ASHEVILLE’S CELEBRATED MUSIC SCENE GOES TRADITIONAL
A trip up to the mountains is never complete without a stop in Asheville. This city pays homage to its mountain roots with live music and cultural celebrations. Pop into Isis Music Hall in west Asheville to enjoy one of their weekly shows featuring new talent and established acts.
On September 18, the Southern Highland Craft Guild hosts their annual Heritage Day. This day-long celebration of Southern Appalachian culture is held at the Folk Art Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The day includes live music and traditional craft demonstrations such as blacksmithing, chair-making, quilting, and basketweaving. The mountains call with their own special song. For centuries, Western North Carolina’s unique geography, history, and culture have nurtured a rich musical heritage, which is now showcased through the Blue Ridge Music Trails of North Carolina. Internationally renowned music traditions like old-time string bands, ballad singing, and bluegrass are highlighted in the Blue Ridge Music Trails that expand across 29 counties. Come and explore for a few hours or a few days to immerse yourself in authentic mountain melodies and traditions.
DISCOVER THE ROOTS OF BLUEGRASS & TRADITIONAL MUSIC
Courtesy of Visit Cleveland County – Carolina's Land of Rhythm & Roots
About an hour southeast of Asheville, just within the North Carolina state line, the town of Shelby proudly nurtured the birth of bluegrass with musical legend Earl Scruggs. Scrugg’s three-finger banjopicking style forever changed bluegrass music and influenced generations to come. Discover more about his legacy at the Earl Scruggs Center located in the former courthouse, a beautiful three-story neoclassical revival building.
Hankering for live music after your history lesson? Stop by the historic Don Gibson Theatre. This former art-deco movie theatre now hosts national artists and upand-coming talent in its intimate concert hall. Autumn guests include the Oak Grove String Band on September 17 and Carlene Carter on October 22.
”On October 16, the Official Fall Liver Mush Festival of North Carolina, Mush, Music and Mutts” returns for a celebration of liver mush—a local food delicacy that has a famed following at breakfast tables across the Carolinas. Enjoy live music on three stages while also checking out local craft beer, arts, and crafts.
Just down the road from Shelby, the song of the foothills continues at Spindale and Union Mills. Just a short jaunt down Highway 74, Spindale keeps traditional and Americana music flowing through the airways. Tune into WNCW 88.7 FM and hum along to weekly programs such as Mountain Mornings, Country Gold, Goin' Across the Mountain, and This Old Porch. Their carefully cultivated song lists provide a melodious introduction to the region as you drive.
Time your journey to Union Mills to take advantage of Music at the Mills at the Union Mills Learning Center. Held the first Friday of the month at 7 p.m., this community event features local and regional artists who put passion into every performance. The evening starts with a locally prepared meal that’s available for a song—just $5—and a free performance where tips are encouraged and flow as freely as the audience’s applause.
Nestled along the state line is Tryon, NC. This quiet town is the birthplace of Nina Simone. Born Eunice Waymon in 1933, her early talents garnered hometown support. She eventually vaulted to the national stage, and was recognized as a singer, songwriter, and civil rights activist. Learn more about this native daughter and pay homage to her gifts at the Nina Simone Plaza and Sculpture, a permanent installation in historic downtown Tryon.
Cap off your exploration of the foothills with a trip to Henderson County. Spend the day visiting the historic home of literary legend Carl Sandburg and exploring the artist haven of Flat Rock before heading out to the Feed & Seed in Fletcher, where you will enjoy traditional, bluegrass, and classic country music on Friday or Saturday nights at no charge!
Don Gibson Theatre
Nina Simone Plaza & Sculpture
HEAD TO THE MOUNTAINS FOR A SWEET ESCAPE
The music of the mountains continues to ring out towards the western edges of the state. Set your GPS for Highway 64 and take the Waterfall Scenic Drive to Brevard, NC. Once you get into town, immerse yourself in the local music scene at 185 King Street. This local venue celebrates homegrown talent with concerts offered year-round. Mark your calendar for the Mountain Song Festival, September 10-11. The picturesque outdoor festival boasts incredible talent and features the Grammy-winning group Steep Canyon Rangers as the kingpin act. For a weekly treat, take in Mountain Music Mondays at Oskar Blues’ Tasty Weasel Taproom, starting at 6 p.m. While in Brevard, be sure to visit the Brevard Music Center, complete with a new performing arts center, and offering performances in a variety of music styles throughout the season. Out in Cedar Mountain, enjoy the Mountains and Moonshine concert series on Friday nights at Studio 276 and sample spirits from their on-site distillery.
Steep Canyon Rangers/Mountain Song @Bolder Filming
Further down the road, the mountain communities of Waynesville and Maggie Valley deliver local music with a side of small-town charm. Various festivals throughout the fall celebrate local talent with live music—check out the Annual Church Street Art & Craft Show on October 9 and the Apple Harvest Festival on October 16 in Waynesville. Bluegrass enthusiasts can get their music fix at the Smoky Mountain Bluegrass Festival on October 23 in Maggie Valley. This year’s festival acts include Balsam Range, Kruger Brothers and Unspoken Tradition with more artists added closer to the date.
