Lyon College Regional Studies Center
Creation and Development of the Arkansas Folk Festival
and Ozark Folk Center – An Oral History Project
Interviewee: Van Rosa
Interviewer: Brooks Blevins
Date: June 19, 2003
Place: Mountain View, Arkansas
Blevins: This is June 19, 2003. I’m Brooks Blevins, and I’m here in Mountain View, Arkansas, with Van Rosa 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. Rosa, if you could, start us out by telling us when and where you were born.
Rosa: I was born in Little Rock at St. Vincent’s, but immediately was brought back to Mountain View, and I’ve lived here all my life. Born in 1935, and I’ve lived in Mountain View all my life except for the short time I was away at the university [of Arkansas] and pharmacy school. I’m a pharmacist.
Blevins: Okay, and your parents were both Stone County natives, is that right?
Blevins: And what did your parents do?
Rosa: My dad was in wholesale gas and oil. He was Esso - Exxon. My mother was a schoolteacher for a while, and then just homemaker.
Blevins: And you grew up here in Mountain View, right in town.
Rosa: Yeah, right here in town. You’re right. Played basketball, baseball, went to Mountain View School, so been a local all my life.
Blevins: Okay, and went away to the University of Arkansas?
Rosa: Yes, Fayetteville, two years. Then, at that time, we transferred to Little Rock to the School of Pharmacy, which was a three-year school, making a total of five years for pharmacy at that time, and graduated in . . . Let’s see, ‘58.
Blevins: And then moved back to Mountain View.
Rosa: Then moved back to Mountain View after working about a year at Lake Hill Drug Store in North Little Rock, and opened up a small drug store here in Mountain View, and was here for twenty-six years in business.
Blevins: Now, of course, the purpose of this interview starts with the early days of the Arkansas Folk Festival. Were you immediately involved with any of the Rackensack or the Craft Guild or those early organizations that helped bring about the Folk Festival?
Rosa: Yes, although I was not a musician. A friend of mine, Lloyd Hollister - since I was a pharmacist, he was a physician - he invited me to come to his office the night that I always thought was probably the organization - the meeting of . . . I believe it was the Rackensack is what they called it. Lloyd Hollister, you’re familiar with that doctor?
Rosa: I was there that very night.
Blevins: Okay, and this would have been ‘62, ‘63?
Rosa: I believe it was, because the very first event that I recall is they then went to Eureka Springs, and I was there at that first show in which . . . The Rackensack put it on, and I was there at Eureka.
Blevins: And that was some sort of folk festival that they had up there?
Rosa: It was a very - I’d say - primitive folk festival, as was even the . . . I remember some of the performers as being Almeda Riddle and some of those very earliest ones.
Blevins: That was at Eureka Springs?
Rosa: That was at Eureka Springs. In fact, the reason I remember her name is she rode up in the car that I rode up in, so I visited with her, and she was . . . I’m sure you’re familiar with Almeda Riddle.
Blevins: Well, what did you think of her?
Rosa: Well, I was . . . Let’s see, I was trying to remember how young I was at that time, and it wasn’t my kind of music, you know. I mean . . . But my friends were involved, so I went. Okay.
Blevins: Well, that’s interesting. Of course, you came of age, I guess, during the early years of rock and roll.
Rosa: Absolutely, and of course, at college of the time, the “Blueberry Hill,” that . . . Let’s see, what was it? It was, well . . . What was it called? Anyway, it was Little Richard - that type, you know - it was a slower . . . Yeah, okay. You don’t remember either. [Laughs]
Blevins: Well, I’m obviously not old enough.
Rosa: No, you’re not.
Blevins: I’ve heard of them anyway.
Rosa: Yeah, right.
Blevins: Now, was your father also involved with any of those early groups that . . .?
Rosa: No, Dad wasn’t a musician either. He was in it purely for its economic development of this area. This area was very backward and very poor, as, you know, all this part of Arkansas [was]. And Dad had some friends in Washington, and Dad was a Wilbur Mills fan, and so I think he entered it purely for the economic, to help the area. He and Eddie Walker were friends, very close friends, and Eddie was our . . . probably our state representative, and so that was the reason my dad was involved.
Blevins: Well, let me back up a minute. Tell me a little bit about Lloyd Hollister. I haven’t heard anybody talk specifically about him yet.
