Eight exciting Day Trips through the Blue Ridge Music Trails of North Carolina:
Just 15 minutes east of Asheville, Black Mountain, the “little town that rocks,” makes for a great day trip from anywhere within a 2-hour drive. Park your car for free in one of the municipal lots, and strike out on foot up the shop-lined streets that have been welcoming tourists since the coming of the railroad in 1880. Visit the Swannanoa Valley Museum, the Black Mountain Center for the Arts, the Red House Art Gallery next to the historic Monte Vista Hotel. The old depot is a craft co-op, and you can visit a restored caboose next door if you like railroad history. And have your picture taken in the giant rocking chairs on Town Square or in front of the visitor center.
There’s lots of music to be had in Black Mountain, including the summer Thursday night music series, Park Rhythms, at beautiful Lake Tomahawk. The White Horse music hall presents music of all kinds, from classical to bluegrass, with a little Celtic thrown in from time to time. It’s a great listening room with an intimate connection between musicians and the audience. Beer and wine are served in a bistro style set-up except on nights of larger concerts.
Speaking of beer, Black Mountain is now home to three craft breweries—Pisgah, Lookout, and Ciderworks.
This is a great place to paddle, pedal, or tie on your walking shoes for the outdoor adventures that abound here. At the confluence of the Dan and Smith Rivers, this community sports an energetic downtown set in the great outdoors. It even has an operating outdoor drive-in movie theater!
The annual Charlie Poole Music Festival, honoring an icon in traditional mountain music, Charlie Poole, is held the second weekend in June. Poole and his North Carolina Ramblers worked in the textile mills in the ‘20s and ‘30s, and he was one of the first southern musicians to enjoy widespread commercial success as a recording artist. Through the years, this event has featured many of the legends in Americana music.
Just a short drive northwest of Hickory, you can enjoy a hike or mountain bike along the trails of the lakeside park on Lake Rodhiss. There are five public boat ramps, one marina and one fishing access, as well as great places for a picnic.
Finally, finish your day with dinner and dancing at Sims Country BBQ. It’s a toss-up whether the BBQ or bluegrass is better at this off-the-beaten path destination which is part stage, part restaurant, and part dance hall. The venue is open on Friday and Saturday nights, and people come from miles around for great food and fun. A little hard to find, but worth it.
Mount Airy is also known as Mayberry USA because it was Andy Griffith’s hometown and served as the inspiration for his iconic television series, The Andy Griffith Show. The Andy Griffith Museum is full of memorabilia from both the show and the actor. You can visit many of the businesses that were in the show—Floyd’s City Barber Shop, Opie's Candy Store, Wally's Service Station, Mayberry Soda Fountain, the Old City Jail—and stop for a bite at the Snappy Lunch; all are within walking distance along Main Street. To see them all, and Griffith’s home place, take a Squad Car Tour.
Mount Airy is also a hot spot for great traditional music. The first weekend in June at the annual Mount Airy Bluegrass and Old Time Fiddlers Convention, contestants heat up their fiddles as they vie for prizes. On Saturday mornings at 11, you can be part of the live audience of the WPAQ Merry-Go-Round, the second the second-longest-running live music radio show in the United States, behind only the Grand Ole Opry. Listen and dance as musicians perform on the stage of the historic Earle Theatre, home to the Old-Time Music Heritage Hall.
This quaint small town is set in a backdrop of beautiful rolling countryside just south of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Cool shops and small eateries such as the 75-year-old family owned Farmers’ Hardware and Becca’s Backwoods Bean are fun to poke into, and on Tuesday and Saturday nights, the Alleghany Jubilee, originally the Spartan movie theater, is the perfect place for dancing, meeting old (or new) friends or just listening to the music that was born and bred in this region. Word has it that Brown’s Restaurant is an outstanding place for good old country style cooking at reasonable prices.
“Take a break from the Interstate” is the motto of small towns along US 21 like Sparta. This highway was the original route folks took from northern states en route to Florida. If you go south from Sparta on 21 you’ll find yourself in the Yadkin Valley Wine Country, home to more than 36 wineries and vineyards.
Going north on NC 18, you’ll come to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Get on that famous road headed north and in a short distance, you’ll come to the Blue Ridge Music Center just north of the North Carolina state line. Here you can visit the Roots of American Music Museum Exhibit (open daily from 10 am - 5 pm), and catch a Mid-Day Mountain Music performance (daily from Noon - 4 pm). Both are FREE. They have concerts on Saturday evenings as well, many with nationally-known artists.
Just up the road from Linville Caverns is the village of Spruce Pine, known worldwide for its gems and minerals. But in recent years, it has also become known for the high quality arts and crafts created by local artisans. The town actually has two main streets, one above the other. On the upper street (Oak Street), you’ll find two excellent craft galleries right across the street from each other—the Market on Oak and the Toe River Art Gallery.
Spruce Pine is a gateway community to the Blue Ridge Parkway, and at the entrance, you’ll find the Museum of North Carolina Minerals, with stunning exhibits and specimens of local minerals. Since the 1950s, the town has hosted the giant NC Mineral and Gem Festival the first weekend in August.
Pull onto the Parkway headed north to Milepost 328.3 and the historic apple Orchard at Altapass. From May through October, you can listen and dance to local live music, go on a storytelling hayride, buy homemade apple goodies like apple barbeque sauce, and walk a nature trail which is also a monarch butterfly conservation center. The Orchard hosts a variety of authentic Appalachian musicians who play gospel, blues, folk, show tunes, classical, country music, and bluegrass.
A short drive west of Asheville, Waynesville's downtown is alive with shops, art galleries, and restaurants, all within walking distance on Main Street's brick sidewalk. Four times during the summer, Main Street is blocked off for the Waynesville Street Dance, a good old-fashioned mountain hoedown. Not many places you'll find a state senator calling the dances, but Joe Sam Queen carries on his family's tradition in the street in front of the historic courthouse. Summer 2015 dances are scheduled on the following Fridays: June 26, July 10 , July 24, and August 7.
If you want to stay overnight, the nearby Pisgah View Ranch gives visitors a chance to experience life on a dude ranch, where you can enjoy music in a barn, meals served family style, horseback riding, mountain biking, campfires, and swimming.
Once a railroad town, West Jefferson is now known for its art. As you walk the sidewalks downtown you’ll come across 15 murals painted on buildings that reflect the area’s history and mountain character. There are great shops, restaurants, and galleries as well as the famous Ashe County Cheese Factory where you can see the cheese being made. About 20 minutes away, just outside of Lansing, the Phipps General Store has a lively jam session year-round on Friday nights.