Shindig on the Green: A Fifty Year History of Music, Dance, and Storytelling in Asheville

August 9, 2019

In 1967, Shindig on the Green was founded by Jackie and Earl Ward, Bob Lindsay, and Jerry Israel with the help of members of Asheville’s Folk Heritage Committee members, as a place for musicians to gather and play on summer Saturday nights downtown. Since the outdoor event’s inception, Shindig on the Green has attracted hundreds of thousands of locals and visitors alike to Asheville in celebration of the musical and dance heritage of the Appalachian South. Performers often include bluegrass and old-time string bands, traditional dancers, ballad singers, storytellers, and the long-time house band The Stoney Creek Boys.  

On Saturday evenings from around 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., performers take to the Bascom Lamar Lunsford Stage at Asheville’s Pack Square Park to showcase Southern music, dance, and storytelling. Audience members often hock a guitar, banjo, or fiddle to take part in the impromptu jams held on sidewalks and under shade trees. Listeners are encouraged to bring lawn chairs, “set a spell,” and enjoy the show. Between 3,000 and 5,000 people attend Shindig on the Green each Saturday, so you might want to get there early and stake out a good spot on the green.

You can catch Shindig on the Green on August 10, 17, 24, and 31 from 7 to 10 p.m. For more information, visit https://folkheritage.org/asheville-events/shindig-on-the-green/.  



"Down the Road": Our Favorite Episodes, Part 4

August 3, 2019

Hosted by Laura Boosinger, a musician and director of the Madison County Arts Council, this podcast series highlights bluegrass and old-time music stories, performers, and traditions across the mountain and foothills counties of western North Carolina. These traditions and stories are the soul and spirit of the Blue Ridge Music Trails of North Carolina.

Episodes air weekly on WNCW-FM (88.7) at 8:50 am on Tuesday mornings and 4:30 pm on Sunday afternoons.

Here are a couple of our favorite episodes:

Cherokee Play a Part in Bluegrass


Did you know that fiddling and banjo traditions have long been carried on by the Cherokee Indians of Western North Carolina? In this episode, Laura Boosinger explores the Cherokee stringband tradition highlighting artists like Walker Calhoun, Manco Sneed, and Raymond Fairchild.


Cane Mill Road Carries on Deep Gap Legacy


Deep Gap, N.C., is known around the world as the home of the legendary Doc Watson and his son Merle. Now the rising bluegrass band Cane Mill Road is carrying on the legacy. Born in the new millennium, fiddler and mandolinist Liam Purcell immersed himself in traditional music through the after school Junior Appalachian Musicians program. As a teenager, Liam joined forces with Tray Wellington, a banjo player from Jefferson, Eliot Smith of Watauga County, and Southwest Virginia guitarist Casey Lewis to form Cane Mill Road.

"Down the Road": Our Favorite Episodes, Part 3

July 28, 2019

Hosted by Laura Boosinger, a musician and director of the Madison County Arts Council, this podcast series highlights bluegrass and old-time music stories, performers, and traditions across the mountain and foothills counties of western North Carolina. These traditions and stories are the soul and spirit of the Blue Ridge Music Trails of North Carolina.

Episodes air weekly on WNCW-FM (88.7) at 8:50 am on Tuesday mornings and 4:30 pm on Sunday afternoons.

Here are a few of our favorite episodes:

What Is Old-Time Music?


A once common cultural artform throughout the South, old-time music remains an integral part of the soundscape of western North Carolina. But what exactly is old-time music? Join host Laura Boosinger for this episode of Down the Road as she explores the Native American, African, and European roots of this truly American music. 


Settlers Brought Ancient Ballads to the Mountains


When settlers from the British Isles moved across the pond to America, they brought an ancient form of music with them—the ballad. These musical traditions, preserved most notably by singers residing in the western part of the state, drew song collectors like Englishman Cecil Sharp to North Carolina in the early part of the 20th century. In Madison County, Sharp collected several hundred songs, including 70 from Jane Hicks Gentry from Hot Springs.


African Roots of the Banjo


The roots of the banjo trace directly to West Africa. White Southerners learned to play early gourd banjos, probably built from the African slaves’ memories. The banjo was popularized in the 19th century by minstrel shows. Though it seemed close to disappearing in the late 20th century, the African American banjo tradition has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years, led by such young artists as Rhiannon Giddens, Dom Flemons, Jerron Paxton, and Amythyst Kiah.