Rosa: Okay. Lloyd Hollister - and I knew him quite well - was a good physician, but he was . . . He enjoyed his hobbies, maybe more than he should, but anyway, he liked the music. In fact, it’s my recollection that he went to Vanderbilt purely because of the music involved. I mean, to med school and to . . . I think he went to . . . I know he went to Vanderbilt. I don’t know if it was pre-med or if he actually went on to med school there. He may have come back to Arkansas for med school, but he went to Vanderbilt, I think purely because of the music. He was involved in it, and he liked that.
Blevins: Now, was he an Arkansan?
Rosa: Yes, he was. Sure was.
Blevins: Okay. Now, from what I understand, really, before all this stuff got to growing, he left town and started a practice somewhere else.
Rosa: Yes, he did. I think he went . . . maybe to Houston. He went to Texas.
Blevins: Did you keep in touch with him?
Rosa: No, I didn’t. Not much. He would come back here for maybe vacations or something, and he would run by and I would see him, but I never kept in touch, you know.
Blevins: How old was he at that time?
Rosa: He would have been right pretty soon out of med school, so I would say he was . . . I believe a little bit younger than me. I would have said he was probably twenty-eight.
Blevins: So he was really young.
Rosa: I think he was. I think he was younger than me. I would have been probably thirty, thirty-five, I believe.
Blevins: Now do you think that he was the main one responsible for getting those musicians together during that very first stage, or was somebody else involved?
Rosa: Well, I just know that some of the people - like Seth Mize, Almeda Riddle - some of those old people, I think, he brought into it just because of, you know . . . I think he pretty well catered to them and would go get them and pick them up, and he was just, I think, nice to them, because he liked the music.
Blevins: And this is really even before Jimmy Driftwood got involved, a little bit.
Rosa: I really . . . You know, I don’t remember, but Jimmy might have gone to that Eureka thing. I don’t recall. Jimmy might have, because Jimmy became involved awful early, and . . . But I just couldn’t tell you. I just . . . I think maybe Jimmy and Cleda may have been at that first . . .
Blevins: Well, it’s been forty years.
Rosa: Well, I haven’t thought about it. I haven’t even tried to recall anything like what we’re talking about today.
Blevins: Okay. Well, when . . . Let’s see. You knew Leo Rainey?
Blevins: And of course . . . When he worked for the Extension Service here in this region, not just county, but region, and Lloyd Westbrook and . . .
Rosa: I knew Lloyd Westbrook.
Blevins: . . . some of those people. When they started putting ideas together for that first Folk Festival, which was in ‘63, what do you remember - sort of the atmosphere around town and what people thought about this Folk Festival and just kind of that original year there?
Rosa: I can’t remember too much about that, because I never attended any of those organizational meetings or anything, and it wasn’t any reason that I didn’t. It’s just that it wasn’t particularly my thing, but, you know, it was like everything in a community. Some really saw the potential of what it might do, you know, and some didn’t want the crowds and didn’t want . . . You know. But I can’t say that I recall . . . Let’s see. Seem like the first . . . Was it down at the school gymnasium? Can you tell me that much?
Blevins: Yeah, that was. Yeah.
Rosa: I attended, but I just can’t remember too much about it. But I remember that much about it - the first one was at the school.
Blevins: Well, tell me a little bit about . . . Of course, not long after the Festival started - just a few years after it started - the whole process that eventually resulted in the Folk Center started. It was a very long process to get that put into place.
Blevins: Were you ever involved, on a personal level, with any of those dealings to kind of bring about the Folk Center?
Rosa: No. My dad was still . . . Dad was involved. Like for instance, he knew the guy at Harrison that at that time was developing . . . What was the Harrison theme park?
Rosa: Dogpatch. Dad knew him well. He and Dad were friends, and Dad knew those people, and like I say, Dad knew Wilbur Mills, and Dad knew [Senator] John McClellan, and of course I guess McClellan wasn’t involved in that. I don’t know And Dad, of course, knew the state politicians. Dad knew Faubus. Well, let’s see, [Governor Sid] McMath. I can’t remember the sequence, but Dad was in it, strictly I believe, for economic development. He had very little personal interest, and I really had less than him. Mine was just that I was friends of friends that were involved, never dreaming that I would ever be even on the [Ozark Folk Cultural] Commission or anything like that. Didn’t dream of that.
Blevins: Well, did your dad ever make any of the trips to Washington or anything like that with them?
Rosa: No, I don’t think Dad made those trips.
Blevins: But he probably did get ahold of Wilbur Mills and some people like that?
Rosa: Yes, I think probably, yeah. Well, I’m sure.
