Peggy Mathews

Co-chair of the Campbell Culture Commission, on its upcoming Louie Bluie Music and Arts Festival

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Street Talk

Is this festival a one-time event, or do you hope to make it annual?

We're calling it our inaugural Louie Bluie Music and Arts Festival, meaning it's the first of what we hope will be many.

Why did you choose to honor Howard Armstrong?

Well, number one, he's an amazing man and a wonderful representative of our East Tennessee heritage. Secondly, he's born and raised up in Campbell County and he accomplished so much. He was named National Treasurer for the National Endowment of the Arts; he was the subject of two documentaries. He was what we call a true Renaissance man.

Howard Armstrong, in our mind, is the perfect person to hold up as a model to young people. All we hear about our county is bad stuff; that's what makes the news.

We had read that Howard played 22 instruments and spoke seven languages and that just floored us.

Here he is, growing up poor and black in Lafollette, and part of the festival is featuring fiddlers who fiddled in competitions in the teens and '20s in which Howard would have never been allowed to enter. The karma thing is that now these talented white fiddlers are coming and playing at his festival.

How will the festival reflect the multi-faceted talents of Howard?

We're going to have a youth art exhibit that is the product of a youth outreach program we did in the schools this spring, teaching middle school kids about Howard Armstrong. The kids wrote and illustrated their own stories and learned one of Howard's songs. At the festival, we'll have on display their stories, the art, and they will sing the song that they learned. They'll join Nancy Brennan Strange on stage to sing the â“Barnyard Danceâ” at 4 p.m. We have 36 artisans and crafters who will display and sell their crafts. They're all from East Tennessee, mostly from a 50-mile radius. There will be woodcarvers, quilters, basket-makers, painters, even an artist who paints on 3-D objects. We'll have storytelling as well, local folks telling stories. That's very much what our festival is about: showing off the multi-faceted artistic talents in this region. It's the storytelling like Howard did, the painting like Howard did, the music like Howard did.

How would you classify Howard Armstrong's influence on East Tennessee music and art?

I would say that it's hidden but it's very impactful. At the festival, we'll have a panel of musicians who'll talk about the influences of Howard Armstrong on their music. The influence of the African American artist on Appalachian music is fundamental. The banjo is an African instrument. The pace of Howard's, the fast mandolin especially, shows up in bluegrass music these days. I say it's hidden because in our region we know much more about bluegrass and the white string bands, and the black musicians are more hidden and not as recognized. We hope we're correcting that.

The Louie Bluie Music and Arts Festival will be held Saturday, June 9, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Cove Lake State Park in Caryville.

 

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