It all started with a drum solo.
“My mother was of the big band generation, and she’d watch all of these movies when I was a kid with big bands in them,” said Michael Reno Harrell. “I remember seeing Gene Krupa do a drum solo and I decided that’s what I wanted to do.”
Downtown Waynesville will transform into a Mecca for Appalachian heritage geeks and for people who want to learn more about the area’s distinct culture this Saturday as the town hosts its second annual Appalachian Lifestyle Celebration.
The Downtown Waynesville Association held the festival for the first time last year to help preserve and promote the history and culture of Western North Carolina. The event will take place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on June 9.
Similar to Haywood County’s many other cultural events, such as Folkmoot, the celebration focuses on a topic of particular interest for visitors — Appalachian living.
“The Appalachian Lifestyle Celebration is great for tourists,” said Lynn Collins, executive director of the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority. “It gives our visitors a taste of what mountain living is like, along with its rich history. When people travel to Haywood County, or anywhere, they want to experience the culture of the destination.”
Out-of-towners’ fascination with Appalachian heritage is not a new revelation.
Hundreds of years ago, travelers journeyed to Western North Carolina to savor its “exotic” traditions and mountainous backwoods. And despite increased mobility and Internet access, the reasons for visiting today are still much the same as they ever were.
“It’s part of a long history of outsiders being interested in this history,” said Tyler Blethen, a professor emeritus of history at Western Carolina University. “It’s an exotic place.”
In some old writings, people would refer to the trip from their home to Western North Carolina as a safari because of its unfamiliar customs and distinctive landscape. People would travel from all over — and still do — to see the Cherokee people, observe local practices and buy traditional Appalachian goods.
“Music and crafts were the two biggest drawers,” Blethen said.
The Appalachian Lifestyle Celebration embraces that historic interest by featuring a bit of everything — from blacksmithing, quilting, weaving, woodworking, pottery, painting and soap making to food vendors that serve only traditional foods such as barbecue, smoked sausage, beans and cornbread, corn and cheese cakes, fried apple pies, kettle corn and nuts.
Mountain artists will sell their traditional crafts and show how they are made, while others give live food demonstrations such as molasses making and butter churning.
Two stages will feature live music and dancing indigenous to the area, including dulcimers, banjos, fiddles and cloggers. Musical performances include Chompin’ at the Bit String Band, Barefoot-Movement and Michael Reno Harrell.
Chompin’ at the Bit String Band and Barefoot Movement are two new bands to Waynesville. The two groups will perform with the Smoky Mountain Stompers and the J Creek Cloggers.
The Liars Bench, a two-year old program featuring authentic, traditional Southern Appalachian storytelling, music, poetry and drama, will take up residence at Main Street Perks coffee shop Saturday. Members of the group will perform two shows at 1 and 2:30 p.m. And, Blue Ridge Books will feature a line-up of authors telling local tales.
Fiddler Michael Pilgrim will roam the street playing Appalachian melodies, and a variety of performers — The Ross Brothers, Anne Lough, Ginny McAfee, McKayla Reece, Chompin’ at the Bit and the Pisgah Promenaders — will also sing and dance from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. near the Olde Time Music sculpture.
South-end stage near Church Street
• 9:45-10:45 a.m. — Chompin’ at the Bit String Band, a four-member old-time string band from Asheville.
• 11-11:45 a.m. — Honey Holler, a four-person old-time country and bluegrass group out of Asheville.
• Noon-1:15 p.m. — Chompin’ at the Bit String Band will perform again with square dancing at 12:15 p.m. and the J Creek Cloggers at 12:30 p.m.
• 1:30-2:30 p.m. — Michael Reno Harrell, an Americana singer-songwriter.
• 2:45-3:30 p.m. — The Ross Brothers, a family band from Waynesville playing old-style Appalachian music.
• 3:45-5 p.m. — Chompin’ at the Bit String Band plays with Smoky Mountain Stompers, a clogging troupe
Courthouse Stage near Depot Street
• 9:45-10:45 p.m. — Barefoot Movement, a trio from North Carolina and Tennessee that melds Americana influences with acoustic modern rock and jazz
• 11 a.m.-noon — Michael Reno Harrell
• 12:15-1:15 p.m. — Barefoot Movement performs with the J Creek Cloggers
• 1:30-2:15 p.m. — Honey Holler
• 2:30-4 p.m. — Barefoot Movement plays with the Smoky Mountain Stompers at 3 p.m. and the J Creek Cloggers at 3:45 p.m.
• 4-5 p.m. — Ginny McAfee, an acoustic musician from Asheville, and McKayla Reece, a country/gospel singer from Canton
Blue Ridge Books
The Main Street bookstore will host a line-up of author discussions revolving around Appalachian history and life from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
• 11 a.m. — Joan Routh, a local storyteller who shares the Jack Tales, a collection of Appalachian folklore.
• Noon — Michael Beadle, the author of Haywood County and co-author of Waynesville, both of which are part of the Images of America series.
