the hard time for people in the tourist business - we probably wouldn’t have survived at all. The longer the Folk Center and music and festivals have gone on, the less important that one weekend has been for us. In fact, believe it or not, for . . . oh, since about ‘82, ‘3, ‘4 - along in there - our average daily sales in our shop were less during the Folk Festival weekend than they were the rest of the year, taking into account that, you know, we were closed to the public for three or four months out of the year, and averaging those days in, we sold less during the Folk Festival than we did on the average day year-round. So it became less and less important to us, partly because I started reaching out, and I saw that we could retail what we could do, and that was what we decided, and so I started going to dealers and we ended up with like about a 100, 115 dealers who took our instruments and sold them . . . But it became less essential to us, so by spreading out all over the country, I had a better market, and it was like wearing snowshoes. In deep snow, you spread out your market, and if one area goes bad for one year, the other one maybe can support you, unless they fall through at the same time. Strangely enough, the music trade . . . When the economy is down and things are not looking as well is when business is best. If a business is really going, I think it would . . . Now, the business community, stock market’s really going, you don’t do as well in the music industry. People are buying houses, cars, property - the big ticket items - rather than smaller items. Had an old friend that I knew by phone and writing. He had a small violin supply shop in the East Coast. He said back during the Depression, he said he never took his sales people off the road. He had a couple of guys that he hit the road and sold. He imported pegs and stuff from Germany. He said, “I never took my salesmen off the road. We did fine right on through the Depression.” And I kept thinking about that all the time. Hey, it’s worked out. That’s the way it’s been in my shop, too. I don’t know what that’s got to do with old-time Mountain View. Something, maybe.
Blevins: Well, it’s interesting, anyway. I never had thought of that before. Now, when did you sell the shop?
McSpadden: Two and a half years ago. Eighth of January. Is that significant?
Blevins: Yeah, that’s a fitting date.
McSpadden: Some people may not know “Eighth of January,” Jimmy Driftwood’s song about the Battle of New Orleans.
Blevins: Was that on purpose? Did you plan that, or did it just kind of happen that way?
McSpadden: No. We wanted it to happen on the last day of the year so we wouldn’t have financial stuff carrying over into the next year, and just because of technicalities with the transfer, we couldn’t do it. Everything was nearly ready, but not quite, so it was actually the 8th of January, which I thought was funny. That [“Battle of New Orleans”] was the first song, I guess, I heard anybody from Mountain View do, and I heard it on a beach in North Carolina.
Blevins: Is that right.
McSpadden: Yeah, Jimmy Driftwood’s song being sung by . . .
Blevins: Over the radio, or was somebody singing it?
McSpadden: Jimmy was singing it on the radio. I don’t know if he had recorded it by that time, but somebody was interviewing him, and he was singing it.
Blevins: Yeah. And you were listening to that in North Carolina.
McSpadden: On the beach near Swansboro, North Carolina, there on the coast.
Blevins: Had you heard of Jimmy Driftwood before then?
McSpadden: No. No, not a word about him. But for two or three years I lived in Black Rock in Lawrence County, and they wanted to have a festival, an event, and so I was appointed to a board to get it going, and we had a big . . . what we called the Lawrence County Heritage Festival. We had music and I was in charge of the music part of it, getting people to come in. So I got Jimmy to come over to that, and that was the first time I actually met him. That would have been in ‘64. I believe that’s when it was. I had just heard him before, at festivals, and never really met him. I called him and asked him to come over there. I wrote him, though, and he never would answer in writing. I talked to him on the phone. I believe there was a phone. And I was scared, because there were probably . . . Do you know where Lynn, Arkansas is? We had the music part of it down there. We had it in different locations around the county, but the music part . . . I didn’t know if Jimmy was going to show up or not, and it scared me [laughs], because he was going to emcee it, be the main person and the main singer, and he did. Thankfully. [laughs]
Blevins: He was probably a pretty good draw.
McSpadden: Oh, yes. His name was . . . We were interested in that, and his music fit in with what we were doing. Yeah. He was a draw, a big draw. He has taken people from around here, like that Gilbert lady [Aunt Ollie Gilbert] who knew many, many songs, to the East Coast to some of these big festivals and they were instant stars, you know. And there’s very few of them had it go to their heads. You knew them. Like Almeda Riddle, who was an excellent folk musician. She was just plain Almeda wherever she sang.
Blevins: Yeah, and she was probably bigger than any of them besides Jimmy, I guess.
McSpadden: Yeah, she was for a while, because she was so unique and so much . . . a hundred years out of style that everybody loved her singing. Besides that, she was a good musician. There are a lot of folk musicians who aren’t really good musicians, but she was. People loved to see her waving her hand, keeping . . . You’ve seen the film of her, something I’m sure, waving her hand, keeping time with the music, singing ballads that she heard snippets from years ago. A nice connection you made with your own past.
