Bear on the Square Mountain Festival
sprout like johnny-jump-ups through the warm months in the small towns
of North Georgia. What distinguishes Dahlonegas Bear on the Square
Mountain Festival from these other Rites of Spring is the emphasis on
music - bluegrass and early American music to be precise and a
small market featuring traditional Appalachian crafts rather than the
First of all,
what could be better than to spend a warm Spring day and a cool Spring
evening enjoying bluegrass jam sessions and watching other music-lovers
doing the same thing? Secondly, the whole thing takes place in and around
the central square in the picturesque North Georgia village of Dahlonega.
And Dahlonega is for real a former frontier town, site of the first
Gold Rush in the United States, hospitable to wayfarers while avoiding
the tourist schlock.
Bear on the Square? That is for real, too. Eight years ago merchants on
Dahlonegas historic Public Square rubbed the sleep from their eyes
one fine Spring morning, and eventually concluded that yes, there really
was a baby bear up in that sycamore in front of Brad Walkers Pottery
on the town square. The youngster had either wandered into people-world
or else been led astray by other ursines and ended up lost and alone in
the darkening evening so of course it spent the night in a tree
and wouldnt or couldnt come down in the morning.
While a tad
traumatic for the bear, it was a wonderful excuse for the people of Dahlonega
to throw a party. Since Appalachian and early music and bluegrass are
all much loved in the region and there is a tradition of honoring the
folkways, traditional music would be the focus, and the Bear on the Square
Mountain Festival was born. 2003 brought the Seventh Annual Bear on the
Square Mountain Festival, and Ive enjoyed every one of them! (And
yes, the baby bear was just fine the Forest Service rode in and
transported it back into the woodsy mountains, perhaps a little wiser
and no worse for wear).
Nick and Glenda Pender, local residents and musical activists, were a
major force in perpetuating this fine excuse for a festival. It became
an annual event, the third weekend in April every year - make
this event a stop on your itinerary next April.
all very thankful for that baby bear the Bear on the Square Mountain
Festival is just so much fun! The secret to having a really great time
is to have a minimal agenda - do make sure you don't miss any of the special
concerts with your favorite authentic bluegrass performers, but plan to
spend most of your time strolling around the square, sitting in or listening
in on the many jam sessions.
Bring your guitar, dobro, mandolin or fiddle or just your own tutored
or untutored voice. Make some music yourself or form a spellbound audience
as others create that high lonesome sound which is native to these hills.
You can ask to join in the semi-spontaneous jam sessions that spring up
in gazebos or under trees and balconies around the square.
particular enthusiasts there are musically illustrated workshops held
under a tent on such topics as the difference between old time music and
bluegrass fiddling. There is a childrens play (Goldilocks
and the Three Bears on the Square) in the towns historic Holly
Theatre, and theres a Teddy Bear Picnic for the kids under the trees.
And there are simply splendid concerts in the Folkways Center. While there
is a modest charge for the concerts and the play, the jam sessions, the
workshops and the ambience are all for free.
Its a musical lovefest. Performers play up to the enthusiastic,
appreciative audiences, and audiences enjoy a very high standard of excellence
in the performances. To give you some idea of the caliber of the 2003
THE JIM HURST BAND - a group of Nashvilles hottest bluegrass pickers.
Jim himself has long been one of Nashvilles most respected musicians.
His mellow voice and red-hot guitar have landed him in the bluegrass charts
for the last six months. He is IBMA (International Bluegrass Music Association)
Guitar Player of the Year.
JAMES BRYAN AND CARL JONES WITH RACHEL BRYAN: James' history as a fiddler
winds through stints with some of oldtime and bluegrass music's greats
such as Norman and Nancy Blake and Bill Monroe. James was joined at Bear
by Carl Jones, a longtime partner in traditional music who has also toured
with Norman and Nancy Blake and who is a very funny man! James' daughter,
Rachel added solid guitar to this talented trio.
Local and regional bands included GOLD RUSH BLUEGRASS BAND and PEAVINE
CREEK STRING BAND plus other exciting acts from an incredible pool of
talented North Georgia musicians.
Past Bears have featured dynamite national acts such as GINNY
HAWKER, TRACY SCHWARZ, CHRIS JONES and the Night Drivers, HAZEL DICKENS
and other luminaries of the bluegrass and traditional music field. The
festival-goers expect no less.
annual festival is now partnering with the Folkways Center, a Dahlonega
organization with the slogan Whos going to carry it on?;
devoted to the continuance of local history, stories, arts, crafts and
music. After seven years the Festival shows no sign of over-exploitation.
Organizers have insisted on authenticity in this tribute to mountain music
and culture. Unlike many other festivals, this one is not about the crafts
per se, its about our heritage and the tradition of home-made music.
In the words
of organizer Glenda Pender: We respect our culture, and appreciate
the personal experience we want Bear on the Square to be for each person
who participates. Its the kind of festival that the humans
bring their dogs to on a leash, and the dogs get tired of walking around