“Down the Road”: Our Favorite Episodes

July 14, 2019

Hosted by Laura Boosinger, a musician and director of the Madison County Arts Council, this podcast series highlights bluegrass and old-time music stories, performers, and traditions across the mountain and foothills counties of western North Carolina. These traditions and stories are the soul and spirit of the Blue Ridge Music Trails of North Carolina.

Episodes air weekly on WNCW-FM (88.7) at 8:50 am on Tuesday mornings and 4:30 pm on Sunday afternoons.

Here are a few of our favorite episodes:


Jimmie Rodgers Lands in Asheville Before the Big Bang of Country Music


Jimmie Rodgers’s songs have been covered by generations of country and bluegrass musicians. Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass music, performed Rodgers’s “Mule Skinner Blues” the first time he appeared on the Grand Ole Opry, and North Carolinian Doc Watson rarely played a gig without singing one of Rodgers’s bluesy numbers. Born in Mississippi, Jimmie Rodgers moved to Asheville, N.C. in 1927 and secured a weekly show on local radio station WWNC. On this episode of Down the Road, find out how an influential connection with North Carolina native and music promoter Bascom Lamar Lunsford secured Jimmie an audition at the legendary Bristol Sessions.


Doc Watson Recalls Mountain Childhood


Arthel Lane Watson, better known as “Doc,” grew up on Osborne Mountain in Watauga County, N.C. Doc lost his sight to an eye infection before the age of one, but he would grow up to become the most celebrated Appalachian musician ever. Doc talked about his childhood in an interview with David Holt, included on the 2001 Legacy box set.


Bascom Lamar Lunsford Championed Mountain Music and Dance


Celebrated as “the Minstrel of the Appalachians,” Bascom Lamar Lunsford was born in Madison County, N.C. A jack of all trades, Lunsford worked as a tree-salesman, Democratic political campaign manager, honeybee promoter, lawyer, federal worker, teacher, amateur folklorist/collector, festival organizer, performer, and reading clerk for the North Carolina House of representatives. The organizer of the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival, Lunsford also has the distinction of recording over 300 sides for the Library of Congress from memory and performing for King George VI.

JAM Camp Reflections

June 19, 2019

JAM Camp Reflections

By: Zoe Van Buren, Folklife Specialist


The fiddler’s convention has a central place in the old-time music tradition. Musicians seek out North Carolina’s storied old-time gatherings for the chance to meet one another, join workshops, and jam with pickers from near and far. These convenings grow the tradition and keep its people together.

This year, the Folklife Program of the North Carolina Arts Council and the Stecoah Valley Cultural Arts Center gave the youngest generation of old-time musicians a gathering of their own. Over a May weekend at Stecoah’s historic schoolhouse building nestled in the mountains, students from Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM) programs across the western counties came together to create their own community of music at Stecoah JAM Camp. Stecoah is home to one of the oldest JAM programs supported by the N.C. Arts Council’s Traditional Arts Programs for Students (TAPS) grant.



Master fiddler Roger Howell, JAM instructors, Stecoah staff, and representatives of Junior Appalachian Musicians, Inc. led the weekend’s workshops, jam sessions, and singing circles, culminating in a special round of the Mountain Youth Talent Contest, hosted by the Jackson County 4-H. As the weekend wound to a close, Folklife staff asked one camp instructor, Julie Nelms, a former student in the Stecoah JAM program, just what JAM means to her.

Stecoah JAM Camp was sponsored by the North Carolina Arts Council, the Stecoah Valley Cultural Arts Center, and Graham County Travel and Tourism.

A Legacy of Traditional Music in Western North Carolina

May 31, 2019

By Tipper Pressley


Musicianer noun A musician, one who plays an instrument. "...1940 Simms Wiley Oakley, 34. Wiley [Oakley] is extremely fond of music. He feels certain that he would have "been a real musicianer" if musical instruments to play upon had been available in his young days.

“Musicianer.” Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English, 1st ed., The University of Tennessee Press, 2004, p. 405.


