Discover the sounds of the South in North Carolina’s musical towns.
The sound and style of North Carolina’s music evolved over landscapes and generations, from folksy mountain jams to live concerts in the foothills. Sure, North Carolina attracts big-name artists to its larger venues, but the real magic here is in the local names, the bluegrass pickers, the jug bands, the street buskers and the Appalachian roots that run through it all. Take a music-themed road trip through the mountains and enjoy a rich diversity of styles, venues and performances that all capture a piece of the North Carolina music scene.
Take a road trip, and discover some of the best of North Carolina’s folk and mountain music.
Asheville: Live Music Central
Charlotte Douglas International Airport provides a convenient starting point for your drive to Asheville, a two-hour trip to the west. This laid-back mountain city is known for the famed Biltmore Estate, as well as craft beer, farm-to-table dining and unique art, but it also rocks, plucks, jams and stomps every night of the week, particularly downtown. On any given day, you’ll see groups of toe-tapping spectators gathered around street performers, called buskers, playing everything from bluegrass and jazz to zydeco to mountain rock. In the summer, the music scene revs up with weekly drum circles at Pritchard Park and the popular Shindig on the Green bluegrass concert series. Consistently voted a Western North Carolina favorite (and named one of the top five venues by Rolling Stone back in 2008), the Orange Peel has hosted countless artists, from Bob Dylan to the Beastie Boys, in its intimate indoor space. Robert Moog, pioneer of electronic music and inventor of the Moog synthesizer, called Asheville his home for 30 years. You can take a free tour to watch the instruments being made and play every Moog instrument in production at the Moog Music Factory before heading deeper into the mountains.
The Mountain Music of Wilkesboro
This small town is a destination for mountain bikers and has more than 40 wineries within an hour’s drive, but most notably, it embodies the soul of Appalachian and folk music. The Kruger Brothers of folk and bluegrass fame call Wilkes County their home base, and you’ll find the likes of their music and similar tunes playing everywhere you go. The Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame, located at the Wilkes Heritage Museum, inducts national and local musicians, luthiers (stringed instrument makers), dancers and other players in the world of mountain music. Be sure to check out the rest of the museum, particularly the circa 1859 Old Wilkes Jail where Confederate soldier Tom Dula (Dooley) was incarcerated – he was later memorialized in the folk song, “Tom Dooley,” made famous by the Kingston Trio in 1958. By far, Wilkesboro is best known for the annual MerleFest (in honor of Doc and Merle Watson) at the end of April. With a lineup of “traditional plus” performers – meaning traditional Appalachian music, plus whatever else sounds good – MerleFest has become one of the country’s premier music festivals.
Mount Airy: More Small-Town Tunes
Hugging North Carolina's border with Virginia, the ever-charming town of Mount Airy happens to be the hometown of Andy Griffith. A walk downtown is like stepping into a living Mayberry, and you can tour the Andy Griffith Museum or take a selfie with the bronze statue outside. But the music is what you’re here for, and Surry County is revered as a haven for fiddlers, banjo players and other traditional Appalachian musicians. Visit the Historic Earle Theatre, a bastion of old-time music. The Earle hosts the Merry-Go-Round live radio show (the nation’s second-longest running, next to the Grand Ole Opry) and regular jam sessions with local musicians on Thursdays and Saturdays. These sessions are lively and intense, with an incredible amount of musical teamwork that’s greatly appreciated by the foot stompers, toe tappers and dancers. On the first weekend in June, music fills the mountains at the Bluegrass and Old-Time Fiddlers Convention. In the summertime, kick back with a lawn chair and a cooler for live music at the Blackmon Amphitheatre downtown.
Unique Music Venues in Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Hillsborough
Head out of the mountains to your next stop in Chapel Hill. There’s so much going on here, it’s bound to be the perfect end to your road trip. Chapel Hill is dominated by the state university of the same name, and the vibe is young, fun and Southern. Hang out on popular Franklin Street to listen to buskers while browsing the local shops and pubs. As the sun goes down, West Franklin comes alive with entertainment. Check out the city’s oldest bar, The Cave, a quintessential dive with awesome music and drinks. At Local 506, catch local and touring musicians on a small stage. In the neighboring town of Carrboro, Cat’s Cradle hosts a variety of rock groups in a cool, 750-person venue, while the Arts Center next door hosts concerts, play and stand-up comedy events. Before leaving, take a side trip to the small town of Hillsborough to the north, hang out at Mystery Brewing for craft brews and live entertainment. Be sure to fill up your playlist for the flight out of Raleigh-Durham International, just a 30-minute drive from Chapel Hill.
•culled from www.visittheusa.com