• 1 p.m. — Don Dudenbostel with Tom Wilson Jester: the photographer and the author of the new Popcorn Sutton book, Popcorn Sutton: the Making and Marketing of a Hillbilly Hero.
• 2 p.m. — Bob Plott, the author of Strike & Stay: the Story of the Plott Hound, Legendary Hunters of the Southern Highlands, Colorful Characters of the Great Smoky Mountains, and A History of Hunting in the Great Smoky Mountains will share his knowledge of Appalachian history. One of his Plott Hounds will also accompany him.
• 3 p.m. — Carroll Jones, the author of Captain Lenoir’s Diary: Tom Lenoir and His Civil War Company from Western North Carolina, The 25th North Carolina Troops in the Civil War, and Rooted Deep in the Pigeon Valley. Learn about the local civil war history.
• 4 p.m. — Johnnie Sue Myers, the author of Cherokee cookbook The Gathering Place. Learn the recipes and the history of Cherokee cuisine.
Main Street Perks
• 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. — The Liars Bench, a two-year old program featuring authentic, traditional Southern Appalachian storytelling, music, poetry and drama, will perform.
*Performance schedule subject to change
If there’s one thing that runs deep in Appalachia, it’s roots. Whether it’s the roots of its ancient pines or the roots of a unique way of life still celebrated here, the Smokies are steeped in heritage.
And now, with a new festival sprouting up this weekend, Waynesville visitors and residents can celebrate the history and legacy of that singular Appalachian liftestyle.
The Appalachian Lifestyle Celebration is a day-long festival dedicated to the traditions that define the region, like bluegrass music, arts and crafts, and practical crafts like blacksmithing, quilting and wood turning.
Buffy Phillips, executive director of the Downtown Waynesville Association, said a spate of interest in the subject helped spark the idea for the festival.
“There’s a lot of interest in heritage, history and culture. People seem to be really drawn to that throughout the Southeast,” said Phillips.
Festival-goers will have the chance to see live demonstrations of traditional Appalachian handicrafts and practices, such as basket making, blacksmithing, quilting, weaving, wood working, wood carving, pottery, painting and soap making.
Folk toys, old tractors and old tools and other elements of old Appalachia will be on display. Meanwhile, artists and craftspeople still keeping those traditions alive will be on hand to sell their creations.
Even the food, said Phillips, is reminiscent of the old mountain South.
“We’ll have cornbread and beans, corn cakes, iced tea and lemonade,” said Phillips, plus a plethora of other foods that find their roots here.
For mountain music aficionados, however, there will be more than a few acts to choose from.
Headlining the event will be folk musician David Holt. Holt has four Grammys under his belt and a musical resume that spans four decades. He’s played with bluegrass legends like Doc Watson, Bill Monroe and Earl Scruggs and spent much of his early career traveling to minuscule mountain communities, learning the finer points of traditional mountain music.
He’ll bring his old-time banjo skills to the stage, where he’ll perform with young acoustic musician Josh Goforth. Goforth is no novice — he’s already garnered a Grammy nomination — and he’s been playing in the Smokies since his childhood in East Tennessee.
In addition to Holt and Goforth, singer-and-storyteller Michael Reno Harrell will give two performances. The Hominy Valley Boys and The Hill Country Band will provide the lively bluegrass background for three local clogging groups.
For those seeking to get in a few rounds on the dance floor themselves, former North Carolina Senator Joe Sam Queen will call a square dance in the afternoon that is open to all ages.
For readers, there will be local authors, traditional storytellers and readers’ theater spinning tales of Appalachia, old and new.
The celebration, said Phillips, has been long in the making and she’s hopeful it will become a regular feature on Waynesville’s downtown summer calendar.
“We talked about this probably at least three years ago, and this is the first year that we’ve been able to pull it off,” said Phillips. “There’s a lot of history and our culture deserving of our interest in this area.”
Main stage (Miller Street)
• 9:45-10:45 — Hominy Valley Boys
• 11-11:45 — David Holt
• Noon-1:15 Hominy Valley Boys (Southern Appalachian Cloggers at 12:30 p.m.)
• 1:30-2:15 — David Holt
• 2:30-3:40 — Michael Reno Harrell
• 3:45-5 — Hominy Valley Boys (Fines Creek Flatfooters Cloggers at 4 p.m. and Smoky Mountain Stompers Cloggers at 4:30 pm.)
• 9:45-10:30 — The Ross Brothers
• 10:30-11:15 — Ginny McAfee
• 11:15-12:30 — Michael Reno Harrell
• 12:30-2:30 — Hill Country Band (Southern Appalachian Cloggers at 1:15 p.m. and Flatfooters Cloggers at 2 p.m.)
• 2:30-3 p.m. — McKenzie Wilson
• 3-4 p.m. — Hill Country Band (Smoky Mountain Stoppers Cloggers at 3:30 pm.)
• 4-5 p.m. — The Ross Brothers
• 11:30-12:15 — McKenzie Wilson
• 12:30-12:50 — HART Readers Theater
• 1-2 — Ginny McAfee
• 2:15-2:35 — HART Readers Theater
• 2:45-3:30 — Ann Lough