Blevins: This is June 30, 2003. I’m Brooks Blevins, and I’m here at Conway, Arkansas, with Lloyd Westbrook 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. Westbrook, could we start out with just some background information? Could you tell us when and where you were born?
Westbrook: I was borned and raised in Howard County in southwest Arkansas. I went to high school to Dierks High School, graduated from Dierks and went to the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, received a bachelor’s and master’s degree from U of A at Fayetteville, and then worked 32 years for the Cooperative Extension Service before retiring in December of ’87. And then the last ten years I have served as president and chief executive officer of the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce, but during the time of my Extension career was when I come back here to work in Stone County, Arkansas. Stone County is the first county that I served as a full-fledged county agent. I had worked as assistant county agent, associate county agent in El Dorado, Arkansas, and moved to Mountain View in September, 1961, as county agent, so that was a new experience for me, moving from El Dorado to Mountain View to start work as county agent. But we ended up moving to Conway after a tour in Heber Springs, and then to Conway and served as county agent here for four and a half years, then on the state staff in Little Rock and served as state program leader for some sixteen, seventeen years before retiring, so that’s kind of the background, my extension and work with Chamber of Commerce.
Blevins: Okay. You mentioned you first moved to Stone County in ’61. Describe Stone County, Arkansas.
Westbrook: That was a unique experience and, Brooks, I’ve really made the statement many times - I have some of the closest friends that I ever made anywhere in Arkansas in Stone County. There are really some great people living in Stone County, and I enjoyed working with them during those two years and four months that I was there as county agricultural agent. It was a difficult place to work from a standpoint of the very low economic situation as far as the people were concerned. The average per capita income in 1961 was $351.00 per year, and that was lower than many South American countries at that time. Now, the people had a living. They had cattle and poultry; they made a living. But as far as the average per capita income, it was really low, and that made it very difficult to develop a project of any kind, because there was not much funding available locally for that, and any time you tried to raise money for a fund drive or . . . for example, Red Cross or American Heart or something like that.
It was very difficult to raise any money, because there was not very much money available at that time, so we found that to be one problem, and then there was three different political factions there at that time, and that was so interesting in that there were two factions of Democrats and one faction of Republicans, and many of the people that were in the two factions of Democrats, brothers and sisters would be opposite of each other, and it was so funny that sometimes there would be a school millage and one family would be for that millage one time, and two years later they would switch sides and there they’d be right opposite. So you had to learn to work with these different factions in order to get people working on the same page, and that was difficult because any . . . Well, at that time, any three people you’d pull together, two would be opposite the other one or two against the other one, so it made it difficult to get people to work together. That was our challenge, especially in the early days of putting together the Folk Festival and craft fair that was started back . . . Actually the initial, first phases of that started in late 1961, and I can share with you how that actually started.
Westbrook: When I moved to Stone County and accepted the job as county agricultural agent, one of the first questions that some of the leaders asked me in a meeting that day was, “Can you help us get a county fair started again?” The county fair had died of a lack of participation a few years before, and the people really wanted some kind of event or activity that all their kinfolks could come back for - a get together - for a special event, and they really . . . In their mind, they wanted a county fair to be reorganized and to be held, but most people realized that the day of the county fair was kind of fading away as far as a small county was concerned. There are still some great county fairs in Arkansas, but they’re mostly in trade centers like Batesville or Harrison or Conway or places like that, and the very small county fairs have a difficult time making it go, although there are still some good small county fairs.
So, my district agent was W.H. Freyaldenhoven, and the district home economist was Francille Killian. The two of them came to Conway and wanted to sit down and do some brainstorming of what we could do to maybe bring some kind of event to Stone County. We also had a person working in the Batesville office, Leo Rainey. He was the area development agent for the extension service. He worked five counties, of which Stone County was one of them. Leo came over along with the two district people and met with Martha Highfill, who was the home economist, and myself. We went over to Blanchard Springs. At that time there was no development except Queen’s Inn and some cabins in that area, with the picnic tables down below the natural springs. We set down at one of those picnic tables and began to brainstorm. What could we do as far as the extension service was concerned to help bring some type of an event or an activity to Stone County so the people could come back and visit with their folks and also add to the economy, and what we were looking at, basically, was two things. One is, if we could bring people back to the area we could bring in tourism dollars. They would spend dollars while they were in the area, and that would help the economy from a tourism standpoint. And number two, we knew that there was quite a few people that did crafts in that area, so we thought that if we could someway tie the tourism dollars and the crafts - if we had some crafts people, craft fairs coming together - we possibly could put together an event that would be very beneficial to the Mountain View and Stone County area.
