Lyon College Regional Studies Center
Creation and Development of the Arkansas Folk Festival
and Ozark Folk Center – An Oral History Project
Interviewee: Mrs. Janice Sutton
Interviewer: Isabelle Racine-Tenace
Date: June 18, 2003
Place: Mountain View, Arkansas
Tenace: [This is June 18th ] 2003. I am Isabelle Racine-Tenace, and I am here in Mountain View with Janice Sutton 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. All right. Can I call you Mrs. Sutton, or do you prefer Janice?
Sutton: Janice would be fine.
Tenace: Thank you. I am going to ask you, Janice - where were you born?
Sutton: Right here. Actually I was born in Batesville, only because I was taken to Batesville to be born, I lived here.
Tenace: Okay, and so you were raised here, right?
Tenace: Okay, and do you have a background in music or craft or . . .?
Sutton: No, I don’t have an education in music, but . . . And I don’t do stringed instruments, and I don’t . . . Not Ozark traditional music. I play piano but I am very interested in Ozark music.
Tenace: I was just wondering for your background.
Sutton: And my family has been very active in Ozark music. Actually, my grandfather played the banjo with my brother on the stage of the second Folk Festival when it was held in the old high school gym.
Tenace: Oh, okay. So your family is involved with all that.
Sutton: Yes, yes.
Tenace: Okay, so I am going to ask you about the development of the Folk Festival and I wanted to know - if it doesn’t pertain to you, you can tell me about your family - how you got involved with the Festival and its planning or how your family was involved.
Sutton: When the festival actually started, the very first modern-day festival, which I believe was 1963, I was away in college. So I was not involved personally, but my dad was on the Festival committee, so I was very aware of what was happening, and I was always at home for the Festival. We moved back here in 1968, and from that time, really, my involvement was as - I suppose you would say - a community volunteer. And in the earliest Festivals were probably more community oriented than they are now. Home demonstration clubs all participated; the schools participated much more than they do now. In fact, we had two parades instead of one. There was one on Friday, and it was strictly the school parade, and there were very few business oriented . . . We didn’t have an active Chamber of Commerce or that kind of thing, so everybody just pitched in.
Tenace: Oh, I see, and you said you moved back . . . from?
Sutton: Yes, we had lived away; we had lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for a while.
Tenace: So you were just a volunteer at first, just to help your dad?
Sutton: Yes, and just as a community volunteer.
Tenace: So according to you, how and why was this festival developed?
Sutton: Well, for many people I think it was seen as a . . . as the saving of the economic development of this community. It was a way to attract people, and we realized - and I say we, the people who were leaders in the community at that time - realized that we had something that people were interested in seeing. And a way to attract them was to have a festival so they could come here and see it.
Tenace: And who were the major persons involved in the process? And what can you tell me about these people and their roles?
Sutton: In the very earliest days, Mr. Harold Sherman - who is no longer living, but was a noted author - lived here, and he was very active in the early planning. My dad, Glen Hinkle, was a member of the Festival committee. Eddie Walker was a very active member; of course city and county officials were all involved. Guy H. Lackey, Jr., who we all knew as Buddy Lackey, who no longer lives here, was also very involved. Of course, the newspaper people were, and I believe at that time probably one of the most active civic groups might have been the Lions Club. And you know, in a small community what happens is whatever group is there, that’s the instrument through which people work And a lot of these people, I think, were very active.
Tenace: Well, you’ll be happy to know that on the specific people to ask about, your dad is there.
Sutton: Is he?
Tenace: On the little list, so I wanted to let you know.
Sutton: And I didn’t mention, of course, Edwin Luther I’m sure is probably on your list, and he was so very involved in the crafts area.
Tenace: I have on my list here a couple of names I would like to ask you about. Tell me about your dad, Jimmy Driftwood, Leo Rainey, Lloyd Westbrook.
Sutton: Yes, Lloyd Westbrook was the county agent at the time, and he no longer lives here but, yes, he was very, very active in that group. Jimmy Driftwood, of course, died a few years ago, and he was really a famous person from here, and he was very involved. There were many, many people, all coming from a little bit different perspective: some from music, some from crafts, some from business, economic development, and all working together.
Tenace: And what about Leo Rainey?
Sutton: Leo Rainey did not live here, but he was part of the Area Tourist Development Council, and he was very, very instrumental in getting the people together and in being able to help reach out.
