The Western North Carolina Mountains and foothills are alive with the sounds of traditional and folk music. The image and connotations of folk music has deep layers of musical traditions beyond ballad singers, old-time fiddlers and banjo music. This area has a national reputation as a music-rich region, and its traditions of old-time stringband music, ballad singing, and bluegrass are internationally renowned and has define many forms of American music of today.
In 2003, Blue Ridge Mountain areas and twenty-five counties of the region were honored with a National Heritage Area designation by Congress and the President. The region was deemed a National Heritage Area, one of 48 in the United States. The recognition is for its unique character, culture, and natural beauty, and its contributions to the history of the United States. Efforts to preserve and showcase the region’s heritage are stewarded by a 501(c) 3 nonprofit, the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area Partnership. Blue Ridge Music Trails consists of twenty-nine counties in the western third of the state. The counties are Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Buncombe, Burke, Caldwell, Clay, Cleveland, Cherokee, Graham, Haywood, Henderson, Iredell, Jackson, Macon, Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Polk, Rockingham, Rutherford, Stokes, Surry, Swain, Transylvania, Watauga, Wilkes, Yadkin, and Yancey.
The North Carolina portions of the Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains National Park are also part of the Blue Ridge Music Trials (BRMT) region.
The Blue Ridge Music Trials initiatives launches another summer season of music festivals, concerts and local jam sessions. MerleFest is the kick- off festival and one of North Carolina’s most famous festivals founded in 1988 by Doc Watson. MerleFest is held in Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, NC and it is an internationally recognized showcase of traditional and folk music spread across 14 stages. The festival was named in memory of Doc Watson’s son, Eddy Merle Watson, who died in a farm tractor accident in 1985.
BRMT venues also feature traditional North Carolina mountain music and dance that include many kinds of music traditions, including bluegrass, old-time, blues, early country, gospel, ballad singing, and shaped-note singing, Cherokee music and dance, and such heritage dance styles as clogging and square dancing. (Visit http://www.blueridgemusicnc.com/listen-and-learn/music-styles to learn more about these art forms)
These festivals, dances and events are held throughout the year and majority of them are outdoor music festivals that take place in the summertime. An event can even turn into a mini-vacation to visit the beautiful scenery of the foothills and the Blue Ridge Mountains. Major cities and towns in the region include Asheville, Boone, Hendersonville, and Mount Airy. The places to visit can be the landscapes of the deepest gorge, the highest waterfall, and the oldest river in the Eastern Unitized States. The rich musical traditions and the history of Cherokee heritage, small family farms, and living in the Blue Ridge Mountains may have inspired and influence many of the cultural arts, music and dance-the experience of the good life.
These multiple-day music festivals and old time music events are scheduled throughout the Blue Ridge mountains in various counties in Western North Carolina including the Mount Airy Bluegrass and Old-Time Fiddler’s Convention and the country’s first and longest-running folk festival, Mountain Dance and Folk Festival in Asheville.
To discover more than 160 music events and venues visit: www.BlueRidgeMusicTrailsNC.com
Mount Airy Bluegrass and Old-Time Fiddler’s Convention
( Friday, June 5 to Sat., June 6 )
This two-night outdoor event at Mount Airy Veterans Memorial Park started in 1972 to honor the famed Surry County Round Peak musical style of banjo and fiddle playing. It now attracts hundreds of musicians and thousands of mountain music fans. www.mountairyfiddlersconvention.com.
Charlie Pool Music Festival
(Friday, June 12 to Saturday, June 13)
The Charlie Poole Music Festival celebrates the musical and cultural legacy of the Piedmont region, including the development of American vernacular music as exemplified by Charlie Poole. The festival is held in Eden at the Governor Morehead Park, home and final resting place of Poole. www.charlie-poole.com.
Shindig on the Green, Asheville
(Saturdays, starting June 27 to Sept. 5)
Shindig on the Green is a celebration of traditional and old-time string bands, bluegrass, ballad singers, big circle mountain dancers and cloggers on summer Saturday evenings in downtown Asheville. www.folkheritage.org
Red, White and Bluegrass Festival
(Wednesday, July 1 to Saturday, July 4th)
Every year, thousands of bluegrass fans converge on the Catawba Meadows Park in Morganton for one of the state’s large music events that boasts a lineup of more than 30 of the biggest names in bluegrass.www.redwhiteandbluegrassfestival.com.
(Friday, July 3)
The eighth Annual RiddleFest is a celebration of the music and legacy of Carter Family collaborator, Lesley Riddle of Burnsville. Featured performers at this year’s event include Grammy winner David Holt along with Josh Goforth. RiddleFest is sponsored by the Traditional Voices Group. www.tvgnc.org
Ashe County Bluegrass and Old Time Fiddlers Convention
(Friday, July 24 to Saturday, July 25)
This event honors the old time and bluegrass music of the mountains – and the musicians who make it happen – with individual and band competitions with cash prizes. The convention is a benefit for the Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM) program that places fourth to six grade students who want to learn to play banjo, guitar or fiddle with an adult musician.www.ashefiddlersconvention.org
Mountain Dance and Folk Festival
( Thursday, Aug. 6 to Sunday, Aug. 9 )
Downtown Asheville is the scene of this three-day event, the oldest continuing festival of traditional mountain music and dance in the country, held at the Diana Wortham Theatre, Pack Square, www.folkheritage.org.