So from that initial thing we had a lot of other ideas that we tossed out at that time, but those were the two main ideas that we come up with, and we also talked about - in the first meeting at the picnic table - about how could we tie in some music, folk music, to make this very entertaining. So from that initial meeting we began to talk to some of the leaders there about putting together some type of a program involving craftsmen as well as folk musicians, and in the extension service at that time we had a program that was called a county or community rural development program, and each county was to organize a county development council, and I did. I had to organize that council, and under the council we had subcommittees, and as I recall, tourism, crafts, agriculture, education, industrial. I think those were the major subcommittees we had underneath that council. Glen Hinkle, who owned the telephone company, was our chairman of the County Development Council, and Bill Rosa, who operated the Blanchard Springs recreational area, which was Queen’s Inn and the cabins - Bill was managing that at the time - and we had a craftsman by the name of Jim Warren, who was an outstanding woodcarver, involved, along with Edwin Luther and also Epps Mabry. They were all craftsmen right in the Mountain View area. And we began to get this leadership together to talk about some of the things we could do to have a major event. It was pretty easy to organize with beginning to get the craftsmen together, because many of them were already doing woodcarvings or other crafts, so we began to work with that group to get a craft show going, and the first time we had a craft show was . . . Oris Massey had a hardware store there in Mountain View, and half of the building was empty, and he let us use one half of that building to have the first craft fair that was held in Mountain View, and a lot of the craftsmen - local craftsmen - made crafts and displayed them and had them for sale and so forth.
Then we began to think about what we could do to put together a festival that would bring the folk music and crafts together, so we realized early on that, to do that, we needed to utilize the people that could help us the most. Jimmy Driftwood had already had two pretty big songs that had hit the charts. One was “The Battle of New Orleans.” Jimmy recorded that and actually had it on a record, and then Johnny Horton picked it up, recorded it again, and of course it went to number one and stayed number one for several weeks. A big hit for Jimmy. Also “Tennessee Stud” was a big hit for Jimmy. I asked his wife, Cleda, one time, I said, “How many songs has Jimmy written?” She said, “Hundreds.” Well, later on I was out at their house in Timbo one time, and they had box after box after box of songs that he had written and categorized, and he was going through, trying to pick out twelve songs for another album, so I guess he had written hundreds of songs. I know there were an awful lot of them. But we realized early on that Jimmy could be the name that could help us with the folk music, so the committee that we had organized said to me, since I was working with Jimmy, and Jimmy had about a hundred head of beef cattle out there on the farm at Timbo, and I’d been working with him, and they said, “Since you’re working with Jimmy, go out and talk to him and see if he would be interested in giving leadership to the folk music part of the festival.”
So I was with the . . . carried a little vaccinator one day, vaccinating calves, and we were out at Jimmy’s place, and while that person was working in the calves, Jimmy and I got out under a cedar tree, and I said, “Jimmy, we’re thinking about putting together a folk festival and craft fair, a big event, and we would like for you to be involved in that.” But Jimmy’s response was, “I’m not sure that the timing is right.” He said, “It sounds pretty good, but I’m not sure that the timing is right,” and so he wouldn’t commit to help. So I went back to the committee, and I told them. I said, “Well, I visited with Jimmy, but he’s not quite ready for . . . He doesn’t think this might work just now.” So the committee said, “Go back and talk to him again.” So I went back, and the next time we were on a spray program, and I was with a spray operator, and we set down again and set under a tree and talked to him. Still he said, “Well, it sounds pretty good, but I’m just not . . . Well, I don’t think we’re quite ready for that.” So I went back to the committee again, and they said, “Look, we’ve got to have . . . We need Jimmy to help us with this. Go back and set down and see if he will agree to come to one of our meetings.” So I went back to Timbo later and set down in Jimmy’s home there in Timbo with he and his wife
Cleda, and again went over the program, what we had in mind and so forth, and I said, “Will you at least come to one of our planning meetings? Come to the courthouse and just listen to what we’re trying to do.”
And he agreed to come to the meeting, so we met and we had some thirty, thirty-five people in the courtroom, and we explained the program and what we were trying to do and what we would like to do, and a lot of the leaders there said to Jimmy, “Jimmy, won’t you help us with this? Please take the folk music part of it and help us with this and get it off the ground,” and he agreed to, in that meeting, that he would do that. So that was a big plus for us when Jimmy agreed to help with the folk music part. We noticed that the next week after that meeting, Jimmy invited two or three of his friends, and they met in the doctor’s office. Dr. Howard Monroe - Howard Hugh Monroe - was the doctor, and they had a little space there in the doctor’s office, and Jimmy and three or four of the local musicians met in the doctor’s office and started to practice. They wanted to start practicing, playing some folk music. Well, the next week - the next Friday night when they met there - there was about eight or ten musicians there, and the third week there was so many musicians at the doctor’s office they didn’t have room to practice, so by the fourth week they moved to the courthouse, up to the courthouse, and that was the beginning of the Friday night hootenannies that started, and people began to come out from all over Stone County that you had no idea they could play a musical instrument or sing, and they would . . . Very soon after they moved to the courthouse, every Friday night starting about 6:30, 7:00, the courthouse was completely packed. There was standing room only, in fact an overflow crowd every Friday night, and that went on for years and years and years, and I think they still play - maybe out in the courtyard - today, but after forty years, that music is still being played as a result of them starting to practice in the doctor’s office and then moving to the courthouse, and that’s how a lot of the musicians really got started in the early days, playing the folk music that was so popular at that time.
