To build a fence or to not build a fence?
It might not seem like such a portentous question, but as Sylva Town Commissioner Mary Gelbaugh found out when she asked her Facebook friends whether the town should look at putting a fence along Scotts Creek through Bridge Park, it kind of is. The comments came so thick and fast that Facebook contacted her to see if someone had hacked her account.
Whatever qualities make for an ideal public space, Sylva’s Bridge Park seems to have them. At least Sarah Graham thinks so.
“That’s exactly what everybody had in mind,” Graham said.
You know it’s summer in Sylva when Concerts on the Creek gets going, bringing local and regional music and family fun to Bridge Park Pavilion every Friday from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
This year, local favorites the Rye Holler Boys will get the season going with a performance on May 27.
They’ll be followed on the outdoor stage in the coming weeks by other popular local bands such as the Freight Hoppers, the Elderly Brothers and Balsam Range, as well as regional talent Big House Radio. Big House walked away with the top prize at WNC Magazine’s Last Band Standing battle of the bands style competition, and they’ll stop off in Sylva in mid-August.
Concerts on the Creek got its start in 2009, so concertgoers will be welcomed back to the park for the third year of free music this summer.
“We started Concerts on the Creek three years ago through an Appalachian Regional Commission Grant,” said Julie Spiro, executive director of the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce. It was the chamber who started the concerts, but when they proved popular with the public, the series started to grow from there.
“It was very well received and the locals as well as visitors really enjoyed it so we thought we’d expand on that and invite three other partners to help us produce the concert series,” said Spiro
These days, the chamber teams up with Jackson County Parks and Recreation and the Town of Sylva to produce the programs.
But, said Spiro, the free music is just the impetus to get people out and about. It’s the music along with the restaurants and shops in downtown Sylva that really create a festive, summer atmosphere.
“We hope both locals and visitors will stimulate the economy by shopping and dining out before the free concerts,” said Spiro. Part of the central idea behind the series is to give people a venue for getting out on the town, a gift to both natives and tourists and a chance to kick back with talented artists and support local businesses, all at once.
Marne Harris is a Sylva resident who frequents the concerts every summer, and she appreciates them as a piece of fun and relaxation that showcases the town’s mountain charm.
“They are a time for the community to reconnect, catch up with friends and to celebrate our awesome, beautiful town tucked in the mountains, all the while getting to enjoy some great local music and dancing,” said Harris.
One of her favorite aspects of the events, she said, is watching the hodgepodge of otherwise-unconnected music lovers come together. Harris and her husband have young children who, she said, take full advantage of the park’s open space, but they’re surrounded by older folks, students, young music aficionados and, of course, other families.
Of course, Sylva is well known in the region for its vibrant music scene, which mixes the traditional bluegrass acts that find their roots in these mountains, with more contemporary and underground acts that make the circuit of local venues in town. There’s even a metal band from Cherokee the jaunts over to play every now and again. So in Sylva, it’s not hard to find a range of listeners for the talent the series has to offer.
This summer, the town will be treated to 15 weeks of beautiful music against an equally stunning mountain backdrop, and all you need is a lawn chair and a listening ear.
May 27: Rye Holler Boys
June 3: John Luke Carter
June 10: Buchanan Boys
June 17: Mountain Faith
June 24: Johnny Floor
& the Wrong Crowd
July 1: The Elderly Brothers
July 8: Sundown
July 15: The Wild Hog Band
July 22: Josh Fields Band
July 29: The Freight Hoppers
Aug. 5: Balsam Range
Aug.12: Big House Radio
Aug. 19: Johnny Webb Band
Aug. 26: Hurricane Creek
Sept. 2: Mountain Faith Youth Jam
Temperatures boiled above 90 degrees as the dancers grabbed their partners and lined up on the floor. The caller patiently explained the moves for the first contra dance of the afternoon as members of a volunteer pickup band plucked notes on dulcimers, fiddles and guitars.
Music filled the pavilion. Skirt hems whirled around dancers’ ankles. And shoes clapped against the wooden dance floor as the dancers dosey-doed and swung their partners.
“Thank your partner, get a drink and get back out there on the floor,” the caller said through the microphone as the music ended.
Such contra dances are a regular occurrence in downtown Sylva on the second Sunday of every month. Ron Arps typically organizes each dance and calls the steps. On the day of the August dance, he turned 65.