Fines Creek Bluegrass Jam
(Friday, Aug. 7 and Saturday, Aug. 8)
The Bluegrass Jam is a two-day, outdoor, family-fun musical event. The setting is under tents on the lawn of the Fines Creek Community Center in the prettiest part of the Haywood County. Bluegrass musicians, young and old, perform on the permanent stage. A variety of clogging teams showcase their steps each day and the dance floor is always open. Food, snacks and drinks are available. Bring your lawn chair. www.finescreek.org.
Ola Belle Reed Music Festival
(Friday, Aug. 7 and Saturday, Aug. 8)
Ola Belle Campbell Reed was a legendary country singer and this festival celebrates her life and music in her home community of Lansing, along the New River in the mountains of N.C. Ola was recognized by the Smithsonian and the National Endowment of the Arts for her talent as a songwriter and musician. Celebrated artists such as Marty Stuart, Del McCoury and Tim O’Brien have recorded her signature song, High on A Mountain.www.olabellefest.com.
Stecoah Valley Cultural Arts Center, An Appalachian Evening Summer Concert Series
(Saturday, June 27 to Saturday, Aug. 29)
The Stecoah Valley Cultural Arts Center is located in a picturesque valley about 10 miles northeast of Robbinsville. “An Appalachian Evening,” the summer concert and dinner series, presents bluegrass and old-time mountain music performers from all across the Southern Appalachian region. A traditional Appalachian dinner is served in the Schoolhouse Cafe before each concert.www.stecoahvalleycenter.com.
Singing on the Mountain at MacRae Meadows
(Sunday, June 28)
The “Singing” is a day-long gathering held outdoors in MacRae Meadows at the base of Grandfather Mountain. Music begins at 8:30 a.m. and continues throughout the day, with a break around 1 p.m. for the sermon. Bring lawn chairs and picnics and enjoy performances by top Southern gospel groups.www.grandfather.com/events/91st-annual-singing-on-the-mountain.
Doc & Rosa Lee Watson Music Fest ‘n Sugar Grove
(Friday, July 10 and Saturday July 11)
MusicFest has had a close association with Deep Gap native Doc Watson since its inception in 1997. The much-admired flat-picking guitarist performed at the inaugural MusicFest and headlined many times in following years. Doc’s wife Rosa Lee was often in the audience. In addition to the main stage, the festival features a solar-powered stage with up-and-coming performers, musician workshops, a pickin’ parlor, the Doc & Merle Watson Folk Art Museum and local food and vendors. www.musicfestnsugargrove.org.
WPAQ Saturday Morning Merry-Go-Round
(Saturday mornings, year-round)
The WPAQ Saturday morning Merry-Go-Round, which is a live radio broadcast set in the vintage Earl movie theater, has an exceptionally long history of presenting the best of live traditional music in the Blue Ridge. Through the years, a host of regional and national music legends, including Tommy Jarrell, Benton Flippen, the Carter Family, Mac Wiseman, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, and Bill and Charlie Monroe have appeared on the broadcast. This the second longest currently running live radio program in the nation.www.wpaq740.com.
Downtown Marshall, bordered on the south by the French Broad River and the north by the sheer stone face of a mountain, hosts weekly bluegrass jams at Zuma Coffee. Fiddling legend and local resident Bobby Hicks often emcees the lively Thursday evening event. www.zumacoffee.blogspot.com.
Drexel Barber Shop
One of the more quaint musical venues in the Blue Ridge region is the tiny barber shop in the town of Drexel, just east of Morganton. The regulars gather at noon on Saturdays. The shop was the subject of an Emmy-nominated documentary film “Pickin’ and Trimmin’”. www.facebook.com/pages/The-Drexel-Barber-Shop/159952544118419.
Jam Sessions at the T.M. Rickman General Store
The Friends of Rickman’s Store hosts an open bluegrass and old-time jam session every Saturday afternoon from late spring until December. Newcomers are welcome to play. Rickman’s Store was built in 1895 and is located in Cowee-West’s Mill National Historic District, north of Franklin. The old store displays vintage items and furnishings and the work of local artisans, photographers, and writers can be purchased. The store sometimes hosts additional mountain music performances and concerts as well. www.rickmanstore.com.
Music at the Jones House Community Center
The Jones House hosts weekly jam session at the historic house and cultural center in Boone. The Jam Sessions provide a chance for local musicians to play together and visitors are invited to bring their instruments and play along or just sit and enjoy the music. www.joneshousecommunitycenter.org.
For more information on where to hear great music this summer visit: www.BlueRidgeMusicNC.com.