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For this month's installment of These Ozarks Hills, KSMU's Missy Shelton travels to West Plains to learn more about the Old Time Music Ozark Heritage Festival, which is scheduled for June 19th and 20th.
Shelton:And indeed many people found themselves “steeped in old timey material” after the Coen Brothers film “O Brother Where Art Thou” hit theatres in the year 2000. The film brought traditional music into the mainstream. The success of the movie’s soundtrack came as no surprise to many in south central Missouri who have long loved and passed on the music of these hills. The Old Time Music Ozark Heritage Festival in West Plains has been at the forefront of presenting traditional music for years. I recently sat down with West Plains Council on the Arts president Kathleen Morrissey and the council’s folklorist Matt Meacham to talk about the festival. Kathleen starts by giving us some history.
Kathleen: The arts council was approached by artists about having a festival to feature the music they'd grown up with and the council took it on advisement for a couple of years and decided to do it. This is our 15th year.
Shelton: This festival has a reputation for being high quality. What brings people back year after year?
Meacham: The culture we present and celebrate is multi-dimensional...from material culture to visual arts, storytelling and the music. We try to maintain a certain degree of continuity but we try to vary things quite a bit.
Shelton: Do you think about maintaining the integrity of true traditional music because there are a lot of hybrid styles?
Meacham: Our definition of tradition for purposes of the festival is that it involves some degree of continuity with established styles and practices. Continuity doesn't rule out change so we celebrate that.
Shelton: Is there an element of preservation with the festival?
Morrissey: It's hard to preserve these kinds of things. We like to think about being conservationists. The traditions are alive and vital and with some purposeful conservation, we can educate people about why they're important and why they're special.