A World of Good Folk
- July 28, 2022 |
Flags of many nations line the streets of Waynesville. The vivid colors, patterns, and designs waving in the breeze make the Folkmoot Friendship Center just outside of downtown look more like the United Nations Headquarters than a historic community school.
Waynesville is a town of around 10,000 people in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, but don’t let its population size or its remote location amidst some of the highest peaks in the eastern United States fool you. This is a place that values its own distinctive Appalachian culture as well as individual cultures around the globe.
Folkmoot is a local non-profit organization dedicated to celebrating diversity, encouraging cultural inclusion, and showcasing worldwide traditions, especially through music and dance. It hosts one of Waynesville’s largest annual festivals, Folkmoot Summerfest. This year’s event will take place from Thursday, July 28 – Sunday, July 31.
Since the first festival in 1984, the event has brought more than 8,000 international performers from 200 countries to this Smoky Mountain hamlet. This year, Folkmoot Summerfest will host events, performances, and workshops with more than 80 musicians and dancers.
While in the past many of these performers would come to Waynesville directly from their homes abroad, this year, due to international COVID-related guidelines, each group comes from within the United States. Still, the travel limitation only illustrates the breadth of cultural diversity within our own country’s borders.
Some of the art at the 2022 festival will represent nationalities, including Cherokee, Ukrainian, Liberian, Irish, and Venezuelan. Music and dance from Puerto Rican, Southern African-American, and Appalachian cultures will also be featured.
(The photo to the right is from Folkmoot's Instagram feed - the Warriors of AniKituhwa are revitalizing Cherokee dance as it is described in 1762.)
The festival kicks off Thursday, July 28, with a gala fundraiser at the Folkmoot Friendship Center. Festival showcases begin Friday, July 29, with performances at the center’s Queen Auditorium. Individual tickets are $25 while kids 12 and under get in free.
On Saturday, July 30, the weekend’s largest attraction, International Day, hits Downtown Waynesville from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. This street festival, which is free and open to the public, will feature approximately 70 artists, 10 local food and beer vendors, and a large area for children to play and learn about world cultures called KidStuff.
Summerfest moves to nearby Maggie Valley on Saturday evening. Its Celebration of Cultural Diversity event starts at 7 p.m. and includes several performances. Tickets are $25. The fun continues at the Maggie Valley Festival Grounds at 2 p.m., Sunday, July 31, for a Closing Ceremony where a new lineup of entertainers will usher out this year’s festivities. Tickets to Summerfest 2022’s final day are $25 with kids 12 and under receiving free admission.
To see a complete lineup of the weekend’s performances and to purchase Summerfest tickets, visit the Folkmoot website.
While Summerfest 2022 brings a great selection of culture to Waynesville for a weekend, it’s only a sampling of Folkmoot’s mission.
“The summer festival is our primary attention grabber,” says Folkmoot Executive Director Evan Hatch. “It sets up an incredible tradition that many people in our area love, but we host diverse, inclusive programs year-round at the Folkmoot Center, which provide ways to draw new crowds to our organization.”
This year-round programming features many styles of cultural music heard around the United States and the world, from Cajun to Ethiopian, in the center’s FolkmootLive! series. It also showcases Appalachian folk music, country, and big band as well as other performing arts, including dance and author readings.
FolkmootLive! events bring in food trucks and other local vendors, and each is held at the Folkmoot Friendship Center’s Queen Auditorium. There are a number of programs scheduled for later this summer and fall, and Hatch says that his goal is to expand the series to a full calendar in 2023. For a look at this season’s slate of events, go to the FolkmootLive! section of the group’s site.
The Folkmoot Friendship Center remains a destination even when performers aren’t onstage. Community groups rent classroom space in the historic school building where they can work, exhibit, and teach others their crafts and cultures. Artists creating stained glass, jewelry, and costumes practice and display their work in galleries at the Folkmoot Center.
The Folkmoot Friendship Center is a local resource where Waynesville residents can drop in to learn traditional Cherokee weaving techniques or to take a class on improvisational comedy. It also houses area arts- and education-based nonprofits like the Haywood County Arts Council and the Success Oriented Achievement Realized, or SOAR, Academy which provides experiential learning, life skills development, and adventure programs for neurodivergent children.
Shahid Khan has been a resident of Waynesville for 18 months, and he quickly saw the difference Folkmoot makes in the community. He was so impressed by its initiatives that he joined the organization’s board of directors.
Khan, born in Pakistan, grew up a child of international diplomats and has lived in many countries on several continents. He and his wife most recently lived in Florida before moving to Waynesville where her family has roots. The transition wasn’t as shocking to Khan as one might think.
“I’m a world citizen, but I love living in small-town America,” said Khan. Getting involved with Folkmoot was an especially perfect fit for Khan because he also has professional experience serving on nonprofit boards.
“I had an affinity for Folkmoot because it provides international cultural experiences to Western North Carolina and because I share both an international and nonprofit background,” said Khan.
For Khan, Folkmoot also cultivated the sense of belonging to a community and being a part of something larger than oneself. These are concepts he was familiar with from his early life abroad in a diplomatic family and knew to be essential for what it means to call a place “home.”
“They say that you can’t go home again, but you can always be at home wherever you are if you understand and appreciate that culture,” said Khan. “Home is everywhere.”
The Waynesville Mast General Store has also become a home for Khan. He’s been an associate there for a year now. He brings with him a world of experience and the warm, open demeanor of a good neighbor.
Mast is happy to have Shahid and many other friendly folks like him on staff at the Waynesville store and at each of our locations. Treating people of all backgrounds with respect, understanding, and kindness is a message Mast Store and Folkmoot promote so that we all feel a little more like neighbors to one another and everywhere feels a little more like home.