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Tires, bluegrass and tourism: Mountain Faith’s big break brings visitors to Jackson

fr mtnfaithHigh Country Tire Shop is an extra-busy place these days. Ever since Mountain Faith, the bluegrass family band whose members all work at the shop, made a splash on the national stage with their performances on America’s Got Talent, fans have been coming from all over just to see the band members at work.

“We’ve had some from Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, that’ll drive all the way to our store just to see if it’s real,” said Summer McMahan, fiddle player and vocalist. “It’s funny because when they see us there, they freak out because they don’t think it’s real. They don’t think we actually work here.”

Since their musical careers have kicked into high gear — the band made it to the semifinals of NBC’s America’s Got Talent and McMahan took the “Momentum Female Vocalist Award” at the International Bluegrass Music Association Awards in Raleigh earlier this month — Mountain Faith is on the road more than it’s been in the past. But when they’re in town, McMahan said, they make it a point to stick around the shop, working at the family business. 

“There are a lot of local people that if they see my car in there, they’ll come in and talk to me and congratulate me and stuff, and that’s multiple times a day,” McMahan said. 

And about three or four times a week, someone will pop in the shop who’s driven hours to get there. People en route to somewhere else, many of them, who took a lengthy detour to get to the unassuming tire shop and gas station along U.S. 441.

“We just sit there and talk to them for a while,” McMahan said. “We sell our CDs at the store so they’ll normally buy a CD and get us to sign it.”

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Most of the out-of-towners don’t seem to be spending the night, McMahan said, instead fitting a trip to downtown Sylva into their venture through Jackson County, getting information from the visitor’s center on where to find the band and taking advantage of the opportunity to explore Mountain Faith’s hometown. 

Julie Spiro, executive director of the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce, has been fielding plenty of calls and walk-in traffic centered on Mountain Faith, at least 50 since the band’s America’s Got Talent performance. 

“I think this as an advertisement was very valuable, and we didn’t spend any money on this particular advertisement,” Spiro said. 

The Chamber is planning to play up its connection to Mountain Faith over the coming year, featuring the band in the 2016 issue of its magazine Our Town, and Spiro hopes the band’s success will promote the future of Sylva’s Concerts on the Creek series of musical performances at Bridge Park. The series started with Mountain Faith. 

“Mountain Faith was, I think, our second band ever to perform at Concerts on the Creek,” Spiro said. “For us that was the genesis chapter on our summer-long concert series. When we couldn’t really afford to pay a great band like Mountain Faith, they were willing to come at that time and do it for the community.”

These days, Mountain Faith is no longer a hometown secret. They’re playing on prestigious stages, winning awards, and just released a new album, “That Which Matters.” 

Back home, that success is translating into good business for the tire shop. 

“It’s crazy how much more business we’ve been doing since the show,” McMahan said, adding that the little shop has had to hire a couple more people as a result. 

“It’s really humbling that people come all that way just to see us,” she added. 

Almost as humbling as the impromptu welcome home parade Sylva threw the band in September, when they returned home from months doing the TV show in New York City. Hundreds of people turned out to take in the short parade and reception at Bridge Park, the stage where it all started. 

“We were kind of a home concert base for them to try out their material. We were the last place they performed before they went to Radio City Music Hall, and we were the first place that welcomed them back,” Spiro said. “We will always be the home of Mountain Faith, always.”

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