Well, we began the work toward putting together a date for a folk festival and craft fair, and so we tried to time that for April so that people could take advantage of the dogwoods in bloom in that part of the state. Usually about the middle of April, the dogwoods’ll be in bloom. So we said, “Let’s try to have this festival around April the fifteenth to see if we can tourists coming to see the dogwoods, come and visit the craft show, and go to the folk festival, folk music part that we have.” So we began to work toward the date of April of 1963 for the first folk festival. We had no money - no money whatsoever - to promote this festival, so the only thing that we knew to do was to try to go and invite some people and see if they would come to Mountain View or the Mountain View area for a press conference. And this was so funny, that when we started talking about having a press conference in Mountain View or Stone County, the locals’ reaction was, and I’ll use the exact words they said: “Who in the hell ever heard of a press conference in Mountain View, Arkansas?” We decided to have that press conference over in Blanchard Springs, and Jimmy and some of the local musicians said they would play and provide music to show what were talking about for the Folk Festival. We got together some people that could provide some food, and we provided a meal for anybody that could come to the press conference over at Blanchard Springs, and as I recall, that was in the early part of the year, somewhere around March, or it might have been even February, but I think it was in March when we had that. But to get a crowd of people there that would represent the press, Jimmy Driftwood, Bill Rosa, who was running Blanchard Springs at the time, Jim Warren, the woodcarver, and myself got in the car and drove to Little Rock to visit the newspapers and the television stations in Little Rock. And we used Jimmy’s name to get us in, because they had heard of Jimmy Driftwood, so we used Jimmy to get us in the door, and we went to the television stations and we went to the newspapers . . . to see if we could get them to come to a press conference.
I never will forget when we got to the newspaper - Arkansas Gazette at that time was the strongest papers in the state, and Hugh Patterson was the publisher - and they had a travel writer by the name of Ernie Deane. We got in Hugh Patterson’s office, and we explained to him what we were trying to do, promote a folk festival and craft fair, but we was going to have a press conference to tell everybody about what were going to do and explain it to everybody, and the press conference would be over at Blanchard Springs. Could they send a representative to cover that? Patterson got on the phone and called Ernie Dean and said, “Come up here.” He said, “They’re going to have a press conference over there.” Said, “You can go, can’t you, Ernie?” Ernie said, “Yes, I’ll be there.” Well, to make a long story short, we invited people from Missouri and Tennessee and Arkansas to come to that, and on the day of the press conference, we had twenty-one press representatives from Missouri, Tennessee, and Arkansas covering that press conference in Stone County over at Blanchard Springs. And from that, the story went out that we were going to have the first Folk Festival and craft fair in Mountain View in April of 1963. All the publicity was free. We had no money to advertise it. And when we had the festival in April, the best estimate we could have of the crowd is twelve thousand people. We counted license plates from 28 states and 65 of the 75 counties in Arkansas.
The craft tent was set up right north of the Mountain View High School, and all the craftsmen were there, exhibits there, and they’d show and sell crafts. We had all the displays downtown. We had each merchant to list at the foot in their windows folklore items and displays of folklore in the windows, and the folk music show was held at the high school gym at Mountain View. We put chairs on the floor and, with the bleachers, we were able to put four thousand people in the gym, and we used one end of the gym that had a stage area, and we used that for the stage. We couldn’t come close to getting them all in the first show. We had to have two shows, so we performed that night for about eight thousand people, two shows there in the first Folk Festival. That was the very beginning of the . . . was the very first Folk Festival and craft fair that was held, in April of 1963.
From that, we began to look at: well, what can we do? We think we’ve got something great started here. What can we do to get a facility - a building of some type - that we could have of folk music, and also have an exhibit or have a craft fair? So we began to look at what are the possibilities of getting something put together that would have a home for the Folk Festival and craft fair. And at that time there was a government program - and this has been forty years ago, but I think it was the ARA administration, Area Development Administration - a government program for economic development, and there was a person in Arkansas that was kind of heading that part of the state up for this. Name was John Opitz, and he lived in Conway. So we asked John to come to Mountain View and meet with us to get some ideas about maybe a grant or some funding for the Folk Festival. We met in the telephone office, and there were six people there, and I think I can tell you the six people that were there. Glen Hinkle was president of the telephone company, and we met in his . . . in the office there. There was Leo Rainey, area agent; Oris Massey, who was a real leader there - he ran a hardware there, but he was a real community leader, Oris Massey. Edwin Luther was a craftsman, was also with the insurance company there in Mountain View, and he was a craftsman, and let’s see . . . That’s four. We had . . . John Opitz was the fifth person, and I’m not sure who the sixth one was.
