Whether it’s called pickin’, groovin’ or jammin’ — every summer, Western North Carolina blends its majestic mountain views with its heritage music at various concerts and jam sessions.
Although each is different, the concept of the events is simple. Musicians come together from around Western North Carolina to play music.
“For musicians and listeners alike, the jam makes it possible to step back in time when life was basic, simple and unhurried. They all come for one thing — to learn, share and enjoy the enduring music that has wafted across the hills and hollers from the cabins, porches, school houses and church houses of Appalachia for centuries,” said Judy Sipes, an autoharp player who plays in Old Time Music Jam in the yard of the Oconaluftee Visitor Center at the entrance of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
Some jam sessions, like Pickin’ in the Park in Canton, result in a group of three or four artists playing in one area, surrounded by other gatherings of three or four musicians hosting their own pickin’ sessions. Spectators can move from group to group during the event. Others, including Pickin’ in the Square in Franklin, have open mics followed by a headlining band. Then, there are shows such as Concerts on the Creek in Sylva, which feature a scheduled band or musician each week.
Concerts on the Creek is a relatively young event that started four years ago as a once a month musical performance aimed at attracting more people to the downtown.
“At the time, it was the beginning of the economic recession, and we felt like this would be a great way to bring tourists into the area to do something for free,” said Julie Spiro, executive director of the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce and the Travel and Tourism Authority. Spiro added that the event also gives area residents something free and fun to do in their town.
Concerts on the Creek soon grew from a small monthly event to a weekly one that, on average, brings 600 to 700 people to downtown Sylva every Friday night. Balsam Range, which plays each year, draws about 1,5000 spectators.
“It sort of depends on the weather and the band,” Spiro said.
After last year, the event had gotten so big that the Jackson County chamber, the town of Sylva and the recreation park, who all sponsor Concerts on the Creek, were required to hire a police officer to patrol it this summer.
Although she does not have any concrete data, Spiro said that several businesses have told her that they see a bump in business as a result of the Concerts on the Creek.
“They are busier,” Spiro said.
There’s another undeniable drawing card for the outdoor music that fills the air on summer evenings in the mountains: it’s free.
“All you have to do is bring your chair and come downtown,” said Linda Schlott, director of the Franklin Main Street program.
More than 200 people turn out every Saturday night for Pickin’ on the Square in Franklin.
“People love Pickin’ on the Square,” Schlott said. “The entertainment is different every week. Some nights it is clogging; some nights it is 60s music; some nights it is bluegrass.”
One element of Pickin’ on the Square is a one-hour open mic session before the main band takes the stage, a local version of American Idol that gives anyone their chance in the spotlight.
Gather round for some old-fashioned mountain music. Free. Bring a lawn chair or blanket.
• Pickin’ in the Park from 7 to 10 p.m. every Friday night at the Canton Recreation Park in Canton.
• Street dances from 6:30 to 9 p.m. on select Friday nights in front of the historic courthouse in downtown Waynesville. Mountains music, clogging and square dancing. June 22, July 6, July 20 and August 3.
• Concerts on the Creek from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. every Friday night at Bridge Park in downtown Sylva. The complete 10-week schedule is as follows: Sundown (May 25); Vinyl Brothers Big Band (June 1); Rafe Hollister (June 8); Balsam Range (June 15); Mountain Faith (June 22); Buchanan Boys (June 29); The Johnny Webb Band (July 6); Empty Pockets (July 13); The Elderly Brothers (July 20); and Dashboard Blue (July 27).
• Groovin’ on the Green is held on the Cashiers Village Commons on Friday nights during summer, starting June 1. The series is sponsored by the Greater Cashiers Merchants Association. Artists include Hurricane Creek (June 1); Honeycutters (June 8); Rafe Hollister (June 15); Von Grey (June 22); Velvet Truckstop (July 6); One Leg Up (July 13); and Leigh Glass & The Hazards (July 27). 828.743.1630.
• Pickin’ on the Square at 6:30 p.m. every Saturday night in downtown Franklin through Aug. 25. Open-mic, followed by main entertainment. The next 12-weeks of bands is as follows: The Johnny Webb Band (May 19), Sundown (May 26), Highway 76 (June 2), Heart of the South Band, featuring Earl Coward (June 9), The Elderly Brothers (June 16), The Tonesman (June 23), Tugelo Holler (June 30), Lisa Price Band (July 7), Miller Creek Bluegrass Band (July 14), Michael Reno Harrell (July 21) and Easy Street Band (July 28). 828.524.2516.
• Old-time music jam from 1-3 p.m. the third Saturday of the month at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on U.S. 441 outside Cherokee. 828.452.1068.
• Community music jam from 6-7:30 p.m. each 1st and 3rd Thursday of the month at the Bryson City library in downtown Bryson City. 828.488.3030.
• Music in the Mountains from 6:30 to 8 p.m. every Saturday in downtown Bryson City. Artists include Boogertown Gap (June 2); Frank Lee, Isaac Deal and Bradley Adams (June 9); Juniper (June 16); Mountain Dew-et (June 23); The Barefoot Movement (June 30); The Josh Fields Band (July 14); Jakleg (July 21); and The Elderly Brothers (July 28).