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Coon mule jumping contest
Coon mule jumping contest, in which a mule leaps the fence without a running start Photo courtesy Blue Ridge Institute

Blue Ridge Folk Life Festival

Blue Ridge traditions and culture are celebrated each October on the campus of Ferrum College. The annual day-long festival features music, crafts, vintage agricultural machinery, traditional food, and draft animal competitions.

Since 1973, the festival has been hosted by the Blue Ridge Institute and Museum to provide the public with an opportunity to observe regional folkways. Many exhibitors belong to families who have practiced their crafts for generations. Three music stages provide authentic blues, gospel and other sacred music, bluegrass, and string music. The making of musical instruments, such as the dulcimer, fiddle and banjo, are demonstrated, and musical workshops are held.

Traditional craftspeople display hand skills, such as weaving, basket making, wood carving, doll making, candy making, crocheting, tatting, and tobacco twisting. A mountain comforts quilt exhibit showcases almost one hundred works. Other unique events at the festival are its work animal competitions. These draft horses and mules, which powered farmwork into the 1900s, compete in contests, such as plowing, log skidding and wagon driving. Highlights are the Virginia State Championship Coon Mule Jumping Contest, which has its roots in the old-time tradition of night-time coon hunting, and the sanctioned coon dog bench contests. Other activities include marble shooting and checkers contests, and story telling.

At a re-created 1800 German farmstead, on the campus grounds, costumed interpreters demonstrate the work of a blacksmith and knife maker. The farm includes a display of an illegal liquor distillery, which was confiscated by state Alcoholic Beverage Control agents, who donated it to the Blue Ridge Institute and museum.

The Blue Ridge Institute was designated in 1986 as the Virginia State Center for Blue Ridge Folklore to document and interpret the region's heritage. The center's findings are shared through the festival, the largest celebration of Virginia folkways.

Documentation includes a short text report, 19 slides, photos, a souvenir T-shirt, festival program books, and two posters.

Originally submitted by: Virgil Goode, Jr., Representative (5th District).

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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