A! Magazine for the Arts

The Carter Fold

The Carter Fold

A short history of the Carter Family Fold

February 26, 2024

The Carter Family is the “First Family of Country Music.” A.P. Carter, his wife Sara, and her cousin Maybelle Carter came to Bristol, Tennessee, in August 1927 and made some of the earliest recordings of traditional music in America. These musical pioneers almost single-handedly established the sounds and traditions that grew into modern folk, country and bluegrass music. Before he died, A.P. Carter got his daughter Janette to promise to keep his dreams alive by preserving the music that he had worked so hard to preserve and perpetuate.

Janette started having Saturday musical performances at the A.P. Carter Store in 1974, and in 50 years it has grown into a musical performance and concert venue, called the Carter Family Fold, which seats about 850 today. It is dedicated to the preservation and performance of old-time and bluegrass music.

Janette Carter directed the center and served as master of ceremonies and performer at the Saturday night shows, often accompanied by her brother Joe, until she died in 2006. Her daughter, Rita Forrester, now fulfills that role. The Fold presents weekly concerts. They are open from March through November and close for the winter. To stay true to the musical preservation, no electric instruments are allowed (although this rule was often set aside for performances by singer Johnny Cash, a Carter family in-law).Smoking and drinking are prohibited in the venue.

Most of the participating performers at the Fold are bluegrass or old-time music performers from the Appalachian region. However, Johnny Cash performed at the Fold many times and played his last concert there July 5, 2003, a few months before his death. Cash’s wife,June Carter Cash, was a daughter of Maybelle Carter. The Carter Sisters, Helen, June and Anita, performed at the Carter Fold many times also. Sara and Maybelle performed their last concerts at the Fold as well. The Fold has a dance floor where buck dancing and flatfooting are seen weekly.

The concert venue, the Carter Family Fold, is the centerpiece of the Carter Family Memorial Music Center, Inc., a non-profit organization. This includes the 1880s cabin where A.P. Carter was born. The cabin was moved from its original location to a site next to the Fold, refurbished, and rededicated before Janette Carter died in 2006. Singer Marty Stuart, formerly a member of the Johnny Cash Band, was instrumental, along with Johnny and June Carter Cash, in raising funds for the cabin’s relocation and restoration. The Carter Store, built by A.P. Carter and friends in the late 1940s and where he conducted daily business, is the site of the Carter Family Museum. This building was renovated in 2009 and houses part of the large collection of Carter Family memorabilia. Both the cabin and the store, along with Mt. Vernon Methodist Church (where A.P. and Sara are buried) are historic landmarks. A yearly Carter Family Memorial Festival is held in August at the Fold. Also in 2009, the organization purchased property across the road from the Fold, which includes a three-bedroom house that was converted to office space. The accompanying grounds are used for additional parking.

The Carter Family Fold and Museum is located in the Poor Valley section of Scott County, Virginia, at the foot of Clinch Mountain, in a community once known as Maces Spring. Maces Spring was home to A.P. and Sara Carter and their family, as well as Ezra and Maybelle Carter and their daughters.