Blevins: Okay. Now of course - we were talking about this before we started the interview - there was a lot of controversy surrounding the Folk Center in those early years.
Rosa: Yes. It was born in . . . [Laughs] Yeah. Little towns are that way.
Blevins: Yeah. And for somebody like me, who’s sort of an outsider and doesn’t remember the era, it’s sometimes hard to pick through all these different sides that come up and all that kind of stuff, and there seems to have been one segment, politically speaking, in Mountain View, that either didn’t want the Folk Center or didn’t want it the way that it was being cast to them. One segment did kind of go full bore ahead with it, and that got mixed up in local politics. Is that kind of your . . ?
Rosa: I think that’s right. I think Stone County has been always a peculiar place in that we didn’t have Republican and Democrat politics. We had Democrat and Democrat, and generally speaking, I always felt like if a certain segment wanted something and the other segment, more or less . . . You know, it was just . . . They would be anti, you know. And I can almost look at it and tell you this sort of thing from an apolitical standpoint, because when I came back from pharmacy school, I can remember quite well that I knew the ground work and what wasn’t, and so I strictly did not enter politics in any way, and little did I know that someday Bessie Moore - and of course, this is further on down the line - was responsible for me being on a commission, and then later called me over at the Folk Center one day and just blew me away because she said, “I have got to replace myself. We have no way of choosing a chair,” she says, “so I want you to.” And I said, “Miss Bessie, I don’t know if I can or should,” and she said, “Well, you’re non-political, and everybody else on our board would possibly be,” and so, true to what I had originally said, I did not enter politics, and as a result, she asked me to be a commissioner - and the chairman - and I stuck to it. I have stayed out of politics.
Blevins: Well, tell me a little bit about Ms. Moore, what you know of her role in the early part of the Folk Center.
Rosa: Well, she was the dynamic force in that, for the original . . . You know, money was just so . . . I mean, there just wasn’t money available. If it had been matching funds, Stone County couldn’t raise money. They couldn’t come up with any money, and she . . . I know one time, she got the money from the governor himself, I think Faubus. I think she went down and got ten thousand dollars to just make it last ten thousand more, you know, but she had power in Washington. She could walk in the door. She could walk into Wilbur Mills’s office. She could walk in any . . . She could walk in the governor’s. Any governor, all of them. They all liked her and they all probably hated her, you know, but she had that kind of power. She could do it. Because she had served . . . and I never will forget. I was at her 90th birthday party - I believe it was 90th. Is that right?
Blevins: I think she lived that long.
Rosa: Yeah, and we had a big party for her in Little Rock, and they had photographs of her in one area there, with every president since Franklin Roosevelt. She had served during the war effort and had her picture with Franklin Roosevelt, and so she was quite an impressive lady. I mean, she was a go-getter. There’s no doubt about it, and she had taught school in Stone County, and that’s why her love . . . And she later made a huge donation to our library - a hundred thousand, I think - and it was matched by a federal . . . You’ve seen our library.
Rosa: It’s quite nice for a little town. And Bessie Moore made that, so she was somebody that always loved her roots, and that’s what Stone County was for her. There are so many stories about her and all, you know. Many of them are firsthand, but many of them are like secondhand and all. Like one time when she was a girl - I think she might have been on the kind of chunky, heavy side - but anyway, they said she walked out of church, she got weak and fainted, and somebody just went and undid her corset. She took a deep breath and she was all right. I don’t know if that’s true. They tell that, and she I think told it on herself, you know, but anyway . . . And to the day she died, she had tickets for the Kentucky Derby. She was quite a race fan. I’m sure I’m not telling you a thing that you didn’t already know.
Blevins: Well, I didn’t know that.
Rosa: Well, she was. She was a race fan, Kentucky Derby fan. Had a box over in Lexington [Louisville]. But anyway, quite a lady, you know, but did have political clout, and the political chutzpah to go and knock on any door and got results, and that’s the reason, I think, this [Folk Center] was built. Now I know that Jimmy Driftwood did come in, but during the original years, we had a little problem with local politics - mayor’s office - and Jimmy Driftwood and . . . I guess it was one of the mayors. And then, of course, Jimmy had a problem with one of the governors, you know, and they had a fuss, and I have an idea it was probably pride on both sides, you know. I never pointed a finger, but I think probably it was . . . But anyway, happily Jimmy finally did come back, supported, you know, and became a real plus at the Center.
Blevins: Well, tell me a little bit about Jimmy Driftwood.
