Ode to Raymond Fairchild, ode to mountain music

First and foremost, Raymond Fairchild was one of the finest banjo players who ever walked the face of the earth. He had a storied reputation for incredibly strong and powerful pickin’ on the five-string instrument — a sentiment also said about his moonshine from behind closed doors. 

Last Sunday afternoon, Fairchild passed away unexpectedly at the age of 80. Though his music and influence will live on for generations, the bluegrass industry and Western North Carolina have lost a true original, one of the last of his kind in rural Southern Appalachia. 

Fingers like lightning: Remembering Raymond Fairchild (1939-2019)

Raymond Fairchild — a bluegrass legend in Western North Carolina — passed away unexpectedly Sunday afternoon at the age of 80, but his music and influence will live on for generations.

Can’t keep a good man down: Banjo legend Raymond Fairchild on turning 80, a life in music

Though his fingers seemingly wrap around a walking cane more than his trusty banjo these days, Raymond Fairchild remains one of the finest musicians who ever picked up the five-string acoustic instrument — alive or six feet under. 

Can’t keep a good man down: Banjo legend Raymond Fairchild on turning 80, a life in music

Though his fingers seemingly wrap around a walking cane more than his trusty banjo these days, Raymond Fairchild remains one of the finest musicians who ever picked up the five-string acoustic instrument — alive or six feet under. 

“I just count myself another mountain picker. I don’t think I’m no better than anybody else, but I think I’m as good as any of’em — that’s the legacy,” Fairchild said with his trademark grin. “When they ask me when I’m going to retire, I say when somebody comes along and beats me at picking the banjo — and they said, ‘you’ll never retire.’” 

Stand tall or don’t stand at all: A conversation with Raymond Fairchild

art raymondI was told “good luck.”

In August 2012, as one of my first assignments for The Smoky Mountain News, I found myself at the doorstep of the Maggie Valley Opry House. Owned and operated by acclaimed banjoist Raymond Fairchild, I was told “good luck” when it came to actually having a civil interview with the bluegrass icon. Referred to as “crabby” or “ironclad,” I wondered just how well my sit-down with him would actually go.

The Road to Bean Blossom: Raymond Fairchild enters Bluegrass Hall of Fame

coverHeading north on State Road 135, just outside the small town of Nashville, Indiana, the stretch of pavement curves along a mountain ridge, as if you’re rolling along the spine of a snake. Though the last rays of summer are still holding strong back in Western North Carolina, fall colors had spilled onto the endless landscape of multi-colored trees and sheered cornfields in the heartland of America.

SEE ALSO: Stand tall or don’t stand at all A conversation with Raymond Fairchild

With Nashville in the rearview mirror, you roll up and down the foothills of rural Brown County. Soon, a large bright yellow sign appears to your right. You almost have to slam your brakes when it makes itself known at the last second. In big letters it states, “Bill Monroe’s Memorial Music Park & Campground — Home of the Brown County Jamboree.”

Maggie Valley venue enters second act

art frWith one flick of a light switch, Grier Lackey is illuminating a dream.

“What do you think?” he said with a smile.

Standing inside Eaglenest, an 800-seat theatre in Maggie Valley, Lackey scans the enormous room, pointing out design details and other amenities offered on the premises. Closed since 2011, the state-of-the-art facility will once again open its doors to the entertainment possibilities of Western North Carolina. 

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.

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.

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