Pam Simmons Setser was 9 years old in 1970 when she traveled with her parents from Mountain View to Washington, D.C., to perform as the Simmons Family Band at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Setser, now a grandmother of five, has been invited back to the annual free festival, which started in 1967 and runs from June 29-July 4 and July 6-9 on the National Mall.
This year's edition, produced by the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, features artists, artisans and others from Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri in a program called The Ozarks: Faces and Facets of a Region. Along with Setser, others representing the Natural State include the Ozark Highballers, the Brockwell Gospel Music School, Sylamore Special, guitarist Kalyn Fay Barnoski and cellist Matt Magerkurth. Also scheduled to appear from Arkansas are herbalists, healers, textile artists, distillers and a muralist/sign painter.
Setser, however, is the only Arkansan on the bill who was also part of the 1970 festival lineup. It was quite the adventure, she said last week.
"Several went from our area and most of us had never been on an airplane before. I'd never been to a large city. We visited the memorials and we went to the Smithsonian Institution any time we could."
She and her parents, Tommy and Jean, also got to meet some of their musical heroes like Doc and Merle Watson and Maybelle and Sara Carter.
"I was 9, but I already knew who they were," Setser said. "It was quite an experience. I've never forgotten that trip."
She started singing when she was 5 and performed with her parents until she was 21 and moved to Hot Springs to appear during the summers in a show called "The Country Music Story." She eventually left her career in music to start a family, but continued to play and perform.
Her latest solo album, "Now," was released in 2021. She has also teamed up with Brad Apple to form the duo Apple & Setser; their self-titled album came out in 2022 and they have been nominated in the category of Acoustic Act of the Year at the 2023 Arkansas Country Music Awards.
Setser, who plays guitar and dulcimer, has long been active in the Committee of One Hundred, a nonprofit group that, among other things, funds the Music Roots program in the Mountain View School District.
"Music has always been a part of my life," she said. "Going to the [Folklife Festival] in 1970, I wouldn't have been there had it not been for music. Now, in 2023, it's the same deal. If it weren't for my music I wouldn't have this opportunity. ... Stone County and Mountain View are blessed with so much craftsmanship and so many talented musicians. To get to represent that is a real honor."
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