But then, a brightly lit building emerged like a lighthouse on the high seas, with dozens of vehicles surrounding the old stone schoolhouse.
It’s Saturday night at the Fines Creek Community Center and that means it’s time to dance.
Entering the large, aged gymnasium of the former school, remade into a community center, rows of tables filled one side of the basketball court while the other was headlong into a gyration frenzy.
“I’ve just been dancing and going to music for [several] years, and I love seeing the people here,” said event organizer Fannie Dorlon. “I treat my people if there was 20 here the same as if there was 100.”
What started as a semi-regular occurrence, where local music groups and dancers would come together has now morphed into a weekly hootenanny bringing in upwards of 125 people since Dorlan took over and kicked things off last October. Those who ran the past events were getting older and too tired to carry on the duties. Dorlan saw the opportunity to put some fresh blood and enthusiasm into the cherished dances.
“I couldn’t find anything like this anywhere,” she said. “So, I came down here one night and asked if it was available to do every weekend. It was, and it’s been going every weekend since.”
And going it is. Though a decidedly older crowd, the energy and vibration of patrons throws age to the backseat and steers right into the promise of a fun-filled evening. With belt-buckles the size of dinner plates, snakeskin boots and newly minted cowboy hats, gentlemen tip their brims to their significant others or to a newly met friend, ultimately scratching another name off their dance card. At 71-years-old, Audrey Worley has been clogging since she was a child. For her, it’s all about getting out and doing what she loves — dancing.
“Haywood County has very few things like this to offer and I think it’s just wonderful here,” she said. “It’s a good tradition to have here and the exercise is great.”
Twirling around the floor, couples move about like a carousel, gliding and swaying back and forth with their partner to the sounds of Jericho Hill, an old-country/early rock-n-roll quartet from Asheville.
“We’re used to playing a lot of bars and this is really a family thing, which is what we really like about it,” said bassist Ed Chandler. “If somebody doesn’t keep this going, it’ll become a lost art, so we’re glad to be able to get in here and do this kind of thing.”
Grabbing a chilidog or some banana pudding, folks here sit and relax for a few moments before jumping right back up for a slow dance or up-tempo rockabilly selection. Wandering the Cracker Jack box gymnasium, one gets the sense if they closed their eyes and listened carefully they would be transported decades into the past, to a simpler time, one of chivalry, innocent laughter and cozy handholding.
“We’ve been coming since she opened. The atmosphere is down to earth and you just feel like you’re home, it’s just a good place,” said Barbara Ross. “It’s a lot of older folks, but this is a tradition our younger people now have access to.”
Sitting down next to Barbara is her husband Ralph. A longtime dance and rhythm aficionado, he’s appreciative of these events and how much they’ve meant to the community at large.
“I like to dance to pretty music and it’s very sociable,” he said.
“Oh, I thought there for a minute he was going to say pretty women,” Barbara chuckled.
Manning the food table during a set break, Dolan’s boyfriend James Strickland knows the importance of preserving southern traditions. Keeping these events alive and going is a top priority for him.
“It’s the heritage and trying to keep it going for the kids and grandkids,” he said. “This is the tradition of the mountains, especially with clogging, two-step and line-dancing, and people here are going to do it until they die.”
Strickland points to the wide array of people in attendance. According to him, there are folks from Black Mountain, Hendersonville, Cherokee and as far away as Georgia. It’s about getting the word out and letting people know the real deal is happening in Fines Creek.
“If you come once, you’ll come back,” he said. “There’s no drinking, no smoking and you don’t have to worry about hostility. We’re got a good turnout and everyone is enjoying themselves.”
Tearing up a rug the entire night, first-timers Dana McGwire and Jonathan Hicks are having a ball diving into the movements and music of their native lands. The couple sticks out, not just primarily for their young age, but for their exuberance to soak in every musical note and quickly fleeting moment in the room.
“Mountain tradition is important and it’s just fun to get out and do this, which we like to do,” Hicks said. “It’s great to be here, to learn and see how the older generation does it.”
“I like it here because I can shake a leg,” McGwire added. “This is important for relationships and for the community.”
But, what about being a younger couple in a sea of elders?
“There’s a lot of young souls here,” she smiled.
The early evening slides into the depths of the crisp night. Couples are slowly trickling out the door to destinations unknown. Another great Saturday night at the Fines Creek Community Center is wrapping up. At a nearby table, Canton Mayor Mike Ray is observing the jubilant crowd, most of which come and support “Pickin’ at the Armory,” a twice monthly mountain music and dance event held in the Canton Armory before it moves outside to recreation park in the summer.
“This is the heritage of Western North Carolina, so it’s important that our community has a place to come and dance, for young people to come and carry on the tradition,” Ray said.
Want to go?
The weekly music and dance at the Fines Creek Community Center goes from 7 to 10:30 p.m. every Saturday throughout the year. Each week, different old-country, early rock-n-roll and mountain music groups grace the stage. Food, refreshments, 50/50 raffle and door prizes are available. Admission is $5 and students are free with paying adult.
Fines Creek Bluegrass Jam changes date
The Fines Creek Blue Grass Jam, held annually the past 15 years, will see a change in date this year from the last weekend in August to the second weekend of the month, Aug. 9-10.
Attendance at the event has dropped over the past two years because of competition from other events held the same weekend, primarily the Haywood County Fair whose date was changed in recent years to the same weekend as Fines Creek, which is a family-friendly destination point for lovers of bluegrass music.
Trisha Fricks is serving as chairperson for the event, assisted by Charles and Mary Ann Teague and a committee of volunteers.