Arps began contra dancing in the late ‘70s when his wife was invited to play her fiddle at the Odd Ball — a contra dance that used to be held in Jackson County on the odd Friday every month.
Arps said he loved it right away, but that it took him about two years before he finally got the hang of it.
“I’m one of those people with two left feet,” Arps said. “In contra dancing, you don’t have to worry about that. It’s just dancing.”
The dance now hosted at the concert pavilion is a continuation of the Odd Ball held years ago. Though the contra dance has been held at different venues and hosted by different folks throughout the decades, someone has always had the passion to keep it going.
About a year ago, Arps began hosting the dances on the second Sunday of every month at the pavilion or an indoor location when the weather is too cold. The dances are free, but Arps asks for donations to help cover the $50 cost of renting the space.
When the pavilion was still in the planning stages, Arps instructed its architect to make the floor at least 28 by 36 feet so it would be big enough for dances.
The only problem is that the floor is concrete, which is hard on the dancers’ knees and shins. Arps’ solution was to make a portable wooden floor.
The floor cost $1,000 to build, and Arps raised the money within a few weeks from customers at his farmers market booth and area dancers.
“Some didn’t know what contra dancing was [at the farmers market], but they were giving so I could build a dance floor anyway,” Arps said.
The floor has 64 panels and weighs 2,400 pounds.
The wooden floor reduces friction, allowing dancers to slide. It also creates more noise as all the shoes hit it in unison — a sound that energizes the band, caller and dancers.
Andrea Woodall from Florida called the August contra dance so Arps could dance on his birthday. It was her first time calling, both in North Carolina and at an outdoor venue.
“I love inviting people in and helping them enjoy what I love so much,” she said.
Woodall has a box filled with more than 150 note cards, containing dances she’s participated in throughout the years. She said 150 is a small number compared to most callers.
She chooses dances based on the variety of moves, the group’s experience and how smoothly different parts of the dance flow into each other.
“I figure if the dancers don’t know what’s going on, it’s my responsibility,” she said.
At contra dances, beginners are warmly welcomed. Often times, experienced dancers will pick them as partners and show them the ropes.
“Of course you’ve heard of no child left behind,” Kim Lippy said. “They’re like that with their dancers. They take them all with them.”
Lippy has been contra dancing for more than 10 years. Her favorite part of the dance is its flirtatious nature. The dance strongly emphasizes eye contact and breaks down personal space bubbles that are apart of today’s culture, she said.
“You have to look your partner in the eye or else you get dizzy,” Marsha Crites said.
Crites has been contra dancing for more than 30 years, but during that time she had a stroke that she said could have killed her.
“I wanted to run really bad when I was disabled,” Crites said. “Dancing wasn’t a goal until later.”
It took Crites three years to rebuild her muscle coordination to the point she could dance again. During her recovery, she remembers a time when she fell during a dance, bringing a few others to the floor with her.
She said that the experience wasn’t embarrassing, but it was instead a good laugh for everyone in the room. All the dancers were supportive as she tried to get her footing back.
Crites is still dyslexic as a result of the stroke, but it doesn’t slow her step.
“Pretty much all you’ve got to know is to know your right from your left,” she said.
The next contra dance will be 3:30 to 6 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 12, at the outdoor Bridge Park Pavilion in downtown Sylva with a potluck dinner to follow.
A foundation started by a deceased Cherokee County native has provided a large boost to Sylva’s Bridge Park Project.
By Chris Cooper
David Holt is a happy guy. In a recent phone (cell phone, no less) conversation as he strolled down the streets of San Francisco, he let me know one of the reasons why. “I just played the biggest show I’ve ever played,” he said. Accompanying that living, breathing piece of bluegrass history that’s known as Doc Watson, the previous afternoon found Holt playing the Golden Gate Park festival for, oh, about 100,000 music lovers. Which kind of beat me to the whole “favorite moments in your career” question I’d planned to ask later.
The Bridge Park Project is a community effort to create a covered performance pavilion, market space, public gardens, and improved parking at the municipal parking lot in downtown Sylva, between Mill Street and Scotts Creek.
Most of us in the course of a week find a reason to go to downtown Sylva. We may go out to eat, or to the library, post office or bank, or perhaps just shop. There’s plenty of pleasure — and necessity — to be found downtown for residents of the area. As a real, working, genuine town, Sylva functions very well.