But anyway, there was six people that met with us there. And whenever we set down to talk to John Opitz about what we would like to do, John said, “Y’all are real excited.” We were really excited about what we were doing. “John, we got a project here. We need five hundred thousand dollars to help us build us a building for the craft show.” And again, I’ll use the exact words John said to us. He said, “Why, hell, boys. You can get three million easier than get five hundred thousand. They won’t look at five hundred thousand, but if you’ve got a project for three million, and here’s the way it has to be: It has to be for economic development. You’ll have to build a water and sewer system to Mountain View and build this facility at the edge of town so that you’ll have water and sewer tied to this facility and for Mountain View for economic development. That is the only way you can get this grant to do that.” We said, “Okay, what do we have to do, then?” He said, “Well, first you’ll have to develop an OEDP - Overall Economic Development Plan - for Stone County.” There had never been one pulled together for Stone County. And, since I had the facilities and the secretarial help and all, we did this OEDP in our extension office. I did have some help from people helping to pull together the data, but this OEDP covered everything from population trends, economic situation, agriculture, industry, education - it covered everything you could possibly come up with about Stone County. We pulled that together, and we had at that time an old mimeograph machine in our office, and we mimeographed off copies of it, and we took that to John Opitz and said, “Will this qualify for what we were talking about? This is our OEDP,” and it was approved that yes, it would work. The next phase was to write a grant proposal. Then, once we had the OEDP completed, we had to write a grant proposal for the two point . . . Ended up, I think it was 2.9 million. So the grant proposal also was written in my office. We pulled that together and submitted it from the extension office there in Mountain View, and that’s how that came about and later, then, the grant was approved, and before the Folk Center and the water and sewer system was actually built, I was promoted to Heber Springs, so I was only there during the initial stages of getting the paperwork done, the OEDP . . . Well, actually, we did the first festival, and then getting the OEDP and the grant proposal together to get the money. Of course, that came on through and the rest is history, as far as the Folk Center . . . and Mountain View did get a water and sewer system out of it, and that was the early stages of that.
Blevins: Yeah. Before we started the interview, you were talking about a character named Harold Sherman. Tell me a little bit about him and about his role or about his non-role in that project.
Westbrook: It’s kind of funny. Harold was a real interesting individual. Back in the - I think it was - in the probably mid-to-late forties, there was going to be a movie filmed in Mountain View. I don’t know the name of the movie, but there was a company come in, and there was a movie going to be filmed in Mountain View. And apparently Harold Sherman was a producer at one time, a movie producer. He was a writer, he’d written a lot of books, he was a lecturer, he was real big on ESP - in fact, he had done a lot of books and talks on extrasensory perception - and so, at some point in time, Harold was involved in that movie. But this company had come in and they’d raised - as the story was told to me - they’d raised $25,000 to help put this movie together. Well, the movie went under, and something happened to the $25,000, and the company moved out or whatever, and the movie, I don’t think, was ever produced, and there was a lot of people there that had not forgotten that. Now, what happened to it, they’re not saying that Harold Sherman was involved in that part of it, but something happened, and there was a lot of feelings toward anybody coming in and making a big promotion at that time.
So when I moved back up there . . . When I moved there in September of 1961, Harold had come back. He’d been gone for a number of years, but he had a little farm, a little house over there on the mountainside, and they had moved back. Well, as you began to look at the leadership there in Mountain View, you had to learn who would work with who and who wouldn’t. It was very evident at that point that there were not too many people would follow Harold’s leadership at that point. Now, I don’t think . . . I’m not indicating that he was involved in any way with what took place, because I don’t know, but I do know that people were not too hepped up on following his leadership. So we knew in the very beginning that we could not, probably, involve Harold in this folk festival and craft fair movement, because if he jumped in out front on that, we were in trouble. So we just kindly left Harold off of a number of committees and so forth and moved ahead with our planning. Well, it so happened - I was telling you earlier, Brooks - that about a week before the festival, the first Folk Festival, I was in the local newspaper office, and Harold cornered me at that time, and he was pretty upset that we were promoting this big festival. His question, “What are you going to do?” and he really shook his finger in my face and said, “What are you going to do with all these thousands of people that are coming in here and they’re all going to be disgruntled, no place to stay. What are they going to do?” and so forth. And I said, “Well, Harold, we have surveyed all the surrounding counties. We have every motel listed, every home that’s open to the public; we have it all listed for people to stay, and the Festival is going on,” and as I told you earlier, he came to the first folk music thing, and I will have to say he came up to me after it was over with and apologized, and said, “It’s one of the finest things that’s ever been done for the area.”
