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From Galax to Richmond, This Year’s Folk Fest Host Still Wears His White Cowboy Hat 

click to enlarge Harold Mitchell

Harold Mitchell

Ask master of ceremonies extraordinaire Harold Mitchell what got him into his line of work and he’ll tell you it’s thinking on his feet.

“There’s no writers, no one telling me what to say,” he says with a chuckle from his home in Galax. “You have to know what you’re talking about, but you let the mic do the work for you.”

When then-6-year-old Mitchell first heard Grant Turner, known for 47 years as the voice of the Grand Ole Opry, he knew what he wanted to do.

In 1957, months from graduating high school, he got his first gig introducing Charlie Monroe at Fries High School. “I thought I’d be a big deal after that, but I swear, no one ever said a word about it to me,” he says.

His determination to make it in radio never wavered, though. Drafted into the Army in 1962, he served two years, got out and made his dream come true, getting into radio, where he then worked for 31 years. He’s been the instrument contest host at the Galax Old Fiddlers Convention since 1972 and hosted at other festivals, including a Ralph Stanley gathering and Lester Flatt festivals in North Carolina and Tennessee.

Before he even began working, Mitchell knew two of his heroes — Bill Monroe and Lester Flatt — simply from going to their shows and talking to them.

When a Georgia promoter hired him, he was so taken with a photo of Mitchell and Flatt that he made a request. “He told me, ‘You know, I like all my boys to wear a hat. Do you mind wearing one?’” Mitchell recalls. Now he’s worn his white cowboy hat for so long it’s become a tradition.

As for Mitchell’s longevity, Flatt used to warn him that you just don’t retire from this business because you don’t make much money doing it. “Besides,” he says, “I think I’m still right chipper for my emceeing work.”

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