Come on, let's twist — again

art frWe’ve all done it.

At a middle school dance, high school prom, college formal, wedding reception, anniversary celebration, New Year’s Eve or perhaps on your kitchen floor during a lazy Saturday morning.

It’s “The Twist,” and Western North Carolina better watch out.

Album perfectly interprets ‘songs’ of Blake

art martharedboneApart from the fact that this is a remarkable recording, in terms of Martha Redbone’s liquid vocals and the harmonious blend of John McEuen’s instruments (banjo, guitar, dubro, fiddle, mandolin, autoharp and dulcimer), the combining of music with William Blake’s “songs” is an amazing achievement.

No mountain country for old men

fr fairchildRaymond Fairchild is a man of few words.

But, it only takes those few words to truly grasp a man that ultimately lives up to myth and legend.

An authentic taste: Stuart Auditorium welcomes 42nd Smoky Mountain Folk Festival

art frMountain music, dancing and tradition will be on display once again on the shores of beautiful Lake Junaluska as the Smoky Mountain Folk Festival, now in its 42nd year, celebrates the culture and heritage of Western North Carolina.

The ties that bind Trantham family uses music to bind generations together

art tranthamsWhen Doug Trantham was a kid, he wanted to impress his father.

“I was 10-years-old when my dad made a banjo,” he said. “That was around the house and I got interested in playing it. Banjo is my heart instrument. I learned to play clawhammer style and loved it.”

Picking up the instrument, Trantham had an urge to show his dad what he was made of.

Raymond Fairchild and a vanishing tradition

op frBy Charles and Cynthia Seeley • Guest Columnists

I am a visitor to Maggie Valley. My husband, two friends and I chose this area of the North Carolina mountains as our vacation destination by pure chance. Our goal was to see the beautiful Smoky Mountains while doing a little sightseeing at some of the well-known tourist places in the area. Something happened, however that made the Biltmore Estate, Dollywood and casinos, although nice, irrelevant. And that was Raymond Fairchild and his Maggie Valley Opry.

On a recent Thursday evening, my husband and I went to hear him. We knew he was a five-time world-champion banjo player. That would have been enough — just to have the opportunity to hear banjo music from a renowned musician was all that we had expected. We came away with a lifetime experience and a respect for the musician and his colleagues that goes far deeper than an evening of entertainment.

An evening with Balsam Range: Pulling the strings of bluegrass, brotherhood and backwoods tradition

coverThe strings of tradition and progress echoed from the back alley.

Upon further inspection (and a lone door cracked open), the harmonic tone was radiating from the mandolin of Darren Nicholson.

WCU brass quintet takes music to Jamaican schoolchildren

art frThe Smoky Mountain Brass Quintet, quintet-in-residence at Western Carolina University, made a seven-day educational tour of Jamaica this summer to inspire the teaching and learning of brass instruments in the public schools there.

Performer or panhandler? Street musicians scarce where codes ban begging

The warm weather and sunshine brings a flurry of people to Waynesville’s downtown to enjoy the local fare — but it can also mean the beginning of busking season.

While Asheville is an epicenter for busking — slang for performing on the sidewalk in hopes of earning a few bucks from passersby — the phenomenon is fairly rare in downtown Waynesville. But every so often, someone will plop themselves down on a bench or take up a position along Main Street’s sidewalk and start crooning. For the most part, they are simply playing for fun.

“If they are just playing to play and it’s not causing a disturbance for somebody else, then we see no need (to address it),” said Waynesville Police Lt. Brian Beck.

But, if they decided to set out an instrument case, hat, jar or receptacle — or otherwise hint even slightly that donations are welcome — performers must have consent from the town.

In Waynesville, busking comes under the category of begging, which is banned per town ordinance. Performers used to have to receive express permission from the mayor himself to perform, but now what is needed is a permit. Buskers must fill out information with the planning and zoning office, which takes only a few minutes. Then, they would receive a permit from the town tax office at a cost of $25.

