If you saw a bear walking through your town, would you stop and look at the fuzzy creature?
This happened years ago in Dahlonega when a mama bear and two cubs made their way into the town square. One of the cubs actually climbed a sycamore tree and stayed put for hours.
This unique bear sighting, which gained the attention of many, lead to the founding of the Bear on the Square Mountain Festival, which celebrated its 14th year of music and art this past weekend around the historic public square in Dahlonega and Hancock Park.
Jimmy Booth, the publicity chairman of the festival, said the event, which brought in about 50,000 people last year, was expected to bring in even more this year.
Glenda Pender, the president, music chairwoman and one of the founders of the festival, said that it is gratifying that the festival has become such a phenomenon among locals.
“When we started this, our goal was to keep the music, tradition and Appalachian craft alive,” Pender said. “It must have struck a note with people because people keep coming back every year.”
Shawnna Tremblay, an art marketing student at North Georgia College & State University who was serving as an intern at the festival, said she thinks the festival has survived for so long because people still love the “old” Dahlonega.
“This festival is old music and arts and crafts oriented, and it represents bringing people back together and capturing the history of Appalachia,” Tremblay said.
Booth said people can stereotype residents as “a bunch of hillbillies that sit on the front porch,” but he believes that the festival is a way to prove people wrong and show there is so much to the culture of Appalachia.
“People have many different talents, and just because you see them playing an instrument and having a good time doesn’t mean that they are not intelligent,” Tremblay said. “You don’t know what kind of networking they have or what kind of background they have.”
The event kicked off Friday with street jams and continued on Saturday and Sunday with on-stage performances at the Main Stage Tent in Hancock Park. Local, regional, and national musicians performed including Michael Cleveland and Flamekeeper, Jesse McReynolds and the Virginia Boys, and Ginny Hawkers and Tracy Schwarz with Kari Sickenberger.
John C. Campbell Folk School sponsored the Mountain Marketplace around the square, which included an artists’ market of traditional crafts and artists demonstrating their craft throughout the marketplace.
Pender believes it is important to keep the Appalachian music and traditions alive because it is a part of Dahlonega’s history.
“If we don’t pass it on, it will go away; so our mission statement is to preserve and celebrate the culture of the Appalachian mountains,” Pender said.