Tenace: And so your dad . . . Maybe I should mention his name: Glen Hinkle . . . was more into the music part because you were mentioning music?
Sutton: Actually, his, I think, was from a business standpoint. His was really just organizational; he was hoping to see economic development.
Tenace: I thought that he might have played with . . .
Sutton: No, it was his dad who played the banjo. It was my grandfather who played the banjo.
Tenace: Oh I see. What do you remember, if anything, about the first Festival in 1963? Was the turnout a surprise [to Festival planners and the local people]?
Sutton: Yes, and each year it became more of a surprise those first five or six years. One of the things I remember, and I don’t . . . I can’t say specifically that it was the first festival, but the first three or four festivals, people who worked in businesses in town all dressed in old-timey clothes. That’s why I consider those old days much more of a community effort. Churches in town would have old-timey services on that Sunday, lots of home demonstrations clubs would decorate windows, many more than we have today. There seem to be more of . . . more local involvement, more . . . perhaps I should say volunteer?, involvement in those early days. It was a little more of a local thing than it has been in the past few years. Those were the days before there were any restaurants here, very many motels here, and there were not these concession stands that we have now to sell fast food, and we had an organization here - the Jaycees - I don’t know if you are familiar.
Sutton: It’s the Junior Chamber of Commerce and it’s young men, and that . . . My husband was active in that organization, and we had a concession stand to sell food in the old school cafeteria. And that was one of the few places in town for people to get anything to eat, and it was before a lot of pre-prepared food so it was a lot of hard work, very different from now. Those are some of the things that I remember being so different in those early days.
Tenace: How old were you during the first Festival?
Sutton: I was in college, so I was 22, 23.
Tenace: So you remember it pretty well?
Tenace: Were there, to the best of your knowledge, any local people opposed to the festival idea? And if so, why?
Sutton: I can’t give you names, not because I don’t want to, but because there were not specific people who spoke out. But there was a general feeling that this might bring about a change that we wouldn’t like. It was . . . You know, I think that it was just simply the natural resistance to change. And I am sure that others have told you we have a favorite phrase here: we talk about people from “off”.
Tenace: No. I have never heard that one.
Sutton: And you’ll hear someone say: “Well, he is from off.” That means he’s not from here.
Tenace: That’s very funny.
Sutton: So you know, in those days, we knew everyone. Our family had the telephone company here, and my mother knew everyone’s phone number. She was the information lady. We knew everyone. Very, very many families had three and maybe even four generations living in this community. We were not . . . even though we’re not diverse now, we’re much more so than we were back then. So there was a resistance, you know? We weren’t sure what people from “off” were going to do to us.
Tenace: I see, and once again to the best of your knowledge: How did the festival change over the first decade or so, and why?
Sutton: Well in many ways, it became better . . . better organized. You know, we learned a lot of things. We learned how to house people, for one thing. When so many people came and there was not motel rooms, we began to have an active Chamber of Commerce, and people in the community rented their bedrooms. It was more of a clearing house. It was a little better organized. We began to learn a little more about handling the crowds as they got larger each year, and they did get larger. The early seventies - seventy-one, two and three - to the best of my memory were those really, really big ones that you may hear people talk about. And the one that I remember the most was when we had torrential rains. And there’s a field by my parents’ house where people parked, and it was so muddy the ruts were a foot deep after they tried to drive out. A lot of campers . . . Those were the days that the local people talked about the “hippies” who came to town, and a lot of campers came and a lot of Volkswagen buses with flowers painted on the side, and there was some marijuana, and there was some of that. And of course you can imagine that people here resisted that, certainly, you know. But, that was not long following Woodstock, and it was sort of a sign of the times. So over the years, the Festival has changed, very much so in that ways. Those years, the musicians that might gather on the square were often college aged. They were the folk musicians of that era, who may have looked like hippies; they may not have been, you know. Now we see more older people. That is one real basic change, I think. Now we see retired people in their RVs.
Tenace: Mmm, we just passed one as we were driving here. As the Festival brought more and more visitors to Mountain View, did the perception of local people change, and how?
Sutton: The perception . . . that the local people had of the Festival?
Tenace: I suppose yes.
