Standing atop the 5,000-foot Cataloochee Ranch mountain retreat in Maggie Valley, the vastness and endless beauty of Western North Carolina stretches out before your eyes. Heading towards the main building, you reach for the doorknob and enter eagerly. Soon, your body, mind and soul are soaked by the sounds of friends, strangers and old-time string music.
From welcoming, backwoods front porches to raucous downtown stages, the music of Western North Carolina weaves together the rich history, passion and camaraderie of Southern Appalachia and its inhabitants. At the heart of this deep love and appreciation for music are the communities that proudly display their heritage by offering weekly performances for residents and visitors alike.
At the front of the room, banjos and fiddles plow through an Appalachian repertoire. Fingers dance across strings, conjuring the history and tradition that have seeped out of the region’s hills for generations.
“Trying to get’em to play together on the same beat at the beginning is kind of like herding cats,” laughed instructor Robby Robertson. “But by the end they get it together.”
Across the audience, parents capture the moment with cell phone cameras. The young musicians focus on their instruments and ready themselves for another song.
“Hey, Garret, what’s up, man?” I looked up from my notebook and there standing in front of me was a familiar face. Tony Casey, from the North Country. It was last Saturday evening and I was sitting at a picnic table at White Duck Taco in the River Arts District of Asheville. And there we were, two boys from the Champlain Valley of Upstate New York, crossing paths over a thousand miles from our hometowns.
What a difference a year makes.
For the last 12 months, Haywood County group Soldier’s Heart has been roaming Western North Carolina and beyond with their unique Appalachian porch-n-soul tone.
What does a washboard, a bucket and a beard have in common?
They make up the melodic magic that is The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band. A three-piece country-blues outfit barreling out of southern Indiana, the group has one foot firmly planted in the rich history of early American music, the other stepping into a future where these sights and sounds are needed now more than ever.
Mary Harper was quite possibly the first real friend I made when I moved to Western North Carolina.
With my apartment a few blocks away from the Water’n Hole Bar & Grill in Waynesville, I ventured down there at night trying to see what was up in this town, trying to make some friends, and trying not to feel alone and isolated in a new place where I was unknown to all who surrounded me. Harper, with her million-dollar smile and swagger, immediately made me feel at home.
Monday is the new Saturday. Heading down Frazier Street in Waynesville to BearWaters Brewing Company, one can barely find a place to park on a typical Monday evening. For the last couple of months, the location has played host to a weekly open mic event called the Spontaneous CombustJam.
So, what are you going to ask him?
That was the question constantly asked to me when friends and curious folks alike found out I was interviewing Kevin Costner. Yes, that Kevin Costner. You see the Academy Award-winning actor/director fronts a country/blues band called Modern West. They’ll be performing at the Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts in Franklin on April 24.
Kacey Musgraves makes me feel like a teenage boy.
Shouts of joy escape my lungs when I find out she’s performing nearby. All my friends grow weary over my constant babbling about her. If there were a life-size poster available, I’d probably buy one — her music is just that good.