No permits have been issued for quite a while, however.

“I have not issued a permit for somebody playing an instrument since gosh, I don’t know when,” said James Robertson, the town tax collector.

That could be the reason why there have not been many, if any, problems during the past few years. However, in years prior, there were some issues — particularly with intoxicated individuals performing.

Enforcement is more report-based than anything else. The police will not stop just because they see someone performing. However, if the performer is noticeably causing problems or someone calls to complain, the police will respond.

“If a disturbance is taking place, we have to address it,” Beck said.

Like Waynesville, Sylva is not exactly hopping with buskers either, although the occassional college students from WCU have been known to play their guitar on benches.

“We don’t really have a glut of street performers here,” said Chris Cooper, a member of the Jackson County instrumental fusion band Noonday Sun. “It could just be early in the season.”

At most, Cooper said, he has only ever seen a couple of street performers, including a ukulele player and a saxophonist.

Sylva has stricter guidelines for performing on the town’s main roads. They must appear before the town board to request permission to play for donations.

However, buskers can play at festivals and the farmers market without any sort of permit or pre-approval.

Most businesses would not mind a little entertainment outside their doorstep.

“It is pretty OK with most of the shops around here,” Cooper said.

But town codes that prevent buskers from putting out a collection hat in Waynesville and Sylva could be part of the reason performers don’t take to the street in greater numbers.

Asheville has become a haven for buskers partially because it has no permitting process. Indeed, the vibrant and diverse busking scene is part of the city’s character.

Only performers who incorporate fire into their act are required to obtain a permit for safety reasons. That allows the fire department to keep tabs on them.

When walking downtown, it is difficult to turn a corner and not see at least one person busking. However, merchants irritated by buskers can legally ask them to move along.

“A business owner does have the right to ask them to leave if they are impeding business,” said Diane Ruggiero, superintendent of Cultural Arts in Asheville.

In general, though, business owners enjoy and welcome busking outside their doorstep.

“I think that that is one of the reasons that it works here. The business owners are receptive to it,” Ruggiero said. “A lot of them have good relationships with performers.”

And, although a few problems arise here and there, the system mostly works harmoniously.

Performers cannot stay in one place all day, pass a hat or sell merchandise. But, they can set out a hat or can or guitar case — a silent signal for donations. One thing that Ruggiero has tried to teach passersby is to ignore bad buskers.

Some people will give an ill-sounding musician or otherwise deficient performer money with the caveat that he or she stop or use the funds to take lessons. This doesn’t work, Ruggiero said. It only encourages them to continue.

“All you’ve done is given that bad musician a dollar,” Ruggiero said.

Listen to the music

Whether it’s called pickin’, groovin’ or jammin’ — every summer, Western North Carolina blends its majestic mountain views with its heritage music at various concerts and jam sessions.

Although each is different, the concept of the events is simple. Musicians come together from around Western North Carolina to play music.

“For musicians and listeners alike, the jam makes it possible to step back in time when life was basic, simple and unhurried. They all come for one thing — to learn, share and enjoy the enduring music that has wafted across the hills and hollers from the cabins, porches, school houses and church houses of Appalachia for centuries,” said Judy Sipes, an autoharp player who plays in Old Time Music Jam in the yard of the Oconaluftee Visitor Center at the entrance of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

Some jam sessions, like Pickin’ in the Park in Canton, result in a group of three or four artists playing in one area, surrounded by other gatherings of three or four musicians hosting their own pickin’ sessions. Spectators can move from group to group during the event. Others, including Pickin’ in the Square in Franklin, have open mics followed by a headlining band. Then, there are shows such as Concerts on the Creek in Sylva, which feature a scheduled band or musician each week.

Concerts on the Creek is a relatively young event that started four years ago as a once a month musical performance aimed at attracting more people to the downtown.

“At the time, it was the beginning of the economic recession, and we felt like this would be a great way to bring tourists into the area to do something for free,” said Julie Spiro, executive director of the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce and the Travel and Tourism Authority. Spiro added that the event also gives area residents something free and fun to do in their town.