Sutton: There’s always going to be resistance; there’s always going to be that. And as I’ve said before, it’s natural resistance to change. This is strictly personal opinion to me, but I think we are a far better community for having the influx of people than we would be - even at the same population - if it had not happened, because we have attracted creative people. We have attracted artists and craftspeople and musicians, and I think that it has even shown in our education, because our young people, although we are an isolated Ozark community, they’re exposed to more than some little North Arkansas towns would be as a result of that. And I think that’s one real plus for tourism in general, but of course that was started by the festivals.
Tenace: I’m going to move on to the Ozark Folk Center. What was your role, if any, in the planning and development of the [Ozark] Folk Center?
Sutton: Really none.
Tenace: None? And your father wasn’t involved at all?
Sutton: Yes, in a limited way. He was involved in some of those meetings, you know. At that point, this is such a small community, anyone who is a business owner and a community leader is involved to some extent. Yes, and because really the Folk Center was the brainchild of Leo Rainey, I think, and a group of people who saw it as a way to improve the community, and - I am sure that you have probably heard this from someone else - and an opportunity to develop a water system here.
Tenace: No I’ve never heard that.
Sutton: You didn’t know that. At that time, we only had wells in this community to provide city water, and I can’t tell you about the development. I can’t tell you the facts but in one way: the fact that we were working to develop the Folk Center allowed us to obtain Federal money for a city water system, because the water system had to be here - had to be in place - in order to have a facility like that. So this was kind of a way around.
Tenace: I see. That’s interesting. I have never heard that. What were the reasons for the development of the Folk center?
Sutton: Pretty much what I have just said, yes. A way to attract people to the area, to allow them to be able to hear the traditional music. Of course, the Folk Center itself . . . The entire purpose is to preserve the traditions, and that was the purpose. But I believe at the time that the Folk Center began to be a dream, we were one of the poorest counties in the nation - not just the state but in the nation - economically. So although preserving the tradition is very, very important, just preserving our livelihoods was important back then.
Tenace: I just glanced over this, but I had a question about the sewer system that you answered already. My vision got blurry . . . Once again, who were the key people in the development of the Folk Center, and could you describe them and their roles?
Sutton: Probably not specifically, but I do know that many people that we’ve already talked about . . . Tommy Simmons was the mayor at the time, and he eventually became the manager at the Folk Center. Wilbur Mills was our Congressman, and at that time he was a very powerful congressman; in fact, I believe he was chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. We had delegations of people who went to Washington D.C., and that’s where part of that money came from to develop the city water system. But the others that have already been mentioned: Jimmy Driftwood, Eddie Walker . . . I’m sure I am leaving out a few people who were very important.
Tenace: There’s a man named John Opitz. I am not sure . . .
Sutton: John Opitz, yes. He did not live here either; he is another person who was involved in economic development. I believe. I am not sure.
Tenace: What role did the Economic Development Administration (EDA) play?
Sutton: That, I believe, was the funding source.
Tenace: What was Advanced Project Corporation and what was their role in the early development of the Center?
Sutton: I believe that that was the organization that obtained the lease and helped to develop in the early stages, before it became a state park.
Tenace: What did most Mountain View people think about the Advanced Projects and representatives of the company when they came to Mountain View?
Sutton: There was resistance.
Tenace: Resistance as well . . .
Sutton: And I think that’s based on fear of losing control, probably.
Tenace: Ed Nantel seems to have been a controversial figure in Mountain View. Why?
Sutton: He was employed by Advanced Project. . . . and I think, still at the bottom of that was fear of losing control, and I believe there - I am not sure about this - but I believe there were even some questions about whether or not they complied with everything they had agreed to do.
Tenace: What was his role, exactly? Do you know?
Sutton: He was the Advanced Projects project manager, I believe. I believe he was the person hired by that particular organization. I’m not sure about that.
Tenace: So you think people didn’t trust him or were a little suspicious?
Tenace: What was the relationship between the city of Mountain View and the Arkansas Parks and Tourism Department? If there were tensions, it’s okay, because that’s my next question.
Sutton: Well, it’s really hard for me to remember how it all transpired because it’s fine now. It just takes . . . I think any time there is - particularly a piece of property or a business or a source of income - who’s going to get the money is a big question, and who owns the land, and who has control, and all that kind of thing. And of course, back in the very beginning, Dr. Bessie Moore . . . I don’t know if anyone has talked about her, but she was quite a lady. She was a very, very influential lady in Arkansas. She was an advocate for libraries, and she was also very active in economic education, and I believe that it was her idea to establish the Folk Cultural Commission, of which Dr. Blevins is a member.
