Townsend winter festival pulls in traditional music, crafts, foods

Kay Littlejohn will bring stories of the Cherokee to life while her husband, Danny Bigay will entertain with tradition flute music at “A Cherokee Evening” at Dancing Bear Lodge on Friday and again on Saturday at the Visitor’s Center as part of the Townsend Winter Heritage Festival.

Kay Littlejohn will bring stories of the Cherokee to life while her husband, Danny Bigay will entertain with tradition flute music at “A Cherokee Evening” at Dancing Bear Lodge on Friday and again on Saturday at the Visitor’s Center as part of the Townsend Winter Heritage Festival.

Danny Bigay knew at a young age his life would be tied to art and music.

Bigay and his wife, Kay Littlejohn, of Greeneville, will headline “A Cherokee Evening” at Dancing Bear Lodge on Friday, Feb. 4, as part of the fifth annual Winter Heritage Festival in Townsend.

“We’re both Cherokee, and we’re going to be playing flute music and telling traditional stories,” he said

Bigay, 50, said he still remembers first hearing the Cherokee flute as a child. “When I was a kid, the first time I heard anyone playing a Cherokee flute, it grabbed me,” he said. “As long as I’ve been making them, it has always pulled me in.”

I’ve been making flutes and playing them as well since I was a kid,” he said. “I’ve been making my living as an artist and doing it as part of my living for at least 25 years. We live outside of Greeneville but do Native American fine art shows all over the country.”

The artist and musician said the tuning on the scale on these flutes is ancient and is a different scale than a symphonic flute. “It seems to have an emotional effect on a lot of people. From what I’ve heard people say, it kind of grabs them differently,” he said. “It definitely is a different experience. It is not that it is better or worse, it is just different than if you were listening to classical music.”

Bigay said Littlejohn, also 50, came by her passion for sharing Native American stories honestly.

“Her dad was a storyteller, and she’s been doing it longer than I’ve known her,” he said.

Bigay said that while his wife makes her living doing website computer work, storytelling has always been a part of her life. They’ve been married 10 years. “We met through her dad. He was an artist and made flutes, and we met at a show and got to be friends,” he said.

While Littlejohn grew up in Western North Carolina, Bigay spent the biggest part of his life in Northeast Georgia. The couple has lived in Tennessee for most of their marriage.

Bigay said he spent the early part of his adult life playing music in bands, but then he started to commit more time to the art of making and playing the Cherokee flute.

The traditional Cherokee flute is made out of river cane, he explained. “That is the old-style traditional Cherokee flute, and it takes a couple days to make one,” he said. “Some of the other flutes I do are more like art pieces, with intricate carvings and stone inlay. Some of those take me months to make. They are playable flutes but are more like art pieces.”

Bigay said he is a mixed-blood Native American and that traditional Native American art has appealed to him most of his life. “The idea of doing an art form like this -- one that is so rooted in the past -- there has always been something about it that appealed to me,” he said. “There are a lot of art forms, but these flutes have an ancient tradition, and I like the sound of them.”

The Winter Heritage Festival is from Thursday, Feb. 3, through Sunday, Feb. 6. It is a celebration of the area’s historic culture. Families tied to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park join with historians, artisans and experts on the area’s natural resources and people in a series of classes, tours, exhibits, music performances, hikes and demonstrations to share first-hand experiences and insight.

The event has received an Award of Merit from the American Association for State and Local History and has been recognized as one of the Top 20 Events in the Southeast.

The Winter Heritage Festival events are scheduled at the Townsend Visitors Center throughout the festival, along with the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center, Cades Cove, Little River Railroad Museum, Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont and several Townsend businesses.

Winter Heritage Festival Schedule of Events:

Thursday, Feb. 3, 4 to 8 p.m.:

Kick-Off Event at Blount County Historical Museum and Cades Cove Museum at Thompson Brown House with exhibits, refreshments, and historic interpreters in period dress

Friday, February 4:

At Townsend Visitors Center:

• 8:30 to 9:15 a.m.: Birds of the Smokies, Kelly Caruso

• 9:15 to 9:45 a.m.: Winter Bird Stroll, Kelly Caruso

• 10 to 10:45 a.m.: Nancy Ward of the Cherokee, Cherel Henderson

• 11 to 11:45 a.m.: The Garner Photographs, Lorene Smith

• 1:30 to 2:15 p.m.: Old Smoky Mountain Days, Butch McDade

• 2:30 to 3:15 p.m.: A Reflective History of the Smokies, Glen Cardwell

• 3:30 to 4:15 p.m.: Winter on Mt. LeConte, Doug McFalls

• 4:30 to 5:15 p.m.: Blount County Forts, Ken Cornett

• 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.: Book-signing by Roy Oliver, Last Man from Tremont

