Carter Family Fold

In 1927, A. P. Carter, his wife Sara, and Sara’s cousin Maybelle, who happened to be married to A. P.’s brother, made the thirty-mile trek from their home in Hiltons, Virginia, to Bristol, Tennessee, to record a few songs. The resulting Bristol Sessions not only marked the commercial debut of the Carter Family, they catapulted country music into the American canon.

Almost fifty years after those first recordings, Janette Carter, daughter of A. P. and Sara, established the Carter Family Fold. It was A. P.’s dying wish that the Carter Family’s legacy be carried on, so Janette opened the small concert hall to celebrate her family and its contribution to country music, as well as the rich musical traditions of Appalachia. Janette played host to music fans every Saturday night for more than thirty years, opening shows with her brother Joe and son Dale and singing the songs like “Keep on the Sunny Side” and “Wildwood Flower” that her parents made famous. Meanwhile, Janette’s homemade soup beans and cornbread were flying out the concession stand window. Because the Carter Family Fold is not just about music. It’s about family. And when you’re entertaining family, you want to keep them fed.

Carter Family FoldToday, Janette’s daughter Rita Forrester welcomes friends, family and music fans to the Fold. When her mother passed away in 2006, Rita took the helm and never looked back. And not much has changed. Rita sits in with the band each Saturday night to welcome the crowd and pay tribute to her family through song. But before the music even starts, Rita, other members of her family and a smattering of friends, work in the kitchen at the Fold, cooking the food that will be served that night. The traditional Appalachian staples of soup beans and cornbread are still at the top of the menu, but so is egg salad that’s made from Janette’s recipe and a menagerie of cakes that are baked by women in the community. A night at the Carter Family Fold is like a reunion—a reunion of music, family and food.

Interviews

Chickie Renfro

Chickie Renfro and her husband, George, have been regular visitors to the Carter Family Fold since 1980. Every Saturday night they make the thirty-five-mile drive from their home in Johnson City, Tennessee, to Hiltons, Virginia, and the Fold. They’re such fans, in fact, that when they lived in Knoxville for a few years, they would make the 250-mile round trip every week, determined never to miss a show. Originally, they came for the music, but now they come as family.

Carter Family Fold - Faye Collins

Faye Collins

Residents of Kingsport, Tennessee, Faye Collins and her husband, Blanard, have been traveling to Hiltons, Virginia, and to the Carter Family Fold every Saturday night for the past twelve years. They first arrived as fans, but they soon became family. Faye and Blanard became close to Janette Carter and her daughter, Rita Forrester, soon after becoming regular visitors to the Fold. And when Janette fell ill, Faye was by her side. During that time, Faye began pitching in at the Fold, supporting Rita and working in the kitchen to help set up the concession stand before the regular Saturday night performances. And every Saturday night, Faye makes time to have one of her favorite concession stand snacks: a hot dog with Rita Forrester’s homemade chili. She also makes time to dance.

Flo Wolfe

Today, Flo and her husband, John Wolfe, work the souvenir table at the Fold, where they celebrate the Carter legacy by selling Carter Family CDs, T-shirts, and copies of Recipes from Carter Country, a collection of recipes from Carter family members and friends. Flo even made a few contributions to the cookbook, including recipes for fruit salad, rhubarb jam with pineapple, and her Quick and Easy Small Cake.

Carter Family Fold - Marianna Roberts

Marianna Roberts

In 1927, the same year that the Carter Family recorded their famous Bristol Sessions, Dykes Magic City Trio traveled to New York to record some songs of their own. Growing up in a musical family, Marianna came to performing early. Today she plays bass and sings in her own group, the Appalachian Dream Spinners. But Marianna doesn’t just appreciate her musical heritage; she values her culinary heritage, as well. Marianna still makes her grandmother’s tomato gravy, soup beans, and hoecakes. And she’s still connected to the Carter Family, visiting the Fold at every opportunity to help celebrate the music of the Mountain South.

Carter Family Fold - Mary Hartsock

Mary Hartsock

Mary Hartsock and her older sister, Nancy, worked at the Bristol Weaving Mill, where they each met and later married members of the Carter family. Nancy married Joe Carter, son of A. P. and Sara Carter, in 1948. Mary married Paul Hartsock, nephew of Sara Carter, in 1952. But while her sister and her husband remained in Hiltons, Mary traveled the country with Paul, who was in the military. Eventually, the mountains called them home. When they returned to Hiltons in 1997, the Carter Family Fold was widely known as the place to celebrate the Carter Family, their music, and the traditional music of Appalachia. Mary joined her extended family in welcoming people to the home of the Carter Family, and she joined her sister in the kitchen.

Carter Family Fold - Nancy Carter

Nancy Carter

Nancy married Joe Carter, son of A. P. and Sara Carter, in 1948. They met at the Bristol Weaving Mill, where many people from the mountains traveled to earn a decent living. Nancy and Joe made their home in Hiltons, where Nancy welcomed her father-in-law regularly for breakfast until his death in 1960. In 1974, when Janette Carter, Joe’s sister, decided to open their father’s old grocery store to host music nights in an effort to honor A. P.’s dying wish to keep the family’s music alive, Joe pitched in. But that very first night, A. P.’s old grocery couldn’t fit all of the people who came, and the seed for the Carter Family Fold was planted. Joe designed and constructed a new, larger building next to the old grocery to better accommodate all of the people who would make the journey to Hiltons to hear his family’s music every Saturday night.

Carter Family Fold - Peggy Hensley

Peggy Hensley

Peggy Hensley’s great-grandmother and Janette Carter’s great-grandmother were half-sisters. Even so, Peggy considers herself more of a friend than family. But that doesn’t stop her from volunteering at the Carter Family Fold every Saturday night, taking tickets and helping to celebrate the Carter Family’s musical legacy. Peggy also has a role in the annual Carter Family Memorial Music Festival, which takes place every August.

Carter Family Fold - Rita Forrester - Family Member and Executive Director

Rita Forrester

Rita Forrester, granddaughter of A. P. and Sara Carter, is the executive director of the Carter Family Fold. Her mother, Janette Carter, established the Fold in 1974 as a tribute to her father, A. P., who asked her to carry on the family’s musical legacy. For thirty years, Janette welcomed friends, family, and strangers to her hometown of Hiltons, Virginia, communing with them over food and song. She sang every song as if it were the first time, and she cooked as if she were at home, making cornbread, soup beans, and homemade cakes to feed the pilgrims who traveled so far to reach the Fold. When Janette passed away in 2006, Rita saw it as her duty to try to fill her mother’s shoes—a big job, to be sure, but Rita is, after all, her mother’s daughter.

Vicki Virts

Vicki Virts didn’t grow up in a musical household, but she grew up next to one. Vicki’s family lived next door to Janette Carter, daughter of A. P. and Sara Carter, and Janette’s daughter, Rita. She spent a lot of time at their house, playing with Rita and realizing Janette’s talents in the kitchen. She remembers breakfasts of Janette’s homemade biscuits and a bottle of Pepsi with particular fondness. But as Vicki grew up, it became clear that the Carter family was not just another family; they were country music royalty.

Carter Family Fold Recipes

XTRA: Carter Family Fold Recipes

When SFA oral historian Amy C. Evans conducted interviews with the members and friends of the Carter family that are collected here, she was showered with recipes. We hope you enjoy this sampling of foodways from the Mountain South, most of them regular treats served from the concession stand at the Carter Family Fold every Saturday night.