Rosa: Okay. Jimmy Driftwood was my wife’s high school science teacher, so we knew Jimmy quite well. Jimmy was always very, very nice to Sharon and I both. Jimmy, of course, traded at our store, and Cleda, his wife, was my wife’s home economics teacher, so we knew Jimmy and Cleda quite well, and he was quite an entertainer, but he was as stubborn as a mule, you know, and like most entertainers . . . No, better erase that. [Laughs] You told me not to say . . . Like some entertainers . . . But he was too much an asset not to be used by the Center, because he really was popular. He had a following, a great following - a great national following - and should have been probably used earlier even, but you know, that’s politics. Is there anything you want to know specifically, anything about Jimmy other than . . ?
Blevins: Well, I guess specifically . . . Now, I know when the Folk Center first opened, he was the musical director out there.
Rosa: He was the musical director, and he was fired, I think fired . . .
Blevins: Yeah, you’re right.
Rosa: Okay. Then I think the mayor - I think Mr. Simmons - Tommy - close friend, neighbor up at the drug store, where I had my drug store - he had an auto parts store right next to it, and it was always a real problem for me, because the Simmons girls were my daughter’s age, and they played basketball on the same team, and even on slow days in the summertime, before the Center opened, the banker, Simmons, and myself would go out in front of our businesses and we’d throw a softball across the street. Hardly ever were we interrupted by a car. We played softball out in front of our businesses, but that was pre-Center, you know. I mean, it was so quiet you could have fired a cannon down Main Street and you wouldn’t have . . . [Laughs] But anyway, the times changed, as you know now. But anyway, Simmons had a . . . That’s the recollection of the sequence that I recall of managers and . . .
Blevins: Yeah. Now I understand that Jimmy was always pretty controversial, and he was sort of a lightning rod for controversy, and that the musical community . . . The Rackensack group split up, and depending on who you talk to . . .
Rosa: I can remember. I can remember when it . . . You know, I wasn’t involved, and I wasn’t even . . . I wasn’t at the meetings if they had many, but I remember one of the controversies they had. After their big program at Eureka, they had a sizable little nest egg - you know, a little money - and they didn’t have any . . . They didn’t even have any PA system . They had nothing. And this is the story from Hollister is that he suggested, “Hey, guys, why don’t we buy a PA system,” because it seems to me like a guy from Kansas had a music store, and his mother still lived here, had to even furnish the PA system for that first . . . that we had here the first time, and so Hollister suggested, “Well, why don’t we buy a PA system in the name of our organization,” and the thing I got is that many of them said - you know, whatever it divided out to each person, which was, I don’t know, maybe ten dollars. I don’t know; I can’t even say - but some of them said, “Now, ten dollars don’t mean anything to a doctor, but ten dollars to us is a lot.” I heard that. I don’t know if it was true, and I have no idea why they split up.
Blevins: Do you remember Lloyd Hollister ever saying how he and Jimmy got along, because I can imagine what might have happened there.
Rosa: I don’t know for sure. I never knew what transpired, because that was - strange as it may seem - that’s two people that both I had contact with. Here was the physician who was a friend, and I knew him on a professional level, but also on a social level, and then here was Jimmy, who was my wife’s schoolteacher and all, so that was one of the . . . You know, I didn’t stir. I don’t know. I really don’t know, but I do think there was some kind of animosity there. I never knew what, and I just didn’t stir in it.
Blevins: Something that I’ve been told by a few people. Now, when the company that actually built the Folk Center, Advanced Projects, was out of New York, and they first sent a representative down, a fellow named Ed Nantel . . .
Rosa: I’ve heard that name.
Blevins: . . . and apparently there was a lot of - I guess - suspicion around town about these furriners coming in and . . . Do you remember any of that, anybody speaking of that in town?
Rosa: Well, anybody that hasn’t probably been here probably sixty years or longer . . . I’m sure it’s not that way over in Sharp or Independence . . .
Blevins: Oh, no it’s not.
Rosa: But they were. They were viewed suspicious, you know, but I remember they did have plenty of shortcoming or problems, but I never did, you know . . . Dad . . . Let’s see. I don’t remember what year that would have been. Would that have been . . . What year would that have been?
Blevins: That was in the early seventies - you know, a few years before the Center opened.
Rosa: Yeah, yeah. I was not involved. He was. But I just, you know . . . And there was another manager, another . . . Seem like that company went broke . . .
Blevins: It did.
Rosa: . . . and then somebody else took over.
