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Mountain music comes to town
Bear on the Square visitors get an earful of fiddles and banjos at popular festival
Mac Claflin plays a fiddle tune with a group of musicians on the downtown Dahlonega square Saturday during the Bear on the Square Festival. - photo by Tom Reed

Bear on the Square Mountain Festival

Folk music, arts and crafts in downtown Dahlonega.

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today

Where: Downtown Dahlonega

How much: Market is free; $15 to see afternoon mainstage performers

More info: 706-348-1370, or online


DAHLONEGA — To say that there is music on every corner of the annual Bear on the Square Mountain Festival this weekend is not correct - it's way more than that.

As you wander past the folk vendors along the square, you seamlessly pass from one band of fiddles, banjos and guitars into the next.

For folk musician, founder and festival president Glenda Pender, preserving the Appalachian spirit felt in its music is what the festival is all about.

"We wanted to celebrate Appalachian culture through music, crafts and dance," Pender said, "but we wanted it to be authentic."

Bear on the Square, which takes its name from a few surprise visitors to the town 16 years ago, began as an effort to preserve and share mountain culture.

The festival features vendors selling and demonstrating folk arts and crafts.

But the emphasis is on Appalachian music, which encompasses old-time, roots and bluegrass tunes, all of which were heard throughout the square this weekend.

With band performances and dance demonstrations planned all day and into the night, there was plenty to see and hear. And with up to 50 impromptu performances going on at any given time, it was just as easy to participate by joining the jams. A group of five could quickly become a band of 10 or 11 as others unpacked their instruments and filled the circle.

For performer and teacher Jason Kenney, the music's accessibility is what makes folk instruments and tunes, particularly bluegrass, so easy to learn.

"I love bluegrass, because you can go to a place like this where everyone knows the same songs (and play together). It sounds good," Kenney said.

There were several musical workshops at the festival. Kenney and his wife, Laura, stood under the Little Pickers' tent, introducing folk instruments to children.

"We call it a musical petting zoo for kids of all ages," Laura Kenney said.

The children could try their hands at the guitar, mandolin or mountain dulcimer, but Harrison Grisom of Flowery Branch really wanted to play the fiddle.

He reached up to Kenney eagerly as she told him about the horsehair bow she was about to give him.

Finally Kenney tucked the instrument under the 3-year-old's chin, and only assisted slightly as he drew the bow across the strings, producing a distinct fiddle tone.

Children aren't the only ones who explored mountain music.

An elementary school music teacher with a background in classical and jazz, Owen Lay, 68, of Atlanta has found a new appreciation for the folk genre.

Unusual instruments, like the three-stringed guitar he planned to purchase from one of the vendors to show his students, is what separates folk from more commercial music.

"It's the music of the people," Lay said.

Pender said that heart of Appalachian music is being able to share your soul with others in the community through song.

It's "a sense of belonging, of shared joy and appreciation for music that's so authentic," Pender said.


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