Unlike Wiley, there were a plethora of musical instruments around in my childhood days and better than that, there were people who knew how to play them. 

The traditional music of Appalachia has been the soundtrack of my life in the mountains of North Carolina. 

My earliest memories revolve around the art of making music. I was blessed to grow up in a family where it seemed someone was always pickin’ and grinnin’ in the kitchen. I often fell asleep to the sounds of guitars, mandolins, and high lonesome harmonies.

My father, Jerry Marshall Wilson, was one half of the famed Wilson Brothers who won the North Carolina Heritage Award from the North Carolina Arts Council in 1998. After the grandkids came along we begin to affectionately call him Pap.

Pap was also raised in the mountains of North Carolina surrounded by music. His grandmother Carrie Coleman Elliott Wilson played piano by ear.

In the late 50s, Pap was drafted into the United States Marine Corp. He served with a boy from Churchill, Tennessee who had a guitar and liked to play and sing. He gave Pap a few lessons and taught him to play his first song “The Lonely Little Robin.” 

After Pap was discharged and back home in the mountains of North Carolina he made an earnest effort to play music. He and his brother Ray began singing and performing as The Wilson Brothers in the classic brother duet style that was popular at the time.

The brothers performed as a gospel duet for about 40 years. They sang in countless churches and other venues. They had weekly programs on at least three different radio stations during their career. In 1973 they released their first album “Words of Life,” which was well received and is still played on the radio today. They made their last recording “Today, If You Will Hear His Voice” in the early 2000s. 

Pap passed his great love of music on to his children and to his grandchildren. 

For many years my brother Paul played lead guitar for The Wilson Brothers. I learned to play the acoustic bass as an adult. My daughters, Corie and Katie, started out singing with Pap in church and eventually picked up their own instrument and learned to sing harmony from Pap and Paul. 

Corie plays the guitar and mandolin while singing harmony with her sister, Katie, who plays the fiddle and piano while singing lead.

By late 2008 Pap was performing with Paul and myself. Once his grandchildren came of age they periodically joined them on stage. As time went swiftly by the younger generation took the lead with Corie and Katie stepping to the forefront while Pap, Paul, and I backed them up. 

For many years we played as a group at churches, community centers, festivals, and other venues. During this time, as Pap’s health began to fail, we began calling ourselves The Pressley Girls. 

In 2016 we lost Pap. It was a tremendous blow to our family, but we found great solace in playing the music he spent his life sharing with us. Singing the songs Pap wrote and sharing the traditional songs he taught us is beyond rewarding. 

The art of making music is as common as eating supper in our family. 

Corie and Katie joke they really didn’t have a choice in learning to play and sing traditional music because they were totally immersed in it from birth. The girls were just toddlers when a cousin said to me, “Do you know everywhere this family goes they take guitars with them? I mean it could be coming a tornado and someone would say ‘Did you get the guitars I think we’ve got time to sing one before it hits.’” 

Although my cousin was being facetious, there is a certain amount of truth in his comment. The art of making music is as common as eating supper in our family. 

The tradition of music in the mountains of North Carolina is something I’ve often studied on. There’s a creativeness present in the songs and playing, there’s certainly entertainment value; and often there’s a mournful soulfulness which evokes a sacredness that’s in direct relation to the towering mountains and deep dark hollers which make up the mountains of North Carolina and Appalachia at large.

Singing or playing a song I know my grandparents enjoyed makes my heart sing. Hearing my daughters sing or play a song my grandparents enjoyed almost makes my heart burst with happiness.

Corie and Katie have enjoyed traditional Appalachian music and folk dancing for their entire lives. The music they’ve made and the dances they’ve danced have made them a standout with older folks, but it never, not once, made them the cool kids at school. 

It was only after Pap passed away that the girls fully realized what they’re doing is more than having fun. Every time they take the stage or sing around the family circle of guitars they are continuing the legacy of music which was laid before them when they were children sneaking from their bed to lay in the floor and be lulled to sleep by the sounds of guitars, mandolins, and high lonesome harmonies just like their momma was when she was a child. 


