Hillbilly Days, a three day festival held each April at Pikeville, Kentucky, is a mountaineer rustic’s Mardi Gras. From thirty states, 100,000 Shriners come to the town of 8,000 in the heart of coal country and the epicenter of the McCoy/Hatfield feud to yet again prove that fraternal organization’s unique capacity for public spectacle. They do as well raise money for a children’s hospital.
The dress code at this event has not been handicapped by previous portrayals of mountaineers. As the postcard shows, the outfits look to be as inspired by 1950s local television kiddy show clowns as Li’l Abner or Snuffy Smith. Jugs and old, hopefully inoperable, long guns are popular, and restore a modicum of hillbilly authenticity. An invented folky dialect is spoken by the imported revelers.
In Hillbillyland professor J. W. Williamson called the Shriners’ gathering “an extraordinary and instituionalized example of hillbilly role playing.” Dr. Williamson found analogies in the behavior of an European archetype. “Like the fool or the village idiot, the American hillbilly clown is an impudent mirror held up in front of us—both a reflection of and a window into something rarely glimpsed, the native deep and sable face of this creature we still are.”