Looking for something new, fun and relatively inexpensive to do this summer? Several counties and towns in western North Carolina offer a variety of festivals, celebrations, and cultural events that feature bluegrass music, dance, and traditional food of Southern Appalachia. The festivals in western NC are a sample of what is offered all along the Blue Ridge Music Trail, a trail of activities across the mountains showcasing music, food, and tradition. Most, if not all, are inexpensive or free, outdoors, and offer a fun experience for all ages. Check out a few below to get a better idea of a possible summer road trip in the mountains!
Smoky Mountain Jamboree – located at the theater of Saunooke Village Shopping Center in Cherokee, NC, the show (hosted by an emcee) features a variety of music, including bluegrass, gospel, and even rock ‘n’ roll. At times, songs are performed in the Cherokee language. The jamboree is open to the public every night at 8pm from June 1 – October 31.
Cherokee Bluegrass Festival is held at the Happy Holiday RV Park and Campground the third weekend of August and runs for three days (Friday, Saturday and Sunday). The festival features nationally known bluegrass and country recording artists such as Ricky Skaggs, the Osbourne Brothers, the Lewis Family, etc. Shows run from noon to 11pm each day. Call festival promoters for details (706-864-7203).
Mountain Street Dance – an unsuspecting traveler heading into the town of Waynesville, NC, could be extremely confused to find a portion of Main Street in front of the Haywood County Courthouse closed and streets filled with people dancing to a live fiddle band. On alternate Fridays, beginning the first Friday after July 4th and continuing through the end of August, people dance the night away, as they have done for almost a century. There is a great deal of history in this area of North Carolina, including the Soco Gap Square Dance Team, which began in the 1930s by “the dancing-est man in the world,” Haywood county resident Sam Queen. Soco Gap was one of the first mountain square-dance teams in the country, and even performed for Eleanor Roosevelt, King George VI, and Queen Elizabeth.
Maggie Valley Opry House–nestled between the Blue Mountain Inn and the Country Vittles Restaurant on Soco Road, the Maggie Valley Opry House hosts weekly, sometimes daily, stage performances showcasing traditional bluegrass and old-time mountain music. This “hometown opry” is a special feature of Southern Appalachia and is owned by Raymond Fairchild, a Maggie Valley celebrity, as his banjo playing skills are known well beyond his small town. Live shows are every night at the Maggie Valley Opry House from April to October, 8-10 pm.
Smoky Mountain Folk Festival – The festival features old-time and bluegrass music, clogging, children’s performances, and jam sessions at the outdoor Stuart Auditorium. No one is paid to perform, and the festival is more of a gathering of traditional music from the region. The festival, directed by Jo Sam Queen, is held at the United Methodist Assembly at Lake Junaluska, near Maggie Valley and is open to the public Friday and Saturday evening of Labor Day weekend.
Mountain Heritage Day – When Dr. H. F. Robinson became the chancellor of Western North Carolina University in 1974, he requested that a barbecue and square dance be held to conclude the day’s activities. The celebration was so popular, that they decided to hold it the following year. The university expanded the activities, and the following year the first official Mountain Heritage Day was held. Sometimes drawing a crowd of 40,000 people (depending on the weather) this festival features crafts, food, music, and dance that is rooted in the Appalachian Mountain culture. While there, visit the Mountain Heritage Center, a permanent exhibit that showcases the migration of Scotch-Irish people to western NC in the 18th century. Mountain Heritage Day is free and open to the public from 8-5pm on the last Saturday of September.
So, if you are looking of something new and fun to do in North Carolina this summer/fall, especially something that is cheap and easy, check out some of these music festivals in western North Carolina–with so much culture, tradition, and history, you may even learn a couple things about a very special region of the state!
For more information on bluegrass, music festivals, and the history of Southern Appalachia culture, check out Blue Ridge Music Trails, by Fred C. Fussell.