Blevins: Tell me what you think . . . Of course, now it’s been more than thirty years since the Folk Center’s opened. Something else to make you feel old, I guess.
Blevins: What’s your opinion of what the Folk Center’s done for Mountain View? Positive, negative . . . What do you think, after thirty years?
McSpadden: The impact on the city itself?
McSpadden: I think a lot of people have come to realize that history and tradition of the area is an important thing, and a lot of local people recognize that. Not all of them, but a lot of them. I think that’s valuable. I think the economic impact has been extremely valuable because, of the seventy-five counties in Arkansas, we were seventy-third or something, in per capita income, before the Center was built. I really don’t know where we are now, but I know people are in better shape. They have chances for more jobs than were ever around here before the Folk Center opened. At least some people have a real sense of pride in what people around here have been able to accomplish, and I think if Advanced Projects had tried to create that sense of pride, it would never have been . . . I don’t think people idolize the Folk Center . . . because its got some faults and peculiarities and voices coming out of Little Rock telling you what to do and so on. Economically and kind of . . . emotionally, it’s been a real help. I would probably never have moved here if I hadn’t been interested in folk music to start with. If the Folk Center weren’t going to be here, it would have not been, at that time, a good place for me to be. I like . . . I don’t go to the Folk Center all the time. People used to kid me about not playing the dulcimer . . . (?) . . . bus drivers hollered at me. They was doing something with music, and I was doing other things. I burned myself out, doing that day and night for years, and I’m gone. I’ve lost a lot, . . . (?) . . . when you do it all the time, so I don’t go to the Folk Center that much, you know, and gradually slowed down going over the years. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the music. I’ve been so engrossed in it, both mentally and physically, for so many years that I would have done what a lot of other people do, and that’s work too hard at one thing continually until your burned out, and you really don’t appreciate anything. At least that’s my way of rationalizing it. But I do enjoy going out there occasionally and hearing some people that I haven’t heard before and that type of thing. Of course, we sponsor the dulcimer contest out there, and I enjoyed seeing the amazing things that people can do. It’s what I was proud of . . . (?)
Blevins: Do you have any other memories or facts you’d like to put down before we conclude?
McSpadden: No, I’ve got a lot of things, but some of them don’t need to be on there, probably. [laughs] When you stand back from it and gain some perspective, put things in place, I’m glad to have been here during this whole time. It was never easy to live with some of the squabbles and things you had to go through to get where the Folk Center is now, or to see it find visions of where it was going to be in the future, I don’t know. They’re rethinking things continually, I think, maybe like expanding the times and kinds of music that are played there. Years ago, we started going to Silver Dollar City to sell instruments up there, and that’s when it was primarily looked upon as an 1880 Ozarks village, and all the crafts and everything else there were that particular thing. All the music was pretty much old-time music, the kind you find around here. But times have changed, and people won’t go to that anymore. If you see Silver Dollar City’s ads on TV now, it’s all fantastic things with roller coasters and action things. They still have some emphasis on the old-time things . . . It still looks old-timey on the square. There’s atmosphere to it. They would not still be existing if they had only done crafts and music the way they have at the Center. You have to embrace some of that change, because it’s going to happen anyway, and if you don’t, it’s going to swallow you up. They do that and Silver Dollar City’s management, they made a response to some of the current needs of the people for recreation and entertainment and so on. The Folk Center knows it has to change too. It’s not going to be static. What people want is slippery and it moves around. You know, you regret Mr. Floyd Holland not being there and seeing him on stage. That’s a vivid image in my head with him sitting . . . (?) You can say, “Oh, all the old-timers are all gone.” Bookmiller Shannon, the banjo player, you know, with great big fingers that were bigger than thumbs on most people, and so he used . . . (?) Didn’t look like he could play a banjo at all, no way, because his fingers were big as thumbs. It was really neat to hear him play, just out of a love for entertaining people. And that’s no longer there. They’re Yankees singing out there. Don’t tell everyone. [laughs] There are people from all over who come here who get their start at . . . (?) . . . kind of laid-back atmosphere that’s around here. And they enjoy the music and they’re playing at the Folk Center because they enjoy it, and some of their songs they may have learned from the radio rather than family tradition, but they’re having an impact, changewise, on the Center. Bill McNeil’s done a good job of keeping the music . . . kind of keeping it where it somewhat represents what’s happened. But if the Folk Center had stayed the same as the year it first opened, it would be dead, be gone. So you’re going to lose some of those things, but you gain some kind of permanency in the middle of all the flux that’s there. I think the value of the . . . (?). It’s in there somewhere.
Blevins: Well, are we through?
McSpadden: That’s up to you.
Blevins: Okay. Well, I appreciate it. You’re just through any time, huh?
McSpadden: I’m through any time.
Blevins: Well, Mr. Lynn McSpadden, I appreciate it.
Blevins: Thank you very much.