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This year, the “Bear on the Square Mountain Festival” in Dahlonega, Georgia, is scheduled for April 20th and 21st. This annual celebration honors the rich cultural and musical traditions of the Southern Appalachian region and transforms the historic town square of Dahlonega into a vibrant hub of music, art, and storytelling. Dahlonega, with its deep roots in Appalachian culture and history as the site of the first major U.S. Gold Rush, offers a picturesque setting for the festival. 

In April of 1996, a black bear cub that had gotten separated from its mother had managed to find its way into downtown Dahlonega. Confused and afraid, the cub did what bears tend to do in situations like this, it climbed a tree.

Naturally, the bear became an instant sensation as onlookers gathered around the north side of the Public Square to get a view of the wayward cub. As deputies kept people at a distance for both the safety of the bear and humans alike, the DNR was notified of the situation.



After unsuccessfully trying to get the cub to climb down on its own, a tranquilizer gun was used to get the bear out of the sycamore tree. Once on the ground, the cub, was placed in a cage and taken by the DNR to the Chattahoochee National Forest where it was released.

Most people would have thought that the story would have ended there. It was no more than a brief headline in the Dahlonega Nugget. However, the incident took on a new aspect, when a year later, a committee was organized to create an annual festival to commemorate the visit of the black bear cub to the Public Square.

The stated purpose of the first festival was to celebrate traditional Appalachian music and crafts and to celebrate the natural world of the mountains with information on bears.

The first “Bear on the Square” festival took place on April 19th and 20th, 1997. The two-day event was dedicated to the memory of Dr. Gene Wiggins, a long-time Dahlonega resident who was a scholar of traditional music who had recently passed away on February 2nd.

Staying true to its roots, “Bear on the Square,” has become Dahlonega’s signature Springtime festival. Whether you enjoy listening to good old-fashioned Appalachian music, or just like taking in the unique atmosphere of what the festival has to offer, “Bear on the Square” is an event for the whole family to enjoy.

Normally held on the third weekend in April, this year’s “Bear on the Square has been moved to the Fourth Weekend (April 22nd and 23rd,) because of Easter.

When visiting Dahlonega, remember to keep an eye out for the sycamore tree in front of the historic Sargent Building. Hidden among the branches, you might just catch a glimpse of a small black bear about halfway up the tree. This permanent marker honors the cub who accidentally wandered into town and started a festival.

Since its inception, “Bear on the Square” has grown to attract thousands of visitors each year. It showcases a wide array of musical performances, focusing on genres like old-time, bluegrass, and folk music. The festival encourages spontaneous jam sessions around the square, welcoming musicians of all levels to participate.


The event also features a juried artists’ market that presents both traditional and contemporary crafts and artworks, ranging from pottery and jewelry to textile arts and woodworking. These items celebrate the craftsmanship and artistic traditions of the Appalachian region.

Moreover, storytelling and educational workshops provide attendees with insights into the history, culture, and techniques behind Appalachian music and crafts. These elements make “Bear on the Square” not just a festival but a community event that fosters connections and promotes the preservation and sharing of Southern Appalachian culture.

Mark your calendars for April 20th and 21st to experience this cherished cultural event in the heart of Dahlonega, where music, art, and community spirit come alive. 



Anita Wheeler


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