Blevins: Yeah. That’s when the Parks and Tourism Department, that’s when they took over when Advanced Projects went broke, and that’s how come the state to step in. And then, of course, the first director of the Folk Center appointed by the state was Tommy Simmons.
Rosa: Yes. I guess that was . . . I had jumped ahead a little on you there, because chronological . . . You know, I just can’t remember, but I remember . . . Okay, and then that was when . . . I remember Tommy being the manager. I remember that. And I remember when they rocked the buildings and all, because the same guy that did the rock work on the Center did the rock work on my house, Glen Branscum.
Blevins: Oh, he did? Okay.
Rosa: Yeah, and then Glen Branscum became a strong follower of Jimmy’s - Jimmy Driftwood’s - and continued to even run his . . . He had his little show down here, you know, and Glen Branscum was there. Glen remained loyal to Jimmy to this very day, you know, and he’s really loyal, really thinks that Jimmy did a great job in what he did. And let’s see, then, after Tommy the manager was . . . Do you recall?
Blevins: Oh, they brought in a fellow - he’s on the Supreme Court now - Newbern. Does that sound right?
Rosa: I think you’re right.
Blevins: He was here just for a few months.
Rosa: Then we had a guy who managed . . . I believe, who’s back here living now. Let me think. He was married to a lady and they adopted a Chinese baby? But go ahead. I’m taking away from . . .
Blevins: Yeah. I don’t know. I know soon after that - I don’t know if he followed him, but there was a fellow named Quaill who came in.
Rosa: I believe he’s down the list at least one, maybe at least one.
Blevins: Maybe. Yeah. Yeah, there was a lot of turnover in those early years. It seems like that the state, not really knowing how things operated in Mountain View, just appointed one person after another that for some reason couldn’t satisfy people in town.
Rosa: Yeah. I think the state, well as they know how to manage a lot of things, I think they let the city and let local politics . . . until finally I think they got fed up. I think finally the state says, “Hey, look. We don’t care what you care,” you know. Then I think they took it over, and I think that policy being . . . And it’s been quite a while in which they just didn’t pay any attention to local . . . and managed it and ran it like they did the rest of their system, and it was successful. I mean, it was successful in that they didn’t keep having local people running down there and tattling and saying the music director was hiring too many women or too many men or whatever. You know what I mean? I think they finally found a way to squelch that. It was just the managing, because I don’t they have much of a . . . I don’t think they have those problems now.
Blevins: And there seems to have been a lot of those problems in the early years, because of the political sides that were already drawn in town, and then they got tangled up with the Folk Center staff, and . . .
Rosa: Yeah, and I think probably Quaill was one of the ones that . . . You know. Probably so. Was the manager, rather than maybe a political . . .
Blevins: And he was here for several years.
Rosa: He was here for several years. He couldn’t have been here several years without there being something, you know, but he seemed to handle it. I mean, there was no big turnover. The musical director was probably the toughest of all, because musicians - artists, artistes - there’s no way to judge them on a . . . like by so many yards per second or something, you know. How do you judge them, you know? And so that’s why they had problems with the musicians. I think . . . (?)
Blevins: Well, now, when the Center first came along, you mentioned earlier that pre-Center, playing softball in the streets and just kind of a Mayberry-quiet little town.
Rosa: Oh, it was. It was . . . oh, man. Because I had my business, and I had just come and opened up, you know, just as a little home town drug store, which was my desire, but then post-Center, we could see a big change. In the summertime. In the wintertime, we could go back to playing softball. [Laughs] But oh, yeah, it made a big difference, mainly downtown.
Blevins: In many ways, helped transform Mountain View, I guess.
Rosa: Oh, totally. Yeah, I can remember, when I first put in my drug store, there was, I think, maybe two or three restaurants. There was the PX, and there was the Ozark, and maybe there was one more, and I can’t remember. Maybe three little plate lunch-type, you know. No fast foods, no anything like that. Of course, I realize this whole thing changed, but the last I heard, we had something like thirty something restaurants, you know, and the same with motels, you know. And the big program that helped the town - a lot of people probably don’t know it - that the Committee of One Hundred gave apprentice, like welders and . . . Gave them jobs, you know. Well, then they mastered it and left the Center to put in their own businesses in town. Same with food service. Same with everything involved, so actually the Center began creating competition for itself, you know, but it was creating jobs and money, and it did exactly what the old boys decided that this was a poor area and needed . . . The Center did exactly what it was supposed to do, I think, although it did create competition for itself. In other words, the restaurant . . . You’d get a good cook or you’d get a good waitress, and she’d leave the Center and could go get more money working in a local restaurant, and one of the growinest businesses we had was the welder who left the Center and became the [Stone County] Ironworks, and we had that happen more than once, so the Center did what it was supposed to do.
