april 16-17
One of bear cubs that started it all back in 1986 hiding in tree on Dahlonega's town square
One of bear cubs that started it all back in 1986 hiding in tree on Dahlonega’s town square

There are many reasons for people to decide to have a party, and such a reason occurred back in 1996 when a mama bear and her two cubs made their way out of the wild and onto Dahlonega’s Historic Town Square.

A large crowd gathered, some of them actually following the bears to the square in the Northeast Georgia town.The mama bear and one cub escaped to another part of town, where they were later captured by forest rangers and returned to the wild, but one bear cub climbed a sycamore tree on the square and remained there for several hours as rangers and other locals tried to coax it back down to the ground. The rescue effort was ultimately successful, and rangers placed the unharmed cub back into the mountain woodlands.

The excitement generated by the day’s activities inspired several local residents to begin meeting and making plans to create a local event mirroring the buzz created by the bears’ visit, and the first Bear on the Square Mountain Festival took place in 1997. From a small beginning, the festival has increased in both size and quality each year, and this year’s festivities, planned the weekend of April 16-17, will be the 20th annual.

The festival is a yearly celebration of Southern Appalachian culture, including bluegrass and old-time music, art and crafts, and folkways. During recent years, the event, which takes place rain or shine, has drawn crowds estimated at 40,000 to 50,000 people.

This year’s family-friendly program of activities includes some special events in recognition of the festival’s 20th year, andthis is also emphasized by a large number of returning musicians, artists and craftsmen, as well as other festival participants who have been crowd favorites in years past. The 2016 festival activities get underway on Friday afternoon and evening (April 15) when the first jammers start arriving on the town square and the Live and Silent Country Auctions are presented in the MainStage Tent starting at 5 p.m. with music by Ugly Cousin starting at 5:30. The $5 entrance fee includes a bidder’s paddle, dinner catered by Shenanigans and Bourbon Street Grille and beverages. Tickets are purchased at the door.

Saturday and Sunday’s events include free admission MainStage performances by local, regional and national musicians with this year’s headliners including The Becky Buller Band, Chris Jones & The Night Drivers, BlueBilly Grit, and The Howlin’ Brothers. Also scheduled are a juried Artist Marketplace featuring traditional mountain crafts, storytelling, an old-time mountain dance, a Gospel Jam, free music workshops and demonstrations, demonstrating artists, dance teams and musicians from John C. Campbell Folk School, and an acoustic open mic event. There are plenty of things for kids to do, and food is available at a festival food court and from the town’s many dining establishments.

For updated information about the festival, including the complete lineup of performers and artists, schedules, sponsors and other details, visit BearOnTheSquare.org.

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Photo by Kate Brehe
Jimmy Booth

Jimmy Booth

Lifelong Georgia resident Jimmy Booth, who was a longtime Atlanta area journalist and public relations consultant, moved in fall of 2006 from Peachtree City, Ga., to Dahlonega, Ga. He and his wife Margo have become involved with several Dahlonega-based not-for-profit cultural arts and historical organizations working to keep alive the traditional mountain music, art and folkways which are a vital part of the area's heritage. Jimmy graduated from Emory University, where he served as editor of The Emory Wheel. During his journalistic career, he worked as publisher or editor of several Georgia weekly and small daily newspapers, and he was a section editor for The Atlanta Journal and Constitution. Now officially retired, he handles publicity for some of the events and organizations in the Dahlonega area.