Concerts on the Creek soon grew from a small monthly event to a weekly one that, on average, brings 600 to 700 people to downtown Sylva every Friday night. Balsam Range, which plays each year, draws about 1,5000 spectators.

“It sort of depends on the weather and the band,” Spiro said.

After last year, the event had gotten so big that the Jackson County chamber, the town of Sylva and the recreation park, who all sponsor Concerts on the Creek, were required to hire a police officer to patrol it this summer.

Although she does not have any concrete data, Spiro said that several businesses have told her that they see a bump in business as a result of the Concerts on the Creek.

“They are busier,” Spiro said.

There’s another undeniable drawing card for the outdoor music that fills the air on summer evenings in the mountains: it’s free.

“All you have to do is bring your chair and come downtown,” said Linda Schlott, director of the Franklin Main Street program.

More than 200 people turn out every Saturday night for Pickin’ on the Square in Franklin.

“People love Pickin’ on the Square,” Schlott said. “The entertainment is different every week. Some nights it is clogging; some nights it is 60s music; some nights it is bluegrass.”

One element of Pickin’ on the Square is a one-hour open mic session before the main band takes the stage, a local version of American Idol that gives anyone their chance in the spotlight.


Community jams

Gather round for some old-fashioned mountain music. Free. Bring a lawn chair or blanket.

Haywood County

• Pickin’ in the Park from 7 to 10 p.m. every Friday night at the Canton Recreation Park in Canton.

• Street dances from 6:30 to 9 p.m. on select Friday nights in front of the historic courthouse in downtown Waynesville. Mountains music, clogging and square dancing. June 22, July 6, July 20 and August 3.

Jackson County

• Concerts on the Creek from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. every Friday night at Bridge Park in downtown Sylva. The complete 10-week schedule is as follows: Sundown (May 25); Vinyl Brothers Big Band (June 1); Rafe Hollister (June 8); Balsam Range (June 15); Mountain Faith (June 22); Buchanan Boys (June 29); The Johnny Webb Band (July 6); Empty Pockets (July 13); The Elderly Brothers (July 20); and Dashboard Blue (July 27).

• Groovin’ on the Green is held on the Cashiers Village Commons on Friday nights during summer, starting June 1. The series is sponsored by the Greater Cashiers Merchants Association. Artists include Hurricane Creek (June 1); Honeycutters (June 8); Rafe Hollister (June 15); Von Grey (June 22); Velvet Truckstop (July 6); One Leg Up (July 13); and Leigh Glass & The Hazards (July 27). 828.743.1630.

Macon County

• Pickin’ on the Square at 6:30 p.m. every Saturday night in downtown Franklin through Aug. 25. Open-mic, followed by main entertainment. The next 12-weeks of bands is as follows: The Johnny Webb Band (May 19), Sundown (May 26), Highway 76 (June 2), Heart of the South Band, featuring Earl Coward (June 9), The Elderly Brothers (June 16), The Tonesman (June 23), Tugelo Holler (June 30), Lisa Price Band (July 7), Miller Creek Bluegrass Band (July 14), Michael Reno Harrell (July 21) and Easy Street Band (July 28). 828.524.2516.

Swain County

• Old-time music jam from 1-3 p.m. the third Saturday of the month at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on U.S. 441 outside Cherokee. 828.452.1068.

• Community music jam from 6-7:30 p.m. each 1st and 3rd Thursday of the month at the Bryson City library in downtown Bryson City. 828.488.3030.

• Music in the Mountains from 6:30 to 8 p.m. every Saturday in downtown Bryson City. Artists include Boogertown Gap (June 2); Frank Lee, Isaac Deal and Bradley Adams (June 9); Juniper (June 16); Mountain Dew-et (June 23); The Barefoot Movement (June 30); The Josh Fields Band (July 14); Jakleg (July 21); and The Elderly Brothers (July 28).

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