Old-time music was developed in communities throughout the Southern Appalachian Mountains and foothills. The unique sound of old-time grew out of European and African musical traditions that blended with the rhythms of mountain life. There is a rich tradition of old-time music in Western North Carolina that has been passed down through generations of musicians. The so-called “golden era” of old-time music, when North Carolina traditional musicians gained widespread attention for the first time, was in the 1920s and 1930s. Over the years, old-time music blended with blues, ragtime, and gospel and heavily influenced the development of bluegrass.
Old-time music almost always prominently features the fiddle. Other common old-time string band instruments are the banjo, guitar, mandolin, harmonica, and upright bass. Dulcimer, mouth bow, jug, washboard, or spoons may also be played.
The rhythms of dancing feet often accompany old-time music. Many of the most popular old-time tunes, such as “Soldier’s Joy” or “Arkansas Traveler,” have always been known as dance tunes. Traditional folk dancing styles such as clogging and square dancing developed along with old-time music. You can still enjoy traditional old-time music and dancing at the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival, an annual tradition first organized by old time musician and folklorist Bascom Lamar Lunsford in 1928.
The Blue Ridge Mountains and foothills in Western North Carolina produced some of the earliest stars of old time music including J.E. and Wade Mainer, Charlie Poole, and Samantha Bumgarner. You can trace their history along the Blue Ridge Music Trails through Western North Carolina, and enjoy hearing some amazing traditional music played live along the way.
There are lots of fascinating figures to learn about, including: Frank Proffitt, Ola Belle Reed, and the internationally recognized Doc Watson. These are just a few of the other musical pioneers from North Carolina who helped to popularize traditional music from the Blue Ridge Mountains, including old-time music.
Old-time music has grown in popularity recently and can today be heard all over Western North Carolina. From street corners in downtown Asheville, NC to internationally known festivals such as MerleFest, you can hear musicians of all ages playing old-time music. In fact, there are many festivals that specialize in old time music – most notably the Mount Airy Bluegrass & Old-Time Fiddlers' Convention and the Bluff Mountain Festival. To hear some great live old time music, check out our calendar of events to look for old-time music festivals, events, and jam sessions.