Archived Arts & Entertainment

So, what is there to do around here?

By Chris Cooper

Though Sylva might not qualify as a simmering hotbed of musical and cultural hipness, to a degree it does have it’s own thing going on. We have a reasonable variety of musicians and bands, with several — even some surprising — genres represented.


There are some truly fine players around here. The number of venues is limited, but each one has found its niche fairly well. And for such a petite town, Sylva contains an abundance of, well, let’s say “colorful” characters: visual artists to tattoo and body piercing entrepreneurs, writers and craftsmen (crafts-people, maybe?) to purveyors of traditional mountain storytelling. Small, but varied.

Working at the only music shop on Main Street, I often get the question from travelers and fresh transplants alike — “What is there to do around here?” Not being much of the mountain biking/hiking/backpacker type, my responses usually lean toward the music/food/entertainment categories.

So my hope with this particular article is to give a more detailed answer to the question than is usually afforded by my standard 45-second reply, which typically involves gesturing towards some random point across the street and mumbling about tofu while making change and answering the phone.

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The breakdown is pretty simple: In the mood for the smoky sports bar atmosphere? Like to hear live music, but would rather it be stuff you’ve actually heard before? Main Street Bar and Grill and O’Malley’s are your best bets. And O’Malley’s even offers a veggie burger amidst the standard burgers and fried everything fare.

Local favorite Bobby Sullivan has maintained a firm grip on the bar-band scene for quite a while now, and regardless of your personal take on cover bands in general, his performances are always tight, sound good and have a wealth of material to draw from — which is a tougher set of accomplishments than you might think.

Main Street Bar and Grill’s entertainment is a bit “hit or miss,” but hey — they’re trying.

Long the local bastion of acoustic music, Soul Infusion presents quite possibly the polar opposite of the sports bar, with a huge selection of herbal teas and vegetarian/vegan fare that tastes fantastic even if you fancy yourself a diehard carnivore. And yes, they have a whopping collection of micro-brew beers behind the bar.

David LaMotte, Steel String Theory, Melvin Gibbs and every single local band has played and continues to perform here, and this converted farmhouse’s funky charm and coziness serves as a gathering place for locals and a place for tourists to actually relax and enjoy themselves after a hard day of ... vacationing.

Which brings us to Guadalupe Cafe. It’s not so much that this eatery simply “falls in the middle” of the other local venue/restaurants, but that it established itself as a place with a wholly distinct personality in the food, choice of bands and atmosphere right from the start.

If you qualify as someone “in transit” through Sylva, and have the time and curiosity to get a glimpse of this town’s more bohemian side, check out the Guad. Regional bands like Cold Hands and Sleepy Horses, as well as local faves Mother Vinegar, Cooking With Quanta and Shiner Miners can be found displaying their sonic wares on a pretty regular basis here.

Eavesdrop on some truly whacked-out conversation from the townies, slurp down some sake, enjoy a goat meat burrito and get blasted by either alt-country, punk, retro new wave, jazz, bluegrass or electronic music, depending on the night or who has control of the CD player. Best guacamole on the planet, that’s for sure.

Got a computer? Hop onto to read what’s interesting, annoying, entertaining and/or causing spontaneous fits of poorly spelled expletives among many of Jackson County’s local musicians. Informative? Sometimes. Mature? Not really. Amusing? Yes.

Let’s not forget the weekly bluegrass jam at Spring Street or the occasional live music that pops up at Karen’s restaurant. And though my focus here has been on venues within walking distance of downtown Sylva, there’s been a steady stream of high-profile entertainment at Western Carolina University’s Fine and Performing Arts Center, as well as some good shows at the Ramsey Center.

See? There really is something to do around here. Most of the time.

(Chris Cooper is a writer and musician who can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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