Imagine you are roaming the streets of Pikeville, Kentucky one summer day and you’re handed a set of spoons to make music with. You knock out a number and then go around the corner to learn flatfoot dancing. After that, you head to a workshop on songwriting, bracelet making, painting, you name it. That’s the Mountain Grrl Experience.
This year’s Mountain Grrl Experience festival, held June 15-17, 2023, will be the third year Kris Bailey Preston and Bek Smallwood, along with a group of dedicated volunteers, have organized to bring a family friendly music and arts festival to Pikeville, with the goal to empower women and raise money for those in need. Woven between a variety of musical performances, the festival features a range of craft and business workshops. These workshops give visitors the opportunity to learn hands-on skills, like playing instruments or creating art, or to develop their business ideas at trainings hosted by female entrepreneurs.
The Appalachian mountains have a rich tradition of folk, bluegrass, and country music, and the festival showcases some of the best female performers in the region. This year performers include Rebecca Lynn Howard, Chelsea Nolan, Bee Taylor, Luna and the Mountain Jets, and so many more.
“The emphasis on music is very heavy for this event, but we want it to be so much more than that. We want people to be involved, we want things to be hands-on, especially activities for children,” Kris said. “I really like seeing when everyone in the audience is involved together, and sharing together, and learning together to create something. We certainly love to see kids at the event and hope that they can watch other people creating art or music, and be inspired to do that.”
The free festival is organized by a group of volunteers who are passionate about women helping women. They work relentlessly to ensure that the festival is a welcoming and inclusive event to celebrate art, music, and creativity, all while supporting women in need. Kris, who is a professor of pharmacy practice at a college in Virginia, said turning the idea of a music festival that empowers women in the community into a reality was a group effort.
“I guess if you go back to when this event started, it came out of a time of down time during the pandemic. That was a time of increased incidents of domestic violence and just more awareness of people who were in need.”
Last year, they raised more than $3,000 for Perry Cline WestCare Emergency Shelter in Pikeville and Turning Point Domestic Violence Services in Prestonsburg, Kentucky. Turning Point was able to use the funds to purchase art and music therapy supplies.
The organizers give much credit and thanks event to the City of Pikeville and their local tourism departments. Kris added that the Appalachian Center for the Arts, which is the local theater in Pikeville, really embraced the idea and said Let’s do this.
“When we put this event together, I wanted it to be something that was helpful and have a higher purpose of women helping and inspiring other women. While we celebrate women and we put women to the forefront, this is definitely an event for everyone.”
Whether you’re a music lover, a craft enthusiast, an aspiring entrepreneur, or just someone who wants to experience the warmth and hospitality of the Appalachian mountains, this festival has something for you. The Mountain Grrl Experience will be June 15-17 in Pikeville, Kentucky. Admission is free thanks to the group’s sponsors (of which Mountain Association is proud to be!).