A melodious journey through the mountains must include a stop at Marshall and Mars Hills, NC. Nestled among the nooks of the Blue Ridge Mountains, these small towns proudly carry on rich bluegrass, stringband and ballad singing traditions. In Marshall, Zuma Coffee brews up more than caffeine on Thursday nights. Grammywinning fiddling legend and local resident, Bobby Hicks takes the stage to host weekly jam sessions. Arrive early to snag a prime viewing spot; the tunes often flow before the official show time of 7 p.m.
For a living history lesson, check out the Bascom Lamar Lunsford Mountain Music Festival on October 2, in Mars Hill. Held at Mars Hill University, the day-long event is the second oldest folk festival in Western North Carolina. Pick up new and old tunes (some are centuries old!) at the ballad swap, join in a community dance, and listen in on a spontaneous music jam. The event honors Lunsford who dedicated his life to collecting and promoting Southern Appalachian music.
LOCAL MUSIC THRIVES IN SMALL TOWNS
Courtesy of Merlefest
As the roads wind through the mountains, the passion for Appalachian music swells with a crescendo that reaches the high peaks of the Blue Ridge. A visit to the High Country never disappoints as harmonious discoveries await around every curve.
A stopover in Wilkesboro, NC, provides a chance to attend MerleFest, one of the premier music festivals in the country. Usually held in the spring, this year’s festivities are offered September 16-19. The event honors the late Eddy Merle Watson, son of American music legend Doc Watson. Over a dozen stages host a variety of acts including Balsam Range, Mavis Staples, Melissa Etheridge, LeAnn Rimes, Sturgill Simpson, and Yasmin Williams. Cap off your time in Wilkesboro with a visit to the Wilkes Heritage Museum, housed in the newly restored historic courthouse. The museum showcases artifacts and images from the area’s early days and features a music room that celebrates the area’s harmonious heritage.
Step back into the past with a visit to Mount Airy, the town that inspired Mayberry in the Andy Griffith Show, and the heart of the Yadkin Valley Wine Trail. The town’s musical roots are on display throughout the fall with shows at the Earle Theatre, Blackmon Amphitheatre, and Andy Griffith Playhouse, and during the Autumn Leaves Festival held the second weekend in October.
On Saturday mornings, the Earle Theatre fills the airwaves with the WPAQ Saturday Morning Merry-GoRound. Second only to the Grand Ole Opry as the oldest continuous radio broadcast show, the AM radio show features two live bands each week. Ticket options allow you to sit in and be a part of history.
Plan ahead to attend the BLUE RIDGE & BEYOND SERIES concert on September 24 or 25. Enjoy five bluegrass concerts over two days at the Historic Earle Theatre and the Andy Griffith Playhouse. The Playhouse dates to the 1920s and was once a public elementary school that taught Mayberry alumni Andy Griffith.
LOCAL CHARM BLENDS WITH HOMETOWN MUSIC
Embrace a relaxed pace as you climb through the mountains to Sparta, NC. Enjoy a small-town atmosphere where mountain music serves as the background beat. Sparta’s Main Street hosts a community celebration on September 11 with traditional mountain dance, music, and crafts at the Mountain Heritage Festival. The day-long event is an oldfashioned street festival with something for all ages.
Beginning in October, the local Muddy Creek Cafe & Music Hall becomes ”a celebrated music venue with And the Beat Goes On” music series. It offers three concerts held October through November and showcases old-time, bluegrass, and blues performers. Music thrives continuously in this mountain town. Stop in at the Alleghany Jubilee on Monday, Tuesday, and Saturday nights for live music and traditional dance. The fun begins at 7 p.m. and is perfect for all ages and abilities.
As you head back down the mountains and into the foothills, take in the Concerts at the Rock in Valdese, NC featuring old-time and bluegrass bands in the Old Rock School auditorium. On your visit, explore the lively traditions of the original Waldensian settlers.
KEEP EXPLORING ALL YEAR LONG
Don’t let the music stop! Come back again and again to explore the region’s talent. Get news about events and shows by signing up for emails at BlueRidgeMusicNC.com. You can also explore the website for the latest listing of live traditional, bluegrass, blues, and gospel music in Western North Carolina. Want to plan ahead for next year? Request the spring 2022 issue of our Down the Road magazine; email Cindy@blueridgeheritage.com to get on the mailing list.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Be aware of local and regional COVID policies before you go. Check with your selected venue in advance to stay informed and prepared.
TAKE AN ARTISTIC DETOUR
The Blue Ridge Mountains inspire creativity in every genre. Make time to explore the rich artistic legacy that thrives in every mountain community and town. Follow the Blue Ridge Craft Trails to enjoy nationally renowned artists' studios and galleries. Learn more at BlueRidgeCraftTrails.com
Mills River potter Rodney Leftwich of Leftwich Pottery finds inspiration in North Carolina’s beauty and traditions. His unique folk and art pottery is widely collected and showcased in museums and private collections.
WHAT IS THE BLUE RIDGE NATIONAL HERITAGE AREA?
The Blue Ridge Music Trails of North Carolina is an initiative of the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area (BRNHA), the North Carolina Arts Council and the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. BRNHA, a non-profit organization, is a steward of Western North Carolina’s natural treasures and distinct living traditions in small towns including music, craft, outdoors, foodways and Cherokee culture. They invest in the region’s economic and cultural vitality through grants, cultural trails, and partnerships. Learn more at BlueRidgeHeritage.com.