So . . . I mean, I got along fine with Mr. Harold, but he would have been kind of left out on some of early planning and the committee work that was being done, so then later on, after that, one day . . . My office was upstairs in the courthouse. I had a telephone call from one of the business people from across the street, and he said, “You’d better come over here and let me tell you what’s happening.” He said, “Mr. Harold’s making waves about trying to get y’all to do away with the folk music part. He said it’s going to be a fad. It’s going to be a passing thing, and we need to be trying to get this Blanchard Caverns opened up. It’ll be there forever.” So he said, “You’d better get some group together and see if you can’t get, maybe, Mr. Harold redirected in another direction there.” So I was president of the Lion’s Club at the time, and we called a group together and got them over to the Rainbow Café. We talked about all the things that was going on, and then it really fell my lot to appoint someone as a cave committee chairman to see if we could get the Blanchard caverns open. So in the discussion I finally got around and asked Mr. Harold, “We need somebody to head up this Blanchard caverns development. Would you serve as chairman of that committee?” and he gladly accepted that, and the next week after that, he was in Wilbur Mills’s office in Washington, D.C., beginning the initial work to try to get appropriations for getting the Blanchard caverns open. And I guess, to make a long story short, the caverns were open about the same time - or approximately the same time - whenever the Folk Center was completed, or within a few months. It was pretty close. So it all worked for the best.
Blevins: Now there was a trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, sometime. Were you involved in that trip?
Westbrook: I did not . . . Let’s see. I did not go to Gatlinburg, but I think one or two of our leaders did go, and they looked at all of the crafts and the motel development in Gatlinburg, and as I recall, there was a . . . Back even then, there was something like a hundred and thirty-one motels and hotels in Gatlinburg, and it was really growing big time, and this helped us get some idea what we might could expect. Mountain View, when I moved up there, was 867 people, and I think it’s around three thousand or so now. It’s grown a lot. Now, I would be the first to say that a lot of people didn’t appreciate what we did, because they wanted Mountain View to stay exactly like it was, but you know you can’t stand still, and I think that the majority of the people say, “Hey, it’s been a great development for the area,” or not only for Mountain View and Stone County but the surrounding area. It brings people to, you know . . . Tourists come through Batesville and other places on their way to Mountain View, so it’s helped all over north central Arkansas as the development has occurred over the years there.
Blevins: And I believe there was also a trip, after that first Folk Festival, to Washington, D.C. Were you involved with that?
Westbrook: I did not go to Washington, but some folk musicians did - Jimmy Driftwood and some of the musicians . . . They, as a matter of fact, have pictures of playing on the Capitol steps in Washington, D.C., and this was all part of some of the early promotion in the early years and that was, again, trying to get some development for the caverns over there, and as it ended up, I believe that came through the Forest Service. The funds came from the Forest Service for Blanchard Caverns. And of course, it will be there as long as time goes on. I mean the Caverns is an everlasting thing, and as far as folk music, I think it’s going to be lasting, too. It’s a heritage that’s passed down from generation to generation. And while I was there, during that time, there was two things that I liked to learn to do. One was play the picking bow, and the other was to do woodcarving with a pocketknife, and I ended up doing some of both. I still occasionally will demonstrate the picking bow, and also I still do some woodcarving. And those were really nice hobbies that I learned while I was in Mountain View.
Blevins: A couple people have mentioned to me that after that . . . I don’t know exactly when, but sometime after that first Folk Festival in ’63, that some of the people who had to do with that festival in Stone County were invited up to Eureka Springs to help them with a festival. Do you recall anything about that? Were you involved with that?
Westbrook: No. If that occurred, I’m not familiar with it.
Westbrook: It could have, but I don’t recall that. It’s very likely some of the musicians could have gone, but it was not an organized effort that I know of.
Blevins: Okay. Well, this question doesn’t have any direct relation to the beginning of Folk Festival, but . . . Of course, you were, as you mentioned, an agricultural extension agent for Stone County, but it seems that a lot of work you did wasn’t directly related to agriculture. How did that come to be?
Westbrook: Well, in that county at that time, there was two basic agricultural enterprises. One was poultry, and beef cattle. That was basically it. There was very few row crops of any kind, so we had two major agricultural commodities. But at that time, as I mentioned earlier, the extension service was working on a program on rural called Rural Development - Rural and Economic Development - and in that program you did some work outside of agriculture, and that would be things that you could do to bring dollars into the area, and like I say, tourism was one of them. Crafts was one of them. Of course, you always were looking at industry. It was almost like doing Chamber of Commerce work, and as I mentioned earlier also, as president of the Lion’s Club I got all the Chamber’s . . . Well, there was not a Chamber of Commerce then in Mountain View, so as president of the Lion’s Club I got the letters and any information that would be coming into the Chamber. The post office sent it to me. But we did a lot of work in the area of rural development. Again, this was one way of bringing in the tourism dollars, the crafts and creating jobs and so forth to try to help the economic development. And that was a little outside of just agriculture, but the whole purpose was to try to make it a better place to live, work, and raise a family, and we worked hard to do that. And, like I say, I look back now and think about some of the things we had to work through to get there. It’s almost . . . I wonder, after forty years, how we ever got it off the ground, but it went real well, and we had some good leaders that helped, and so I was really pleased that, once we got over the first year or two, it really evolved and continued to grow, and still is growing today.
Blevins: Were you a fan of folk music before you moved to Stone County?