• 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.: Old Time Photos and Wedding Vow Renewals by Mary Grace McCaffery

Hike in the Park:

• 2 p.m.: Elkmont Ramble with Herb Handly. Meet at the Little River Trailhead, Elkmont

At Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center:

• 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.: Cades Cove History Programs and Families of Cades Cove Exhibits

• 12 to 1 p.m.: Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s Cultural Collections, John McDade

At Little River Railroad Museum: (meet at the Museum)

• 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.: Walking Tour of Elkmont, Raymond Palmer

• 3 to 4 p.m.: Walking Tour of Townsend, Don Headrick

At Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont:

• 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.: Walker Valley History Talk, Jeremy Lloyd

• 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.: Winter Tree Identification Hike, Ken Voorhis

In Cades Cove:

• 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.: A Walk to Gourley Pond, Mike Maslona (limit 25; registration required, 865-448-6134)

At The Chocolate Bar Café (next to Subway):

• 11 a.m. to 12 p.m.: Old Time Smoky Mountain Music, presentation, music, cd-signing by Dr. Ted Olson. For a lunch of soup or chili, salad, and cornbread, payment is $10. Call 865-448-9432.

At Dancing Bear Lodge:

• 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.: “A Cherokee Evening” with flute music and stories by Danny Bigay and Kay Littlejohn. (Order from the Dancing Bear menu. Dinner reservations required: 865-448-6000)

Saturday, February 5

At Townsend Visitors Center:

The Mountain Craft and Mountain Music Showcases are sponsored by an “Arts Build Communities” grant from the Tennessee Arts Commission.

“Mountain Craft Showcase”

• 9 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.: Basketry, Karen Kenst and Bonny Kate Sugg

• 9:30 to 10 a.m.: Pottery, Carol Ware

• 10:30 to 11 a.m.: Appalachian Dolls, Carolyn Gregory

• 11 to 11:30 a.m.: Woodcarving, Lendel Abbott

• 11:30 to 12 p.m.: Corn Shuck Dolls, Sue Campbell

“Mountain Music Showcase”

• Noon to 1 p.m.: Special Lunchtime Program: Bring a sack lunch or buy a Dutch Oven meal and enjoy a Mountain Dulcimer Concert with Sarah Morgan

• 1:15 to 2:15 p.m.: Cherokee Flute Music and Stories, Danny Bigay and Kay Littlejohn

• 2:15 to 3:15 p.m.: Secret History of Appalachian Music, Bob Fulcher

• 3:30 to 4:15 p.m.: Music of the 1920’s and 1930’s, Roy Harper

• 4:15 to 5 p.m.: Old Time Smokies Tunes and Ballads, Lisa and Brad Free

• 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.: Book-signing by Roy Oliver, Last Man from Tremont

• 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.: Old Time Photos and Wedding Vow Renewals by Mary Grace McCaffery

• 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.: Cast iron cooking by the Blount County Fire Department

• 9 to 4 p.m.: Civil War Encampment to commemorate the Sesquicentennial

At Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center:

• 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.: Cades Cove History Programs and Families of Cades Cove Exhibits

At Little River Railroad Museum:

• 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.: Tremont Walking Tour, Ron Briggs

• 3 to 4 p.m.: Logging Railroads of the Smokies, Rick Turner

In Cades Cove:

• 1:30 to 3 p.m.: The Not-So-Secret Life of Gregory Cave, Park Ranger Ann Schlichting. Short walk to the cave entrance. Meet at the Shelter at the entrance to the Cades Cove Loop Rd.

At The Chocolate Bar Café:

• 11 a.m. to 12 p.m.: The Perry Camp Murders, Robert Allen. Booksigning to follow the talk. For a lunch of soup or chili, salad, and cornbread ($10), call 865-448-9432.

Townsend Artisan Guild: Shops and Galleries Open House around Townsend.

At The Barn Event Center of the Smokies:

• 6 to 9 p.m.: BBQ Supper, Highland Dance by Claire MacMillan, and Square Dance with caller Bill Fox ($20 per person; reservations required, call 865-448-3812)

Sunday, February 6

• 2 to 4 p.m.: “Precious Memories IV”, Cades Cove Preservation Association at Big Valley Resort “Barn”. Remembrances of people, places, and events by descendants of Cades Cove families.

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