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Vance Randolph to Edd Jeffords : “Back to the Landers”

29 Jun 2017 12:53 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

From its beginning, Eureka Springs, Arkansas has been more than quirky with its share of interesting people and ideas.  One of the most attention-grabbing times was during the assimilation of the “long hairs” into the Ozark folk culture and business communities.

The legacy of the back-to-the-land movement in the Arkansas Ozarks during the 1960’s and 1970’s includes how in-migrants from urban areas learned about local Ozark flora, fauna, and folk culture.  By creating a fast link to established folklore and naturalist figures such as Vance Randolph, the “hipbillies” quickly began to assimilate into Ozark communities, (though not perfectly) and took the lead in preserving the natural beauty and folk traditions of the Ozarks.

Jared M. Phillips, local historian, lives in Prairie Grove on a small homestead with his wife, son, and what he calls his “rowdy chickens.”  He is currently writing Hipbillies: Back to the Landers in the Arkansas Ozarks under contract with the University of Arkansas Press.  Phillips will speak at Hobbs State Park on the merits of the vast collection of Ozark culture amassed by writers like Vance Randolph, and then shift gears to explain how some of the “Hipbillies” became the bearded businessmen of Eureka Springs, carrying on Ozark folk customs.

In the beginning, Vance Randolph was a folklorist whose studies in the traditional culture of the Ozarks brought him fame with academic and popular readers from the late 1920’s to the present.  For most of the 1940’s and 1950’s he lived in Eureka Springs, continuing to collect traditional Ozark music, dialect studies, and folk beliefs.  His litany of publications includes Journal of American Folklore, Down In the Holler: A Gallery of Ozark Folk Speech, and Pissing in the Snow, (1976) a collection of bawdy folk tales, which by far became his most popular book.

Phillips writes of the 1960’s and 1970’ s, “Change was fast coming to the Ozark hilltops.  Beginning in the late 1960’s population boomed throughout the Arkansas uplands as thousands of in-migrants-mostly retirees and returnees, but also members of the counterculture moved into the state.  These dissimilar groups from the nation’s cities and suburbs flocked to the newly-created lakes and retirements villages, but also to small towns and rural areas, and along the way, stirred up a potent mixture of enthusiasm and consternation among local people.  At times, consternation became antagonism.  The most organized bitterness occurred in Carroll County’s Eureka Springs, giving birth to a mythology concerning hostility between native-born hill folks and back-to-the-land hippies.  Though Eureka Springs is now seen as a mecca for Ozarkian counterculture, in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the “long hairs” newly residing in and around the town agitated the town’s business leaders.  Some of the loudest protests came from John Cross, a bank owner, entrepreneur, and community elder.”  Cross even had a baseball bat in his office which he affectionately referred to as his “hippy stick.”

There was one good reason for the native townspeople to be upset.  In 1973, only four years after “Woodstock”, back-to-the-lander Edd Jeffords had the idea to organize a music festival just north of Eureka Springs.  He called it the Ozark Mountain Folk Fair.  The venue was built to accommodate 60,000 people; however, an estimated 150,000 souls (mainly long hairs) inundated the small community of 2,000.  Banker John Cross referred to the happening as “The Marijuana Rodeo”.

Many of the “long hairs” who previously rejected the commercial aspects of society, stayed to live in Eureka Springs.  As years passed, their attitudes changed as they absorbed Ozark culture and established trendy arts and craft shops, reaping the benefits of the tourist dollars flowing into the area.

Anyone who remembers those times in Eureka Springs, or who is just interested in the unique history of northwest Arkansas will not want to miss Jared Philips’s upcoming program!

When –  Sunday July 9, 2017    2:00 p.m.

Where -  Hobbs State park visitor center located on Hwy 12 just east of the                    Hwy 12/War Eagle Road intersection

Cost – Free – The public is invited

This program is a continuation of the Friends of Hobbs Speaker Series.

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