Westbrook: Well, not really folk music, but I like country music, and of course, you know, in a way, it’s a . . . Folk music is a little bit . . . It’s acoustical a lot. In fact, that was one of the things that Driftwood would not allow, was electronic equipment. It all had to be acoustic, and so I did get to like it real well, and I always did like bluegrass, so it all kind of ties back pretty close, you know. You know, you get up there and one of the things that . . . The interesting thing that happened in the . . . The hootenanny started on Friday nights, I told you there was all kinds of factions up there, and a lot of them wouldn’t speak to each other. Well, we’d go into the hootenanny, and in order to have a seat, they’d end up sometimes having to sit pretty close to people that they were on opposite sides with, and as the music got to really going and they got to patting their foot and clapping hands, “Hey, that’s pretty good.” They began to talk to each other, and it had a real effect of pulling people closer together. They might not ever admit it, but it did. It had a real effect of pulling people back closer together in that folk music. Just the fact that they were singing and clapping their hands, and “Hey, that’s pretty good,” you know, and then they started talking to each other. We observed that. Now, people there might not agree with that, but it happened. We could see it happen.
Blevins: Were you ever a member of the Rackensack Society?
Westbrook: Never a member. Like I say, I learned how to play the picking bow, and I’ve played that at a lot of different places around and across the United States, really . . . just as a lost art, because very few people have seen a picking bow, and there’s very few people that play one today. In fact, just in May of 2003 - this year - we just had a state convention here in Conway, which I did play the picking bow in one of the programs just to show them that it’s a lost art, because very few people ever see it. I tell the story that my last major performance was in the Denver airport one time, coming back through there; we had been conducting a seminar in Colorado. Came back through the Denver airport, and the lady at the inspection crew made me take the picking bow out of the case and tune it up and go over to the wall and play it. I looked back and there was about twenty-five or thirty people lined up trying to get to their airline. I don’t know how many missed their flight because of me playing the picking bow in the Denver airport, but . . . But that’s a . . . I learned to play that, and also learned to do the woodcarving. There was some very talented woodcarvers in that area. Jim Warren was a woodcarver, lived down on Rocky Bayou Creek, and he was very talented, and was actually the one that got me started into doing some woodcarving. Edwin Luther, I mentioned, was a good woodcarver. Epps Mabry actually made the picking bow that I have today. I made my own the first time, but then I bought one that he made, and that’s the one I use today, demonstrating the picking bow.
Blevins: And they were original members of the Ozark Foothills Handicraft . . .
Westbrook: Handicraft Guild. Now, I was the . . . I was a charter member of that. I still . . . If it’s still going, somewhere I’ve still got a membership, a charter member of the Ozark Foothills Handicraft Guild. Yeah. This was a big craft movement, and it’s went on for years and years, and I’m not sure where it is at this point, whether they’re still operating or not, but it was very important to that area at the time. That was for . . . . about five counties up there that was involved in it, but there were some awfully good craftsmen-woodcarvers - and some excellent musicians. They would come out of the woodworks. You would not think that they could play an instrument, and the next thing you know, they’d be on stage on Friday night up there, picking and singing. Many of those people you could not hire them to get up and make a talk in front of a group, but they’d get up there with their instrument and they’d pick and sing, and they were quite good at it. But that’s kindly how it all came about, and I really enjoyed working with the people up there for the two and a half years I was there, and just to be in the very initial stages of getting it started, helping get it started, and then I had a opportunity to promote to a bigger county, and eventually on down to this county, to Faulkner County at Conway, and then on to the state office.
Blevins: Well, I’m just interested to know, when you went on to Cleburne County - I think that’s where you went after you left Stone County - did you help them get any kind of the same sorts of programs started, maybe festival or tourist related . . . ?
Westbrook: Well, yeah, we did. It wasn’t that big, but one of the crafts . . . The Guild set up some crafts shops, and one of them was in Heber Springs. But we also organized a poultry festival in Heber Springs, and it was quite successful in helping promote the poultry industry. A lot of people came to that. I did a lot of promotion there, and then, you know, over the years I’ve been involved in a lot of other promotion, but I was involved at the state level, and we started the initial stages and beginning construction of the Arkansas 4-H Center out at Ferndale, and that was a four or five million dollar project at that time. They’ve added a lot to it in the years since, but the initial stages was between four and five million. We got that going, and then in Conway, even after I came back to Conway, I’ve helped in a couple of projects here and buildings here, and the last one, just before I retired from the Chamber, we built a million-and-a-half new Chamber office here, and I was able to put together a million and a half and paid for the building in one year. The last day before I left and retired from the Chamber, I wrote a check and paid the building off, so it left a hundred thousand dollars or so. It was a maintenance fund to maintain it, so I felt good about that. I’ve been involved in a lot of promotions over the years . . . [side 2 begins] . . . at work (?), and that involves about a hundred and fifty thousand people over the three days, so it’s still going strong. Anything like that is a matter of getting people to believe that they can.
Blevins: You get a chance to go back to Mountain View every once in a while now?
