When Mark and Sharon Oldham took ownership of Dancing Bear Lodge in 2014, they knew they wouldn’t be able to replace the lodge building that was destroyed in a November 2013 fire.
“It was a pretty impressive building, with a lot of timber from the Northwest, and we knew we couldn’t recreate it in its past glory, so when we cleared and leveled the land and decided to go with an event lawn, the architect (Andy Morton) said they could design a little amphitheater,” Mark Oldham told The Daily Times. “We said, ‘Not only can we have weddings and stuff there, it can also be a pretty nice little place for hanging out.’ And then someone suggested, ‘Maybe you could have some entertainments and do concerts, too.’ And that was the last piece of the puzzle to make that complete.”
That was the genesis of Saturday’s “Sweethearts of the Smokies Music Festival,” an all-afternoon party with live bands, upscale food and libations designed to showcase the lush landscape surrounding Dancing Bear’s rustic buildings and the fineries that accompany dining at the adjoining bistro. One additional event — the Dancing Bear Lodge Music and Food Festival — will be held July 30, featuring roots music maestro Darrell Scott, Western swing band the Lonesome Coyotes and Jay Clark and the Tennessee Tree Beavers (for more information on Clark, see page 10).
“I don’t think we pre-planned it this way, but as we saw it developing, we realized we could have some nice, intimate shows there,” Oldham said. “We’re not expecting a huge crowd; it’ll be perfect for Dancing Bear, and perfect for Townsend.”
Originally known as Maple Leaf Lodge, the Townsend resort was sold to new owners in 2004, but the lodge and restaurant were damaged in the fire. The owners decided not to rebuild, and the Oldhams purchased the property in September 2014. As they settled into the business and built a new lodge and dining facility, they struck up a friendship with Roger Harb of WDVX-FM, with which Dancing Bear is partnering for the summer concerts.
“I’d never done these before, and neither had Sharon, so Roger was the next piece of the puzzle,” Oldham said. “We hit it off the first time we met, and he sort of saw a vision. He keeps calling it a ‘mini-Telluride,’ and we really can see this developing into something all over Townsend. We’ll probably do four shows next year, and each show will have its own unique theme.”