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.


Community jams

Gather round for some old-fashioned mountain music. Free. Bring a lawn chair or blanket.

Haywood County

• 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.

Jackson County

• 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.

Macon County

• 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.

Swain County

• 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).

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.


2011 Schedule

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

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