Blevins: Well, do you remember how that apprentice program with the Committee of a Hundred worked?
Rosa: No, I just remember that when they got that started, they furnished the money, I believe, to pay like someone who wanted to do one of the . . . broom making or whatever it is, they actually paid them while they were learning, so the Center didn’t have to pay them, I think maybe. The Committee of One Hundred is a unique . . . I bet you we’re one of the only state parks or anything around that has that kind of support, unless maybe Gettysburg or some of the great institutions like that, living museum type things. It’s quite unique, I think, the way the Committee of One Hundred was developed and has kept going. It’s one of a kind.
Blevins: Was that mainly Bessie Moore’s creation?
Rosa: I think Bessie pretty well took that under, and then I think with her encouragement, and then other people, like the little lady from over at . . . Mammoth Springs? You remember her name? She still - oh, and she’s old. She’s ninety-something, too. She shows up to every . . . Can’t remember, but anyway, and I think Mrs. [Bess] Wolf helped. I think the Committee of One Hundred was a real, real fine thing, and helped the state, helped the park.
Blevins: Well, tell me just kind of your opinion of what the Folk Center has meant to Mountain View and Stone County.
Rosa: Boy, I don’t even know if you could even go back, using records, and figure out what it has meant. As far as I’m concerned, whereas it might not look on paper and say, “This is a financial success,” you know what I mean, because there’s no way it can break even, I don’t think. I think it did what it was supposed to do, though. I think it gave musicians . . . I think it gave people jobs, and so it was a factory that produced a product, gave jobs, and at the same time, culturally fulfilled a need. In other words, it’s one of those things that I don’t know if it could ever be figured out . . . But it changed Stone County from at the very bottom, and I do think that . . . At one time, I think Stone was probably right down at the very bottom of . . . Of course, now there’s been a change, and now some of the counties, maybe over in the Delta country and all, because farming’s changed, and you know. But I think tourism totally changed Stone County, so financially, I don’t know if you could figure it, but it’s been great. It’s been a great boon to Stone County. There’s no doubt about it. You can look now at the restaurants, at the motels, and the two events we have . . . Bean Fest has actually grown now to . . . Probably the Folk Center has backed off, but the Bean Fest has kept coming. Wouldn’t surprise me this fall if Bean Fest might not pass the Folk Festival, you know. Seems like the weather is better in the fall. But it’s given us two big days, you know, plus the fact just on weekends. We have a strange situation in that the music on the court square. We have people visit us, and we’ll take them up on the court square, and they’ll say, “I don’t believe this. I’ve never seen a place where they don’t get paid, we don’t have to pay, we can walk from group to group,” you know. And it’s a unique, you know, and I agree. We’ve done a lot of traveling and never seen anything like it. There’s no money involved. Of course, my wife has always said we’re the only place that established ourselves as a low-budget vacation. She says, “We have free beans - the Bean Fest. You don’t even have to pay. Just come visit us. We’ll feed you.” And I have to agree, you know.
Blevins: Free food, free music.
Rosa: Yes! On every weekend, you can come up. Just walk around the court square. It don’t cost you a thing. But we have to have broken the record of being the free center, you know, but it brings people in, and they spend the night and they buy gas to get out of town the next day, and so evidently it’s paying.
Blevins: Well, that tradition of musicians playing on the court square . . . When does that date back to? Do you know when that . . . Was that going on back before the Folk Festival started?
Rosa: I don’t think so. I can’t for the life of me remember. I think that came . . . I think the Rackensack, but the reason I say that is that there another split, I think, happened, and some decided to have their music back at their little building - you know where that is - and some decided to have their music on the stage in front of the courthouse. Now I think that was a legitimate split, but I never did . . . By then, I had lost them. You know, if they don’t wear jerseys that have numbers on the back, I lost out on who’s leading the coup. [Laughs] But anyway, I don’t know, but that may have started the court square. I don’t know, but it’s grown to be just unbelievable, phenomenal, and they used to have a fire in front of the Yellow House, and had to stop that because the insurance companies said, “You’re going to burn this whole square down,” so the insurance companies put a stop to the fire. [Laughs]
Blevins: Can’t let them have too much fun out there.
