Smithsonian Folklife Festival 2023 Celebrates the Cultures of the Ozarks

May 19, 2023
News Release
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Members of the band Ozark Mountain Daredevils in performance

The Ozark Mountain Daredevils, formed in Springfield, Missouri in 1972, perform an evening concert. Photo by Jim Mayfield




Visitors to the 2023 Smithsonian Folklife Festival will experience the cultural landscape of the Ozarks region of the U.S. with the program “The Ozarks: Faces and Facets of a Region.”

The festival will be presented from June 29 to July 4 and July 6 to 9. Most activities will take place on the National Mall between 12th and 14th streets. Daytime programs by musicians, dancers, cooks, artisans, storytellers and others will run from 11 a.m. through 5:30 p.m. On select evenings, special concerts will begin at 6 p.m. Admission to the festival is free and open to the public.

The festival, which also features the “Creative Encounters: Living Religions in the U.S.” program, is produced by the Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and presented in collaboration with the National Park Service. It is made possible by contributions from individuals and public, nonprofit and corporate entities. Promotional support is provided by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) and Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Area Authority (WMATA). The Ozarks program is produced in partnership with Missouri State University (MSU).

The Ozarks’ name has its historic origins in how Native Illini peoples referred to their southern neighbors who dwelled in the lands where the Arkansas River empties into the Mississippi River. Today, it is generally recognized as a geographic expanse stretching across portions of Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Illinois, and is known for a distinct blend of caves, streams, hills, forests and fields. Culturally, the region’s music, dance, food and crafts reflect interactions between long-established populations and new immigrants, urban and rural communities.

“It was a pleasure to work with MSU and to turn the Folklife Festival’s gaze to the U.S. where deeply rooted regional identities loom large, but people overlook equally long histories of movement and change,” said Cristina Díaz-Carrera, lead curator for the Ozarks program. “Many of our richest conversations come from the interplay between the physical environment and a community or individual’s sense of connection to that place. Yes, the Ozarks program is an ode to a particular and unique geographic area, but it reflects a larger American story—one that is complicated, compelling and constantly changing.”

“The program is a welcomed opportunity to celebrate and examine local Ozarker culture on a national stage,” said Tom Peters, dean of libraries and lead MSU curator. “The region has been a home for some, a crossroads for others. It is a place of unrivaled natural beauty and astounding creativity where modernity is made richer by its proximity to heritage. It is also a region experiencing profound change. How it grapples with its history and approaches its future will have major impacts beyond the beautiful hills and hollers that define it.”

The program will feature large-scale murals and a custom-built mountain bike trail, music jam sessions and performances, dance and craft workshops, food and plant knowledge demonstrations, and curated discussions. Selected examples include:

  • Pickin’ Parlor: Old-time music, bluegrass, shape-note singing, gospel music, folk and contemporary, as well as comedy, storytelling, jig and square-dancing workshops. Daily jam sessions will be hosted at the neighboring Guitar Workshop.
  • Cooks, Chefs and More: A veritable who’s who of top regional chefs who are at the forefront of foraging and farm-to-table practices, including Nico Albert Williams (Burning Cedar Indigenous Foods), Rob Connoley (Bulrush), Bradley Dry (chef for TV shows Reservation Dogs and Yellowstone), Emily Lawson (Pink House Alchemy), Phyllis Speer (Cooking on the Wild Side), Rachael West (Eating the Ozarks) and Rafael Rios (Yeyo’s).
  • Teaching Garden: Inspired by the Heritage Herb Garden in Mountain View, Arkansas, Ozark native plants, trees, vegetables and “weeds” will be on full display. Community gardeners, farmers, foragers, herbalists and spiritual leaders will concoct herbal remedies, lead foraging walks and share their deep knowledge and love of plants.

“The Ozarks: Faces and Facets of a Region” is sponsored by MSU, Missouri Division of Tourism, Arkansas Tourism, the Windgate Foundation, University of Arkansas, Experience Fayetteville and Committee of 100 for the Ozark Folk Center. The program received federal support from the Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Latino; the Asian Pacific American Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center; and the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative Pool. Promotional support is provided by MWAA, WMATA and Ozark Beer Company.

Evening Concerts and Special Events

This year’s lineup of evening concert features musicians from across the Ozarks and throughout the United States. “The Ozarks: Faces and Facet of a Region” featured concerts are An Evening with Ozark Women featuring Melissa Carper (June 29), NextGen Ozarks Showcase (July 1) and Ozarks Opry with comedian Terry Wayne Sanders and headliners Big Smith (July 6). Southern rock legends The Ozark Mountain Daredevils will make a special appearance July 4. Smithsonian Folkways Recordings and the Ozarks share the stage July 8 with a show featuring the Po’ Ramblin’ Boys. Community square dances will be held on both Saturdays after the concerts (July 1 and 8).

Concessions and Marketplace

Bark Barbecue Cafe will sell food and drink inspired by the Ozarks and the country’s diverse spiritual traditions. Ozark Beer Company will offer a curated collection of craft brews that represents the region’s expansive creative spirit. In a nod to the Smithsonian’s continued commitment to sustainability, this year visitors will be encouraged to shop the Folklife Festival’s online Marketplace, a partnership with the world’s largest online fair-trade retailer, NOVICA.

About the Smithsonian Folklife Festival

Inaugurated in 1967, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival honors living cultural traditions and celebrates those who practice and sustain them. Produced annually by the Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage and presented in association with the National Park Service, the festival has featured participants from all 50 states, every U.S. territory and more than 100 countries. Follow the festival on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

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