Well, yes, actually. There’s always someone, somewhere playing in Western North Carolina. The amount of musicians and groups in this region is quite possibly the biggest reason I moved here. Almost everyone I know in these parts can play an instrument, sing or at least has a deep love for live performance.
As far back as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with music. Obsessed. With older parents, I was introduced early on to an array of different genres and sounds. A child of post-WWII, my father would play everything from Nat King Cole to Jerry Butler, Sam Cooke to George Jones. I have many fond memories of riding around with him in our old minivan just letting the tapes roll. On the other hand, my mother was a child of the 1960s, full of flower power. Her tastes ranged from Sly and the Family Stone to The Rolling Stones, Chicago to Crosby, Stills and Nash.
With that rich foundation, I soon began my own musical journey. Growing up outside of Burlington, Vt., I went through the obvious channels – Phish, Strangefolk and The Grateful Dead. From there, I began going to concerts. Those early shows were pretty typical for a late 1990s kid, which included Green Day, Third Eye Blind, Our Lady Peace and, admittedly, The Backstreet Boys (I still stick to my story that I had to chaperone my little sister).
Eventually, I got my mainstream radio fix. It was time for something more. I went further down the rabbit hole. I wanted to get as close to the stage as possible. I wanted to see the guitarist fingers flutter up and down the fret like a hummingbird. I wanted to see the wrinkles on their faces from years on the unforgiving road. I wanted to feel the bass and drums vibrate through my body. And thus, I became a “slave to the groove.”
My trips out of town for shows became longer and further, to my mother’s dismay. I would travel out of state or down the east coast. I couldn’t get enough. In an odd twist of fate, my solo trip to the Bonnaroo music festival in 2005 led to an epiphany that I wanted to become a writer, come hell or high water. For the next several years, I zigzagged across the country, writing about anything that would catch my ear. Dive bars in Manhattan, open fields in Michigan, endless deserts outside of Reno, the backwoods of Arkansas – if you had a band, I wanted to hear it.
And that sentiment has never subsided. If anything, it’s grown, especially with my ongoing education in Southern Appalachian bluegrass and mountain music. Western North Carolina is a very special place, and those in the vast musical circles here can attest to that. The high peaks and valleys are inspiring, echoing the ancient sounds of string and percussion.
And yes, there is live music tonight, somewhere. Plenty of establishments within an earshot go to great lengths to track down and bring great music to our backyard. No Name Sports Pub, Soul Infusion, Guadalupe and City Lights Café in Sylva. The Classic Wineseller, Water’n Hole, Frog Level and BearWaters Brewing in Waynesville. Nantahala Brewing in Bryson City. Not to mention all of the weekly community concerts in Cashiers, Highlands and Franklin. What keeps these events going is the notion that “if you play it, they will come.” The people keep the music alive, and the music keeps us alive. Support live, local music y’all.
1: Bluegrass/Americana sensation The Freight Hoppers perform at the Stecoah Valley Cultural Arts Center in Robbinsville on July 13.
2: Claymates kicks off its one-year anniversary celebrations on July 13 in the Waynesville studio.
3: Cullowhee Mountain ARTS offers two mini-workshops on July 11 and 18 at Western Carolina University.
4: Salt Lake City-based Uinta Brewing hosts a craft beer tasting on July 18 at City Lights Café in Sylva.
5: The Sylva Art Stroll will continue on July 12 at various locations in downtown.