About Tipper Pressley

Tipper Pressley is the author of the popular blog, Blind Pig and the Acorn. Based in western North Carolina, the blog celebrates Appalachian heritage and culture. The blog is an effort of Pressley’s to shine a light on the cultural traditions to preserve and celebrate Western North Carolina’s legacy. You can hear more about The Pressley Girls at www.thepressleygirls.com

A Legacy of Music at the John C. Campbell Folk School

May 20, 2019

Music and dance have always been a central part of the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, N.C. Founded in 1925 by Olive Dame Campbell and Marguerite Butler along with the Appalachian community of Brasstown they created a unique school inspired by Denmark’s folk schools.

The traditional Scandinavian folk school model encouraged singing and dancing as a way for the staff, educators, and students to learn about one another. John C. Campbell offers experiences in non-competitive learning and community life that are joyful and enlivening. Through art, craft, music, dance, and agriculture, the school works towards its goal of bringing out the best in people. Campbell was a gifted musician and singer and the first to collect mountain ballads throughout Southern Appalachia. She collaborated with English scholar Cecil Sharp to produce English Folk Songs of the Southern Appalachians (1917), an internationally celebrated text on American music.

Today, the Folk School continues its rich legacy of supporting traditional music by offering a diverse spectrum of music classes on many different folk instruments and dance styles. Adults from all over the United States and abroad travel to the school to attend weeklong and weekend workshops in banjo, fiddle, dulcimer, mandolin, guitar, autoharp, ukulele, folk harp, and dobro. The music programming complements the school’s renowned craft programs including over 800 classes each year in subjects ranging from blacksmithing to jewelry to writing. 

The school hosts a free Friday night concert series featuring local and regional musicians performing old-time, bluegrass, folk, and gospel. During the winter months, the concerts are held in the Community Room of historic Keith House and in the summer, they are in the Festival Barn. Anyone is welcome to attend. On the first full weekend of October, thousands of people flock to the annual Fall Festival, a celebration of Appalachian heritage showcasing traditional music and dance, craft demonstrations, and artisans selling their work.

Live music is also featured in weekly community contra and square dances, and on most Tuesday nights locals and students are invited to join in on a free "Learn How to Contra" dance. There’s also a weekly music performance by folk school staff.

For more information about the concert and dance events: Link

For more information about music classes: Link

The John C. Campbell Folk School is funded by the North Carolina Arts Council in a category that supports exemplary arts organizations that set standards of excellence for the state, providing high-quality arts programs, educational and outreach opportunities for children and adults.

The school is located at 1 Folk School Road in Brasstown, N.C. www.folkschool.org; 828.837.2775.

Need a Haircut? Bring Your Fiddle to Jam at The Barber Shop

May 19, 2019

One of the quainter musical venues in the Blue Ridge region is the tiny Barber Shop in the little town of Drexel. Around noontime, the “regular pickers” start strolling into the Barber Shop. On Saturdays they favor old-time bluegrass.

Lawrence Anthony‚ a veteran of General Patton’s Third Army and the driving force behind the jam‚ owned and operated The Barber Shop in its present location from 1964 until shortly before he passed away, in December 2009. He began his career in 1949 in his first little shop, just across from the railroad tracks, and enjoyed “pickin’ with the guys” for almost sixty-one years.

Visitors can see the guitar he took with him through World War II hanging on the wall. Anthony’s son Carroll learned to play on that very instrument. He’s continuing the tradition of music at the Barber Shop today by setting up the Barber Shop Preservation Fund, a nonprofit fund to keep the shop open as a memorial to his father—and to keep the music alive.

“My daddy’s last wish was to keep the music going,” Carroll Anthony said. “We have lots of kids coming in now and some of the old guys will help the younger kids along to keep traditional music alive.”

The jam sessions occur year-round on Saturdays around 11 a.m., but visitors should call ahead to check the schedule. The jam sessions are informal, but the music is high quality, provided by some of the finest pickers in the area.

In 2012, The Barber Shop was the subject of an Emmy-nominated documentary film, called Pickin’ and Trimmin’, for obvious reasons.

Pickin' and Timmin' directed by Matt Morris

The Barber Shop is located at 100 South Main Street, Drexel, N.C., 28619. Take I-40 to Exit 107 
(Drexel Road/NC 114); go north 2.5 miles to downtown Drexel.

Weekly videos of the jam sessions are posted on Facebook.  