Westbrook: Every once in a while we go back. I like to go back to the area as much as I can, but . . . Maybe two or three times during the year we’ll be up there some, and go back there, and I stay in contact at different times with people that I met and knew and worked with up there. Like I said, it’s been forty years, but . . . In fact, I talked with Glen Hinkle not long ago by telephone. Glen’s not in very good health right now, but he’s still there in that area, and he was a very integral part of this first folk festival, serving as chairman of the development council. I had made a note of who the six people were that was involved in the meeting at Glen’s office when we tried to get the . . . John Opitz . . . and I’m not sure if I . . .
Blevins: Were you the sixth one?
Westbrook: Well, I have it here. It was Glen Hinkle, Oris Massey, Edwin Luther, John Opitz, Leo Rainey, and myself.
Blevins: So you were the sixth one?
Westbrook: I was the sixth one, yeah. That was the six people that set down when he told us we could get three million easier than we could get five hundred thousand, and that shocked us, because we thought we were thinking big, and you know, in the Mountain View area, thinking of a half a million dollars in 1962 - that’s when we were trying to get the grant proposal going - or ’63, rather, and that actually came to be in ’64 or something like that when we finally got approval on it, and it was a year or two later before they really got it all, you know - got the water and sewer in and all that. I’m not sure exactly when it was completed, but I guess in the late sixties was probably when the Folk Center was actually completed. It might have been ’70.
Blevins: I guess it was . . . Well, it opened up in ’73, but it was completed a little bit before then, but it finally opened in ’73.
Westbrook: Well, from the time you get the grant, it takes a while for . . . Like I say, they had to put a water and sewer system in. They had to develop all the land out there where the Center’s located, and so it was, you know, a while. It took a few years to get that done, as any government program would, but that’s when it initially started. We wrote the grant proposal after the first Folk festival. We did the OEDP after the first Folk Festival, because that was a requirement that Opitz said you had to have in order to get the grant. And see, a lot of the people . . . A lot of the people that you hear that actually started the first craft fair are the ones that . . . that you hear that got the Center and all that . . . were not involved in the initial planning.
Blevins: Well, I was going to ask you about that, because a lot of people think that Jimmy Driftwood is the one who really was responsible for the Folk Center, but . . .
Westbrook: Well, he was an integral part in that he gave leadership to the music. As I described earlier in the tape, he . . . We had to get Jimmy involved in that, and it wasn’t easy to do that in the beginning, because he felt like that it maybe wasn’t the right timing, but he came through. Jimmy was a good friend of mine, and I don’t want to sound negative toward him, because he was an integral part. But Jimmy had nothing to do with the OEDP and the grant proposal. There was these five or six people, just a very limited people, and the bulk of it was done in our office, in the extension office. I remember spending hours and hours and hours writing the OEDP and putting the grant proposal together. Now there was five or six people involved in that, and I’ve told you kind of who they were, but the majority of the people there had no idea what was going on as far as the overall economic development plan and the grant proposal. They’d hear bits and pieces, probably, about “Yeah, we’re gonna try to get us a folk center,” but they had no idea of the background, and the musicians, none of them had anything to do with the OEDP and the grant proposal. I mean, they just wasn’t involved in it, and people don’t know that. But somebody usually, if you dig far enough, in any program you’ve got there’s somebody in the background down here that’s been doing a lot of that leg work to get it done. But when we really got the thing going, Driftwood was an integral part. He was a very integral part of making that folk music go, and I don’t want to take anything away from him. Jimmy’s a good friend of mine, and I worked with him very closely. But the fact is he was not involved in the OEDP and the grant proposal, not at all. The people I named, those six people, were the ones that really got that off the ground.
Blevins: Something else that we were talking about before the interview was the fact that you were a “furriner” in Mountain View, and a lot of the . . . I guess several of the people who were really involved with getting all that off the ground were “furriners”, like you and Leo [Rainey] and . . .
Westbrook: That’s right.
Blevins: . . . it was important to have some of the people who weren’t “furriners” . . .
Westbrook: You see, the first week I was there, I came down out of the courthouse, and I met this guy looked like he weighed about 260, 270. I thought he ought to have been playing tackle for Green Bay, and he said, “Where you from, boy?” He knew I was a newcomer. I said, “South Arkansas, sir.” “You a furriner or an alien?” I didn’t know what he was talking about. But in their terms at that time, a “furriner” was somebody from across a county line that had moved into the Mountain View area, because I found out later their description of somebody that was an alien was somebody from across the sea, from a foreign country. Now, I mean, that was just their language, the way they described people. The next question he asked me, “Are you a stick buddy?” I didn’t know what a “stick buddy” was, but I come to find out that is somebody that likes folk music and country music, and I said, “Yessir, I think I am one.” I didn’t know what it was, but I was one at the time, you know, and so they would . . .
