Lloyd Westbrook of Conway will serve as grand marshal of the 50th annual Arkansas Folk Festival parade in Mountain View, a deserving honor for one of the festival’s founders.
Westbrook is the only surviving member of the five-person committee that developed the idea for the festival in the early 1960s.
This year’s festival parade starts at 10 a.m. Saturday.
Westbrook was named Stone County extension agent in 1961. One of the first discussions he had with county officials was a proposal to reinstate the county fair. "It was to be an event to bring folks back for a homecoming for a few days," Westbrook said.
He met woodworkers and other craftsmen in the county, and Grammy-winning folksinger Jimmy Driftwood ("The Battle of New Orleans") lived on a farm in Timbo.
Westbrook thought it might be a good idea to combine the two arts for a festival. After getting the community on board, he planned a press conference to get out the word.
"We had zero dollars for a press conference," Westbrook said, but the committee traveled the state, calling on newspapers and TV stations.
"We treated 21 press representatives from three states to a home-cooked meal and performances by local pickers and singers," he said, noting that his wife, Connie, was among the cooks.
The publicity worked; for the first Arkansas Folk Festival and Handcraft Fair in April 1963, an estimated 12,000 people trav
eled the two-lane blacktop through blooming dogwoods. Visitors came from 28 states and 67 of Arkansas’ 75 counties, organizers said, and about 4,000 people crowded into the high school gymnasium for the musical performance.
"We sent word down to those waiting in line that there would be a second performance," Westbrook said.
Craftsmen reported selling their works for about $2,000 — quite an accomplishment for Mountain View with a population of 867 and Stone County with a per capita annual income of $351.
The town had no water system and was served by outhouses and septic tanks.
Westbrook later addressed the Area Redevelopment Administration about a $500,000 grant to build a folk center. The director told Westbrook he was thinking too small.
"He told me it would be easier to get $3 million than $500,000, especially if we included a city water and sewer system," Westbrook recalled.
"My office had a secretary, plenty of paper and ink, so we wrote the development plan and later the grant application. I had never written either before, but we were successful."
Today the Ozark Folk Center, built on the edge of "The Folk Music Capital of the World," offers year-around activities that promote Ozark folkways. The center is part of the state parks system.
According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas, the center has 16 craft shops, 24 craft demonstration areas, a welcome center, a 60-unit lodge, a restaurant, food outlets in the crafts area, a conference center, a gift shop and a 1,000-seat music theater with regular concerts.
Westbrook and his family — wife Connie and daughters Beverly and Barbara — moved away from Mountain View after two years when he became extension agent in Heber Springs. From there, they moved to Conway where he was county agent for almost five years. He commuted to Little Rock when he joined the Extension Service state staff.
Westbrook retired from the Extension Service in 1987. In 1990, he worked on a project to help the Conway Chamber of Commerce acquire accreditation. When Guy Murphy retired after 40 years as chamber manager, Westbrook was asked to take his place. He served for 10 years, and at the end of his tenure, the chamber had a new, paid-for building.
Westbrook remembers his years in Mountain View fondly, especially the friends he made among the skeptical members of the "spit and whittle" club on the courthouse square.
Westbrook became quite a whittler himself. His Conway home is filled with animal figures he has carved. He also prides himself on his "pickin’ bow" technique.
"This took many hours of practice sitting in the shade of a cedar tree," Westbrook said, placing the persimmon bow in his arms to play a Mountain View "jig tune."
Visit www.thecabin.net to see a video of Westbrook playing "She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain" on his pickin’ bow.
For more on this story, read Becky Harris' blog, "Leftovers" at thecabin.net.
(Staff writer Becky Harris can be reached at email@example.com and 505-1234.)