The 1986 Tennessee Program sought to introduce Festival visitors to the diversity of traditions found within the State. Tennessee consists of three distinct folk regions, arranged symmetrically almost as if by conscious design: East, Middle, and West Tennessee, and Festival organizers were concerned to show both regional differences and common themes. Tennessee is culturally situated between the dominant pillars of Southern folklife - to the east, the upland traditions of the Appalachian Mountains; and to the west, the folkways of the Deep South. Tennessee's regions form a continuum between these extremes, shaped by geography, settlement patterns, and cultural adaptation during the State's formative years.
The Festival thus featured musical styles of the State including string bands, gospel music, rhythm and blues, rockabilly, ballads, and blues presented on three stages. Crafts traditions were also presented including sawmilling, furniture making, baskets, stoneworkers, quilts, broom makers, musical instrument making, and woodcarving. Occupations explored included distilling, moonshining, fishing, and hunting and trapping. There were also foodways demonstrations.
Nicholar R. Spitzer was Tennessee Program Curator, J. Mark Kenoyer was Program Coordinator, Francesca McLean was Assistant Program Coordinator, and Phyllis M. May was Foodways Coordinator. The program was developed in close cooperation with the Tennessee Arts Commission, where Robert Cogswell was Director of Folk Arts.
The Tennessee Program was made possible by Tennessee Homecoming '86, a year-long statewide celebration.