The people there, the leadership there, would tend to class you . . . They would tend to put you in one of these factions, one or the other, and I worked extremely hard for two years and four months not to be able to be classed in any one of those factions. For example, if you bought gas up at one end of town today, you’d better buy gas at the other end of town tomorrow. If you traded at one grocery store today, you’d better be seen coming out of the other grocery store tomorrow, because if you didn’t, you would be on one side or the other, and I worked very hard at that for two years, to not be involved in, be classed in any one of those factions, and I thought it was kind of interesting that before I left to go to Heber Springs they had some parties, go-away parties and all. Well, a gentleman that was there that was very prominent in the community and had been for years and years and years, and he never went to anything, but he came to my party there, and I appreciated that more than anything else. And he told me, he said, “I’m going to tell you. You’ve been here a little more than two years - two years and four months.” He said, “Usually you would be . . . You’d have somebody after you, somebody would be after to put you one place or the other.” And he said, “I’m going to tell you. I’ve never heard a bad word against you, and everything you’ve done has been positive for our community, and I appreciate it.” That meant more than anything that anybody could have said, because this gentleman just never got out at night and went to anything like that, yet he was very prominent in the area there.
So I did work hard at trying to work with everybody, trying to get everybody involved, and . . . Yeah, Leo Rainey from Batesville and I, we’re outsiders, but people there, if they accepted you, they would die for you. If they didn’t, they just wouldn’t have anything to do with you. So you had to work hard to be a part of the community, and that’s what we tried to do, is show them that, “Here’s a way that we can make this happen,” and once we got it off the ground, they believed that . . . See, the first afternoon, the first Folk Festival - and it started on Friday, and everybody . . . We were saying there was going to be thousands of people here. Merchants was down on the street around the square; they was sweeping off the street. “Ha, ha, ha! Where’s all these thousands of people gone to?” About ten o’clock in the morning there’d be a trickle, a car or two come through. “Where’s all these thousands of people gone to?” By two o’clock that afternoon, you couldn’t stir them with a stick. I mean, the town was covered, and it was covered for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, the first Folk Festival. So by having that early success, then it made it easier to begin to work with other leaders there, and as the years progressed, there were many others that lived there that began to get really actively involved and became very strong leaders, you know, in the community.
There’s people there that were not involved in the early stages of the Folk Festival, but later on served as mayor of the town, and came on and did other leadership roles, you know, but they were not involved in that first year or two. They were there, and they were good people, but they just wasn’t involved. So . . . But it was a lot of fun. We had a good time, and I treasure those two years and four months that we lived there, but in our line of work with the extension, back then the only way that you could get a promotion would be to a bigger county. That was the only way. You had to promote up from a smaller county to a larger county to a larger county, so after two years and four months, I . . . again, I guess, based on some of the success we had there, that I was promoted to Heber Springs, and I thought I would be there forever, and I was there a year and ten months, and this county opened up and the extension asked me if I would come here as county agent in this county. I served four and a half years as county agent here, and then went on the state staff in Little Rock, and I commuted for seven . . . really, seventeen years, to Little Rock before I retired on December 31 of ’87, and I had a little over 32 years - 32 plus years - with the extension.
In 1990, the Chamber called me and wondered if I would help them with a special project, and I thought I’d be there for about a year and a half, and I ended up, after a year and a half, going in as president and CEO of the Chamber, and continued to work and spent ten years with the Chamber before I retired again. I retired in August of 2000, and the only thing I have going now - which I’ve had since 1974 - is I’ve got a herd of beef cattle out here. I’ve got about fifty head of beef cattle on a little farm, ranch out just at the edge of Conway, north of Conway, and we have a country home out there, and I can set on the front porch and swing and watch the cows graze and the wild turkeys and bobwhite quails and deer, and set there and enjoy, so that’s kind of where I am at this stage of life.
Blevins: Well, you have anything else to add about the Folk Festival or anything?
Westbrook: I think that’s pretty well covered most of it. I’ve thought a lot of times that I . . . Over the years, I’ve made some notes, but I believe that . . . We talked about the craft fair, and the first one was held at Mountain View, and then we had a craft fair tent that was set up at the Festival, but I believe the first Ozark Foothills Crafts Fair was held at the American Legion building in Batesville, and I’m not sure . . . I think that was probably 1963, the year that was held down there. Leo Rainey was involved a lot in that. He probably could tell you the exact time, but I kind of believe it was in 1963. I know it was at the American Legion building there in Batesville, and craftsmen from all the other five counties came in and exhibited there. We did a lot of planning. I made this sound like it just all happened, but from the time that the first idea that we had to do a festival of any kind, there was an awful lot of committee meetings, and three and four people, five people, six people, half a dozen people getting together to brainstorm, and it took a lot of that to get down to . . . before we had our first, you know, the first Folk Festival and all in Mountain View, but . . . It was an interesting experience, and I think it was, like I say, good for Mountain View and good for that area up there. I believe I’ve pretty well covered how it actually started and how we got it off the ground.
Blevins: Well, thank you very much, Mr. Westbrook. Glad to visit with you.
Westbrook: I hope that this will someday help to preserve how it actually started . . .
Blevins: Well, I’m sure it will.
Westbrook: . . . people that was involved in it.