The big sounds of small towns

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The Steel Wheels in concert in Arkansas
The Steel Wheels in concert in Arkansas

Some big sounds are coming out of small town music venues in North Central Arkansas.

At the top of the list is Mountain View, known as the “Folk Music Capital of the World.” Music is not only vital here, it is the soul of the town.

Located in the Ozarks, the city has a rich tradition of preserving folk music and culture. It was natural for the Arkansas Folk Festival to be founded here in the early 1960s, and the Ozark Folk Center State Park followed in 1973. Music plays a vital part of the aura of the area as, historically, Saturday nights would find locals at a "pickin'" in a neighbor's house or yard. The custom continues today and once the weather gets warm, musicians join locals and play music late into the night hours outside around the town square. The season is from mid-April through late November.

There is a determination to keep the tradition alive through programs such as the Music Roots Program, where via the local school system, area musicians teach young people to play the old tunes on traditional string instruments. Additionally, part of the mission of the Ozark Folk Center State Park is to preserve this music as well.

At the park, acoustic southern mountain music and special concerts are offered at evening shows in the 1,000-seat theater. Ozark Highlands Radio is recorded live at OFC. String bands also play at other outdoor stages in the park, which in addition to folk musicians is also home for working craft artisans. 

More music can be found at venues such as Jimmy Driftwood’s Barn, where folk, gospel, country and bluegrass is performed by local performers and friends from around the country. The White River Theater is a 450-seat capacity live music theater offering remarkable bands and acts from all over the state. Plus, it brings in noteworthy, Branson-quality shows.

The city is also home to a folk festival and a bluegrass festival each year.

In addition to music, Mountain View has music stores, antique shops, and great restaurants. The state's largest craft cooperative, the Arkansas Craft Guild, is also headquartered in the historic downtown area and has a gallery there. The town, located deep in the Ozarks is surrounded by mountains and rivers, offering outdoor activities that include caving at Blanchard Springs Caverns, fishing on the White River, and mountain biking the 50-mile Syllamo Mountain Bike Trail.

Music on the Mountain View square
Music on the Mountain View square
Mountain View Bluegrass Festival
Mountain View Bluegrass Festival

Other small towns in beautiful Ozark Mountain settings offer live music as well.

Gilbert is a tiny town on the banks of the Buffalo National River. An outdoor stage and pavilion with a concession area welcomes music lovers to hear live bands every Saturday night starting in May and continuing throughout the summer. Keep up-to-date with the band list at gilbertstore.com.

In Leslie, the Killebrew Theater offers live music the second Saturday of each month with all proceeds supporting the Ozark Heritage Arts Center. Known as “The Chocolate Roll Capital of the World” with 1920l-era charm, Leslie is a small town of less than 500 residents that boasts an active community theater, art gallery, museum, antique shops and a brick-oven bakery.

In Bull Shoals, the Bull Shoals Theater of the Arts is a non-profit corporation with regularly schedule live entertainment. See their schedule of bands at www.bullshoalstheater.net. Bull Shoals is a resort town centered around Bull Shoals Dam on the White River, which created Bull Shoals Lake. The town is bordered on the north, northeast and west by the waters of Bull Shoals Lake. The White River flows alongside the town on the east. From the southeast, access to Bull Shoals is via a drive over the dam.

Salem has the Ozark Mountain Music Makers with local and regional acts performing on Saturday nights.