Rosa: No, can’t get too . . . Yep, they can’t have too much fun
Blevins: Well, that’s interesting. You mentioned the Bean Fest is just about at the verge of outgrowing the Folk Festival.
Rosa: It wouldn’t surprise me. I know it’s getting close. Now, I’ve not seen any figures on it. I retired a few years back, and at that time I sold out the drug store, so I don’t have a retail business anymore that keeps up with things like that, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s not getting close. And probably will, because weather is less uncertain, I think, about the time of the fall festival. Just seems like it’s been growing, and . . .
Blevins: I wonder if that also, maybe, says something about declining interest in folk music.
Rosa: I don’t know. You know, we have seen it, and we’ve seen a declining interest in the folk talents like quilting and even decorating the houses in the country, you know. We went through a big stage where that’s bound to help, but I think we’ve seen . . . You know, there’s changes, and maybe we’ve been in a less ‘folky’ type architect . . . the whole thing, you know, so that may have put us over . . . There’s little festivals all over the . . . You know, at the time we started, there wasn’t hardly any. Now, I’ll bet you, the state of Arkansas has . . . [Side 2 begins] I haven’t set down and I haven’t talked about some of this in . . . ever, you know. Haven’t even thought about it, so it’s . . .
Blevins: Dug up some buried memories.
Rosa: Yeah, yeah, but that’s all good. I had the drug store for twenty-six years.
Blevins: Let’s see. So you would have closed that sometime in the 1980’s, I guess, or sold it out.
Rosa: Yeah. The end . . .
Blevins: Have you been retired, or semi-retired, since that time?
Rosa: I’ve been retired from financial business, but I’ve been gone. We do mission work, you know, in the Philippines. We’ve gone nine times in the last about five years to the Philippines. But Abu Sayyaf has put a stop to that. [Laughs]
Blevins: Well. There are a lot of places that aren’t safe to travel to anymore.
Rosa: That’s right, and the Philippines is one of them, because Mindanao is where we went, where the Burnhams were kidnapped. They were kidnapped a week after we were in that very area. We were at a Girl Scout camp. They were at a kind of a resort thing. We were very close, and we had quite a empathy for that whole situation, you know.
Blevins: Well, do you speak Spanish?
Blevins: Now, I’ve got to record this. Before we started the interview, I asked what nationality your name was, and you mentioned Spanish, and it’s very unusual for this part of the country to have a last name that’s of Spanish descent, especially when you mentioned your family came in here not long after the Civil War. Do you have any information on your family background, how come them to end up in this area?
Rosa: Yes. Yes, my great-grandfather, who was a pharmacist in Mountain View, as well as my great-uncle and my dad’s cousin . . . I’m the fourth pharmacist in Mountain View that actually owned a drug store in Mountain View, but my great-grandfather, the one . . . He was stationed in Batesville, Union [Army], and was made first county clerk of Stone County when they divided Stone and Izard, I believe, so . . .
Blevins: That was back in the Republican days.
Rosa: Yes, it was.
Blevins: Well, that’s . . . And where was he from originally?
Rosa: Ohio. He was maybe in the Ohio Union, but he was stationed in Batesville. I don’t know, but I think . . .
Blevins: So you’re from - at least from that branch of the family - a carpetbagger family. When you were a kid, was there . . . Were there still people around who saw your family as a carpetbagger family?
Rosa: Never did. Well, I never did have any resentment, and I think the reason was is that we were pharmacists, and for some reason, I think people cut slack for doctors, pharmacists. I mean, really. I mean, I never noticed anything. In fact, what’s funny is one of my grandchildren - now this’ll really blow your mind - one time one of my grandchildren, somebody at school said something about them. “Yeah, but y’all . . .” something about, “Yeah, but your folks just came in here after the war,” or something like that, and so she came home and she asked my daughter. She says, “Well, Mama, what did she mean by that?” [Laughs] And I told Paula, my daughter, I said, “You know, that’s the first time anybody . . . Now here we are.” Let’s see, my great-grandfather would have been . . . Great-grandfather . . . grandfather . . . father . . . me . . . daughter . . . That would have been six generations since! [Laughs] So I know in Mississippi and Alabama and Georgia it is still strong. But in this area, we were fairly fortunate in that, from Batesville all the way across the state, even in Fayetteville - of course, the north tower is a little higher than the south tower. Have you been up there and seen that?
Blevins: No, I’ve never noticed that.