The Barber Shop is featured in the Blue Ridge Music Trails of North Carolina Guidebook, a project of the N.C. Arts Council in partnership with UNC Press. You can discover more unique music venues at www.BlueRidgeMusicNC.com.

Come Hear North Carolina Along the Blue Ridge Music Trails

April 24, 2019

As spring turns to summer Western North Carolina rings with the sounds of old-time and bluegrass bands, ballad and shaped-note singings, dances, and the traditions of the Cherokee. Yes, it’s festival season in the mountains! 

Pack your bags, load the car, and travel down the road on the Blue Ridge Music Trails of North Carolina to enjoy one of the many festivals planned this season.

Some best bets for late April through June include:


April 25-28, www.MerleFest.com, Wilkesboro, N.C.

MerleFest is a celebration of ‘traditional plus’ music, a unique mix of music based on the traditional, roots-oriented sounds of the Appalachian region, including bluegrass and old-time music, and expanded to include Americana, country, blues, rock, and many other styles. MerleFest is an annual homecoming for many musicians and music fans.

Fiddler’s Grove Ole Time Fiddler’s & Bluegrass Festival 

May 24 - 26, www.fiddlersgrove.com, Union Grove, N.C.

Fiddler’s Grove has enjoyed a long tradition of preserving old-time and bluegrass music and passing the legacy on to future generations. On-site camping and a laid-back family atmosphere allow guests to immerse themselves in the music and tradition of this festival which has been going strong since 1970.

23rd Annual Swain County Heritage Festival 

May 24 - 25, www.facebook.com/Swain-County-Heritage-Festival, Bryson City, N.C.

The Swain County Heritage Festival on Memorial Day weekend features gospel music Friday night, and bluegrass music Saturday. You can enjoy mountain-style clogging, craft booths, food, beverage, ice cream, an old-time log-sawing contest, sack races for the kids, and more.

Cherokee Voices Festival

June 9, www.visitcherokeenc.com, Cherokee, N.C. 

The voices of an 11,000-year-old culture invite you to come out and play. Cherokee culture speaks in its most thrilling ways through dance, music, storytelling, arts and crafts, and food. 

Bluff Mountain Festival 

June 15, www.madisoncountyarts.com, Marshall, N.C.

Bluff Mountain Festival hosts an all-day event with a non-stop stage full of the finest traditional musicians and dancers. Artist vendor booths feature a wide variety of art and craft and provide a one-of-a-kind shopping opportunity. 

Annual Heritage Day and Wood Kiln Opening 

June 29, www.traditionspottery.com, Lenoir, N.C.

Live music all day with The Dollar Brothers, Glenn Bolick, and Friends, and more. Storytelling with Fred Frawley and Orville Hicks. The wood kiln will be filled with face jugs, Rebekah pitchers, hand formed animals, teapots, vases, pitchers, and more. Arrive early for the best selection! The day includes an interactive quilting party and a Gee Haw Whimmie Diddle Contest.

Pottery being retrieved from a kiln at the Annual Heritage Day and Wood Kiln

From the valleys to the highest peak, you’re never far from the music of the mountains and the foothills. Visit www.BlueRidgeMusicNC.com for a full calendar of traditional music events throughout Western North Carolina. Or pick up a free copy of the 2019 Down the Road Bluegrass and Old-Time Music Guide at a visitor center in the region. 

About the Blue Ridge Music Trails

The Blue Ridge Music Trails is a project of the North Carolina Arts Council and a division of the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, and the Blue Ridge National Heritage Areas to preserve and promote traditional music in Western North Carolina.

About the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area

The Blue Ridge National Heritage Area is the regional steward of living Appalachian traditions in North Carolina that honor our elders and invite new generations to explore music, craft, foodways, the outdoors, and the native wisdom that all have their home in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. 

Get Ready for MerleFest 2019!

April 4, 2019

MerleFest, considered one of the premier music festivals in the country, serves as an annual homecoming for musicians and music fans. Held on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, MerleFest was founded in 1988 in memory of the late Eddy Merle Watson, son of American music legend Doc Watson.

MerleFest returns to Wilkesboro this year from April 25 to April 28! For ticket information, line-up, and schedule visit www.MerleFest.org.


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