Tenace: And what is that?
Sutton: And that is actually a liaison group between the city of Mountain View and the Folk Center. That commission listens to the Folk Center reports, knows what’s going on there, and that has to do with the lease, because the land, I believe, still actually belongs to the city, but the park is operated by the state, and the state pays the city annually. So the Folk Cultural Commission is sort of a go-between the Folk Center and the city. That is the group that Dr. Blevins has just joined. And Dr. Bessie Moore was a member of that for many, many years. She is no longer living.
Tenace: What things - I think you kind of touched up on that, but I want to make sure - what things or actions added to the tension between the Parks Department and the city and people of Mountain View [in the early years of the Center’s operation]?
Sutton: One of the things that happened that we haven’t talked about is the hiring of people at the Folk Center. I think there was a natural resistance, again, to people from “off”.
Tenace: From “off”. Okay.
Sutton: And a lot of those people who were hired were from “off” because they were creative people who had moved here and been attracted to the area because of the music or because of the crafts, and they had special talents, so they were hired to work at the Center, and local people saw that as a threat to jobs, so that was part of it. Another major controversy that happened in the early days of the Folk Center was what music could be played there. And you may have heard that. And their standard operating guideline now is music that has been copyrighted before either ‘40 or ’42 - 1940 or 1942. Of course that is not the case if they bring a guest in for some kind of special performance, but on the regular programs, it must be old enough to have been copyrighted before that date. And for a long time that was a real bone of contention with people, particularly if you have artists here who have written songs that may fall in that category of being traditional-type music, but it just doesn’t happen to be old, so you can see how that was easy to . . .
Tenace: Why did many local people oppose the appointments of Tommy Simmons and David Newbern as Folk Center managers?
Sutton: I think at that time there was somewhat of a power struggle going on in the community, and it was a question of who was going to be able to control what happened at the Center. It was very important to be able to have some kind of input as to who was hired there and what could be performed there, and that was during the days that we still had the kind of political atmosphere that, if you wanted something done, the way to do it was drive down to Little Rock and talk to the governor. And so there were factions, and I think that’s just a natural thing in small towns, particularly in that time period. So the controversy was primarily based on: I might have one opinion, you might have another and I want mine to be right, so I want my group to be the “in” group. Does that make sense?
Tenace: That makes sense, ok. So they were both . . . Were they both appointed at the same time or no?
Sutton: No. I believe David Newbern was an attorney from Little Rock, and he was appointed . . . Tommy Simmons was a local person and very involved in the organization and the beginnings of the Folk Center, but because there was an opposition group, I think the governor and the people who had the power to make this appointment decided that they would bring in someone who was not connected to either one of these factions, and that was the purpose of bringing David Newbern in. And I think I have heard other times that David Newbern said that he was pretty naive at the time and perhaps he was more inexperienced, but he did not stay very long.
Tenace: Okay. What factors were involved in the disagreement within the Mountain View musical community that resulted in a split in the old Rackensack Society and the establishment of the Mountain View Folklore Society? Who were the key figures involved in this?
Sutton: I was not involved with either group, so I can’t really speak to specifics, but I do know that there were issues that had to do with what music could be played and who determined what music could be performed at the Center, and I believe . . . Of course Jimmy Driftwood was very involved in that, and Eddie Walker, who was very, very involved in the early days of the Folk Center, was part of the Folklore Society, and he was part of the group that left. And they are still a separate society, as far as I know.
Tenace: Who were the old Rackensack Society, a musical group?
Sutton: Yes, and I believe the Rackensack Society, there’s even a chapter of that society in Little Rock. Those are just people interested in traditional Ozark music.
Tenace: Oh, okay. And the Folklore Society people?
Sutton: That's a local group here. And at one point, I believe, one or the other of those groups actually had the contract to provide performers for the Folk Center. So that was the basis of the controversy: Who is going to get the contract? After they split, which one is going to be able to provide the performers.
Tenace: How did Jimmy Driftwood become such a controversial and divisive figure?
