A! Magazine for the Arts

Rita Forrester

Rita Forrester

The Carter Fold celebrates 50 years of history

February 26, 2024

The Carter Family Fold, (usually called the Carter Fold or just the Fold) one of the most important heritage tourist sites in Southwest Virginia and one of the stops on The Crooked Road, Virginia’s Music Heritage Trail, is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2024. This interview is with Rita Forrester, the current director of the Carter Family Fold and the granddaughter of A.P. Carter, whose musical group, the Carter Family, was a part of the “Big Bang of Country Music” in 1927. Forrester reminisces about her family and the growth of the Carter Family Fold.

A! Magazine for the Arts thanks Eugene Wolf for conducting this interview with his longtime friend, Rita Forrester.

A! Magazine: How does it feel that you and your mother have been able for 50 years to keep your grandfather A.P.’s dreams and hopes alive for preserving traditional music? And not just keeping it alive but thriving and flourishing.

Rita Forrester: It’s fulfilling. And it can be overwhelming. It’s certainly a role I never envisioned filling. However, it makes me very proud to be able to carry on my papaw’s and my mom’s work. They wanted a place where people could see what the Carters’ lives were like and where the music came from.

I am so proud of the fact that the Fold is still here after 50 years. I’m not so sure my mom knew that it would be. So, I’m very proud of the fact that I and all the folks who love the Fold have been able to keep it and the music alive.

A! Magazine: What do you remember of the music as a child growing up around the legacy of your family?

Forrester: I was always wrapped in the music. I didn’t think of it as old-time or country; it was just the music I heard my people make. My mama would sing me to sleep with it. I think I always knew I was a part of a famous musical family, but I didn’t know how famous until I was 13 years old and a friend showed me an article in Rolling Stone about Aunt Maybelle’s famous guitar style. I was 7 years old when June first brought John Cash around and I realized then that our lives and the music as we knew it were about to change.

A! Magazine: What do you treasure most about your life around the Fold?

Forrester: All the memories. When I go to the Fold or go to my home and just drive by, all those memories flood me. Every day it feels like I’m wrapped in somebody’s arms.

A! Magazine: What are your favorite memories of your papaw A.P. Carter?

Forrester: He passed when I was 6 years old, but he lived with us from the time we moved back to the valley when I was 3. I can remember sitting on his lap. Or when he would hold me. That’s when I felt the safest. I always wanted to go with him when he would leave the house. I remember one time he had to go to some meeting about the spring water in the valley, and I went and changed into my dress. My mother asked me where I thought I was going, and I told her I was going with Papaw. And that was all there was to it. Bill Clifton and Mike Seeger would come to visit Papaw with their families, and Mama would ask all us kids and grandkids and great-grandkids to take their children outside and play so the adults could have their time visiting and playing music.

A! Magazine: What are your favorite memories of your grandmother Sara Carter?

Forrester: I looked forward to her visits every summer when we were little, because that’s when I got to have her in my life as my grandma. Every Sunday when she was home, the whole family and community would gather at the home place for a meal and music, and my grandma would sing and play and tell stories. There’d be 75-100 people at times. There was an air horn on the old GMC jitney that pulled the Airstream trailer that they’d bring from California, and we’d wait to hear that horn when they’d pull into Poor Valley.

A! Magazine: What are your favorite memories of your Aunt Maybelle Carter?

Forrester: My best memories of Maybelle were visiting with her at her home in Nashville and seeing the difference between her life in Nashville and her life in Poor Valley. People like Earl Scruggs would come by and drop off his boys for Aunt Maybelle to babysit. She loved fun. She loved to play games and laugh. And she loved having her family around her. But there was a part of her that always missed being in the valley.

A! Magazine: What are your favorite memories of your Mother Janette Carter?

Forrester: Just the experience of having the most wonderful mother that anyone could ever want. It was just the best every day in every way. My mom’s arms and her heart were always wide open to any and everybody. She loved cooking, meeting new people and celebrating with her family. And going to church. The church was a big part of our lives growing up.

A! Magazine: When does the Fold open this year?

Forrester: March 2.

A! Magazine: For the Fold’s 50th anniversary, what celebrations do you have planned? Will there be just one big celebration – or will every weekend be special?

Forrester: There’ll be weekly shows with one special show a month from March through November. So far, we’ve confirmed:

Saturday, March 23--Seldom Scene

Saturday, April 27--Appalachia Rising, featuring the Lonesome River Band and Volume Five

Friday, June 21--Del McCoury and the Traveling McCourys

Saturday, July 13 Russell Moore and IIIrd Time Out

More dates to come for August through November.

On Sunday, May 12, Barter Theatre presents a special 3 p.m., performance of “Ring Of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash.”

The annual Carter Fold Festival will be held Saturday, Aug. 3.

A! Magazine: What renovations are planned for the Fold this year?

Forrester: Volunteers have been busy renovating the kitchen, and it’s looking terrific. Our next project will be the green room, where the musicians prepare for the show. The last green room renovation was sponsored by our good friend Tom T. Hall.

A! Magazine: Looking back over 50 years, can you point to some memorable special moments at the Fold?

Forrester: Of course, the opening of the Fold in 1976 was very special. Mother had been holding shows at Papaw’s store for a couple of years up to that point and the crowds had gotten too big for the space. The Fold opened in 1976 and in 1977 John Cash and his band, my grandmother Sara and Aunt Maybelle and her girls all gathered at the festival to celebrate the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Bristol Sessions.

In 1983, Johnny Cash shot his CBS Christmas special at the Fold and the Mt. Vernon Church. There have been special performances by many wonderful national musicians: Ricky Skaggs, Connie Smith, Grandpa Jones, Tom. T. Hall, Marty Stuart, Waylon Jennings, Jesse Colter, Dan Tyminski and Elizabeth Cotten.

The Fold has hosted Barter Theatre’s “Keep on The Sunny Side,” “Man Of Constant Sorrow,” “Jimmie Rodgers: America’s Blue Yodeler” and “Million Dollar Quartet.” We’ve hosted a number of bands from all over the world, including Robi Rohi, an Estonian bluegrass band and Seventh Water, a folk band from Rybinsk, Russia. We regularly have Ukrainian students from the ETSU Bluegrass Program and Morehead College in Kentucky.

My grandmother Sara’s funeral was held at the Fold. My mother Janette’s memorial service, and my uncle Joe’s third wedding also mark special family events at the Fold.

A! Magazine: Did you have anything to do with the wonderful new documentary “June”? How did you feel about it?

Forrester: I helped the film crew during their three days in Poor Valley. In addition to filming outdoor scenes at June’s home place, we filmed in the museum and the church. They also used photos and artifacts from the museum in the documentary. I traveled to Nashville for the premiere at the Woolworth Theatre on Jan. 9. The documentary is beautifully done and brought tears to my eyes. I can’t watch it without crying. It tells a story of June Carter Cash that most people don’t know. It shows her as a wonderful mother and focuses on her career with her famous family before John and through their time together. It showcases her as an actor and comedienne, something which often got overshadowed by her fame with John. It ends with her reconnecting with her Carter Family roots and producing her solo release, “Wildwood Flower,” which was recorded at the old home place and took home a Grammy.

A! Magazine: What long-range plans do you have for the Fold? Actual plans or “dreams” for the Fold’s future.

Forrester: After this 50th anniversary of the Fold, we’ll be looking to plan the 100th anniversary of the Bristol Sessions, which will take place in 2027. And after that, we hope to get back to our regular Saturday night performances of old-time and country music.