North Carolina’s traditional music thrives in the mountains and foothills of the Blue Ridge Heritage Area throughout the Tar Heel State’s Blue Ridge Music Trails

Rich Music Traditions in the Blue Ridge Music Trails of North Carolina

The rich music traditions of the western North Carolina mountains began with the early Scotch-Irish settlers. The music they brought with them was an important part of their isolated existence. Its distinct sounds are still heard in banjo and fiddle playing today.
Throughout the Blue Ridge Heritage Area, more than two dozen year-round venues are presenting mountain music. It gets even busier in the spring, summer and fall, when almost 100 additional venues join the list. Here are just a few to get you started.

Not-to-be-missed music-focused North Carolina restaurants:

  • Woodlands Barbeque and Pickin’ Parlor
  • O’Henry’s Restaurant
  • Sims Country Bar-B-Que
  • Zuma Coffee Bluegrass Jam Session

Fiddlers and Folk Music Frenzies

Old Time Fiddlers’ Convention

Old Time Fiddlers’ Convention. Credit

From spring through fall there’s a good chance a festival is happening somewhere in the mountains. From the Old Time Fiddlers’ Convention over Easter weekend in Union Grove to early October’s John C. Campbell Folk School Fall Festival in Brasstown, there’s music to be heard. Similarly, good music events can regularly be enjoyed at the John C. Campbell Folk School Concert series.
Possibly the best place to hear “traditional plus music” is late April’s MerleFest music festival in Wilkesboro. Four days and 13 stages feature the best performers. The Don Gibson Theater in Shelby is a 400-seat concert hall in a renovated historic cinema. Touring acts of all genres and special events are hosted.

Banjo and Bluegrass Bonanzas in North Carolina

The Elliott Family Farms in Lawndale hosts the Five String Fest: “You Gotta Have a Banjo in the Band” in early May and comes back in mid-August with the Clear Mountain View Music Festival. Midway through its fourth decade, the North Carolina Bluegrass Festival in Marion is another mid-August event. Feed & Seed in Fletcher has bluegrass music Friday and Saturday nights in a fun atmosphere with dancing. In Shelby, allow time for a visit to the Earl Scruggs Center, named for the legendary five-string banjo expert and Shelby native.

Square Dance and Clog the Night Away

In 1918 at the end of World War I, the Hendersonville Street Dance began welcoming home soldiers. One hundred years later they’re still clogging and square dancing to live traditional bluegrass music. The stage sits on South Main Street by the Visitor Center with dancing and entertainment Monday evenings early July through mid-August. If the dancing styles are new to you, no problem. Instruction is given on basic square dancing at 6:30 p.m. before the music begins at 7:00 and continues to 9:00. Hendersonville is a hotbed of good music year-round.

Along with good old-time mountain music comes flatfoot, clog and square dance at the Alleghany Jubilee in Sparta every Tuesday and Saturday night. In Eden, The Barn has dancers two-stepping, waltzing and flatfooting every Tuesday and the second and fourth Saturdays.

If the truth were told, someone is going to get up and dance wherever good mountain music is played. On Saturday nights in Andrews, Jimmy’s Pick N Grin comes alive with good music and a 4,000-square-foot dance floor. Music at the Depot in Marshall brings the community together on Fridays for dancing and good times on the railroad tracks that once ran through the center of town.

Dinnertime Specials in North Carolina

If you like a little music with your dinner, there are plenty of options. The Woodlands Barbeque and Pickin’ Parlor in Blowing Rock is one of North Carolina’s best barbecue restaurants. Dine and listen nightly to live entertainment provided by the best local musicians.

On Friday and Saturdays, O’Henry’s Restaurant in East Bend is a good place to eat and listen to music. There’s bluegrass and square dancing nightly at Sims Country Bar-B-Que in Granite Falls. It’s cash only at the all-you-can-eat BBQ buffet.
On Thursday evenings the place to be is the Zuma Coffee Bluegrass Jam Session in Marshall. Grammy winning fiddling legend Bobby Hicks frequently hosts the festivities.

Daily Jam Sessions in North Carolina

If you just want to hear some music and get your toes tappin’, there are plenty of year round venues to fill any itinerary. Here’s a unique one: at about 11 a.m. every Thursday, Friday and Saturday, the guys at The Barber Shop in Drexel put away their combs and scissors and grab their instruments for a few hours of pickin’.

 Jones House Community Center

Jones House Community Center. Credit

In Boone, stop by Jones House Community Center for jam sessions on Thursday evenings. In Lake Toxaway there’s a jam session going on at the Lake Toxaway Community Center on Fridays. Old Fort Afternoon Jams take place on Sundays at the Mountain Gateway Museum in Old Fort.
Another small venue is where they hold the Old Helton School Hog Stomp in Lansing. Arrive well before 7 p.m. on Thursdays since with up to 15 musicians it doesn’t take much to fill the small schoolroom.

On Friday nights in Lansing, the Phipps General Store Jam opens its doors to a lively session. In Brevard, Thursday Night Jam at the Silvermont Mansion often attracts up to 18 musicians to this elegant setting.

In Mount Airy, there’s plenty of music happening at the Historic Earle Theatre, which hosts a good old-fashioned jam session on Thursday evenings.
Saturday there’s the WPAQ Merry-Go-Round hosting live bands since 1948. Local and international artists perform regularly during the Blue Ridge & Beyond series.

There’s so much more to see, hear and enjoy along the Blue Ridge Music Trails of North Carolina. Begin your visit online at For assistance in developing an itinerary, call 828-298-5330, ext. 303; or email

The Blue Ridge Music Trails of North Carolina book and accompanying 26-track music CD can be purchased online at

By Dave Bodle

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