Rosa: It’s true. At the University of Arkansas. Well, see, that’s where the line was. There was battles in Missouri - just skirmishes, not much - and then when you got a little further south, then you had Fort Smith and you had Little Rock, but they were mostly maybe gunboat type stuff, but we were very fortunate. A little bit north of here, though, you would have had your renegade movements, you know, that were actually pillaging both sides. We were pretty fortunate in this belt. It was controlled out of Batesville, you know. I don’t know. Like up at your home, was there much . . . Have you heard much mention . . . ?
Blevins: I don’t really know - the community I grew up in - what went on during the Civil War. I don’t know. I guess that most of the people probably left.
Rosa: Yeah. But I visited Atlanta, and I visited . . . I have a son that was a Green Beret, and so we went and visited his . . . First (Fort Benning) Airborne, and then we went on over to Fort Bragg, and, boy, they still . . . And I noticed where, just this year, Ole Miss now is dropping their rebel, their old man rebel [mascot]. [Laughs] But anyway. No, we never did. Maybe that’s the reason I stayed out of politics. You found . . . You pushed the button, I guess. [Laughs]
Blevins: Uncovered the truth.
Rosa: Yeah, uncovered the truth. But anyway. My dad was strongly involved in politics.
Blevins: Yeah. Was he a Republican?
Rosa: No, he really wasn’t, because Wilbur Mills and John McClellan . . .
Blevins: Oh, that’s right. Yeah, that’s right. They were Democrat as you could get back in those days.
Rosa: Yeah, and Dad was . . . At one time, he was a revenue inspector for Stone County under a Democratic governor, and his name was . . . I can’t remember. But it was early. I was probably not born. But Dad was a conservative. He was very conservative. In fact, he always said later in life - when he was old and passed away, and right before he passed away - he said, “I didn’t leave the Democratic party. They left me.” He always talked about how the flip-flop of a conservative Democrat, you know, which he was. So I . . . You know. It’s just funny how it works out.
Blevins: Yeah. Well, do you have any other memories about the early years of the Folk Center and the Folk Festival that you’d like to share?
Rosa: Oh, me. Let me think. To me, it was at its best when we could have full cooperation with the schools. The kids could get out, the kids could build floats, and to me . . . Sure, it cost them a couple days of school, but I really believe not only was the Festival better, the parades were better, they were more from the heart, you know, but then it began to be other things involved and the kids couldn’t be away from school, and you know. And I can see that too. I can see the crowds . . . They began to worry about the kids, loading them on buses and bringing them and taking them back, but to me, it was the strongest at that period of time, but maybe that had nothing to do with it. Maybe that’s just coincidence. But at one time, it not only was fun, but I really thought it probably taught, you know, because they would spend two or three days building their floats on various things, like religion in the Ozarks or whatever. Do the country church and do the various . . . You’ve probably seen some of them old floats on the past . . . the brush arbors, various type things, which probably those kids now don’t learn much about. And I’m very ‘pro’. Of course, you know you don’t have to talk to me but one sentence to find out I’m very pro-Center, very pro. I was in business twenty-six years and saw what it did. It economically . . . It just made the difference, you know, and so I’m very pro-Center. I think that the present manager has done great. Van Cronin (?), I knew him, I thought he did . . . I’ve just, you know, I’ve never had a beef with one of the managers, nor have I had a beef with any of the music managers. It’s done a wonderful job for us, and most of the time, the people that were anti-Center, I think it was personal, either a political vendetta or a person, you know, and we used to be . . . We weren’t big enough. I’ve always found . . . And I would look at Batesville and I would see y’all at Batesville, and I thought, “Well, they’re just big enough now that small things don’t divide a community.” We weren’t big enough, you know, to have people say, “Well, it won’t help me personally, but it’ll help the community.” We still have the small community attitude, and I think that was a lot of the fussing, you know, but it was vying for position to be . . . You know, if I’m not going to be the . . . I want to at least be the guy that names who the guy is over there, you know, and all that. But I think it’s been great. Not only am I pro-Center, but I really . . . I’ve been very pro-state parks management, too. In other words, I usually talk to them when things come up, because they’re the ones that’re going to take the heat if something goes bad, you know, or if there’s a problem, and I know the boys down at Little Rock are going to take the heat, and so I usually . . . I talk to them if there’s a beef.
Blevins: All right, Mr. Rosa. I guess that about wraps it up.
Rosa: I hope I could bring anything to your mind, at least the way I saw it.
Blevins: Well, it helps, and I thank you very much.
Rosa: And I was there.
Blevins: All right.