Sutton: Just pretty much what we’ve already touched on. I think it was an issue of who has control over what is performed at the Center. And of course Jimmy Driftwood was a very big part of the beginning of the Folk Center and very instrumental in a lot of the early happenings at the Folk Center. But he also was a songwriter, and he had written songs since 1940, and that perhaps had something to do with part of the controversy. But he did a lot for this community and was a very famous person, but there was controversy that had to do with his going to control what’s performed.
Tenace: I see. Did the firing of Driftwood and Tommy Simmons by Governor Bumpers end the controversy and local political wrangling?
Sutton: No, it probably cooled things for a while but . . .
Tenace: When did it start again?
Sutton: I suppose that it has just taken . . . It’s taken time, that feelings kind of smoothed, you know. Ruffled feathers were kind of smoothed over and we finally forgave and forgot some of those things, and over a period, it’s just happened gradually.
Tenace: In your opinion, has the Folk Center been a positive or negative for Mountain View and Stone County, or something in between? Why?
Sutton: Positive. Positive without a doubt, and it still is, and it’s a wonderful facility. The fact that it’s a State Park is sometimes, perhaps, frustrating to some, because . . . For example now there’s cuts - budget cuts - everywhere, and it makes it very difficult for them to do the things they’d like to do, but great things are happening there, and it is an educational opportunity that is really provided nowhere else in the state. Perhaps a trip over into Appalachia, you know, and to Tennessee and Kentucky, you might find something akin to these. But it is such a valuable resource, especially with technology advancing like it is. You know, really, young people today have no conception of what just plain everyday life was like in this area, and in order to preserve that, there will have to be something like the Folk Center, and without a doubt it’s been wonderful for Mountain View and for the state.
Tenace: Did you go, because I feel that a lot of the time, locals don’t really go to these places, because they think they are more for tourists. For example, when I was growing up in Paris, I didn’t really have the urge to go to the Louvre every weekend. So I was wondering . . .
Sutton: Yes, you are right, but yes, I go.
Tenace: You go. Okay.
Sutton: I go. We go to The Folk Center. We take our visitors to the Folk Center. We go to town and walk around on the square on Saturday night and listen. We buy season tickets to all the music shows, and we go to all of them, sometimes. And I think if I were going to speak negatively, I would say that is a weakness here, is that many locals do not do that. And sometimes they’re really missing some good things by not taking advantage of it.
Tenace: This is for my personal knowledge. Why is it opened not year round. It’s open, I think, from March to October or something? So, winter is not bad in Arkansas?
Sutton: No, but tourism is much, much slower in those times. And really, money is the bottom line. In fact, they are closing two days this year that they did not close last year, but it was a result of a study that they made. And what happens there is that, when you open the doors at the Folk Center, you have to have everybody there in order for it to operate: every craft person; the restaurant has to be open; the Lodge has to be open. So their expense is the same whether they have sixty visitors or whether they have three hundred visitors. So for that reason they have cut back hours in order to try to save some expense. Now the Lodge continues to be open, and the restaurant keeps longer hours, but the craft area and the music shows . . . I believe in October . . . Wait a minute. In August and September they will cut back some, and then October is one of the biggest tourist months here. People come to see the fall foliage, and it’s a good time to travel, so they’ll be back in full swing through the month of October, and they’ll be closing at . . . Of course, our last big festival is the Bean Fest.
Tenace: I was going to ask about that, too.
Sutton: We sort of officially open the tourist season with the Folk Festival, the third weekend in April, and then we close it, so to speak, with the Bean Fest, which is the last weekend in October, and at that point the Park will close.
Tenace: And what is the Bean Festival?
Sutton: Do you really want to know?
Tenace: I do! Is it bad? Is it funny?
Sutton: No, no. Several years ago, a group of very ingenious tourist-oriented people realized that it was such a great time to visit, and we needed another festival or something to attract visitors, and they offer . . . They put big black kettles on the square and they cook pinto beans . . .
Sutton: . . . and people in the community - clubs and women and people - bake cornbread, and they serve free beans and cornbread at noon, and then after, at two o’clock, they have an outhouse race.
Tenace: Oh, that’s very funny.
Sutton: And the last few years, it actually has grown bigger than the spring festival,
Tenace: That’s in October?
Sutton: That’s in October. It’s the last weekend in October, so you’ll have to come this year.
Sutton: It’s a sight to behold. You’ll have to do that.
Tenace: Well, I think we’re all done. Thank you very much for your time. I appreciate it.
Sutton: You’re very welcome. I enjoyed it.