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December 6-7


Finding its Footing Festival’s reputation growing among players, fans

Darrell Scott | Mike Snider | Sister Sadie John Driskell Hopkins | Atlanta Pops Orchestra

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A Message FROM buddy W

e’ve reached a good place with the Art of Music Festival, one where everybody gets excited for it each year. And now we’re actually having artists approaching us about playing the festival versus trying to get people to come to it. And so, it’s getting a reputation of being a truly great event. We strived early on from day one to build that reputation of a festival that is known for quality — for the fans and for the artists. Being an artist myself, there are certain places you go to and you want to go back to, whether it’s a cool vibe and they took care of the musicians or it’s a great crowd. And I think our music festival is getting that reputation. The Art of Music crowd is always great. They’re very receptive to all the different types of music that we have here. And it’s exciting for them because they really give that Haywood County love to all the musicians who take the stage. For example, we have Darrell Scott joining us again, who is one of those iconic figures in music. And he asked us if he could come back to our festival — that means a lot. It means we’re doing some things right. And, in terms of the economic impact on Haywood County, the festival continues to show growth and demand,

Special thanks to theses partners.


which is the best you can hope for. Every single year, the economic impact of the Art of Music Festival hovers around the $500,000 mark. It’s not considered to be a fundraising or charitable event, but this time period we’ve chosen is meant to be a rallying point for residents and businesses in Haywood County.

is being showcased, and we’re proud of that. When you travel all over the United States and around the world like we do in Balsam Range, any opportunity to play in your home area, and at this level, is such a nice thing — it’s a homecoming. For me, a big part of the festival is bringing new opportunities of new exposure to all of the great artists, too. Aside from the much-anticipated returning appearances by Darrell Scott, John Driskell Hopkins and the Atlanta Pops Orchestra, we also have Tim O’Brien and Sister Sadie making their

Any opportunity to play in your home area, and at this level, is such a nice thing — it’s a homecoming. The festival is also a launching point for Haywood County. When you’re here — whether you’re a local or a visitor — there’s plenty of outdoor recreation to be had during this time of year, like fishing, hiking and mountain biking. And you can also enjoy all of the great local businesses for eating, shopping and browsing. All of Haywood County

Art of Music Festival debuts, which we’re really looking forward to sharing with our audience. It’s about always wanting to bring a new and discoverable music to the stage and to Haywood County. And I think we’ve been able to do that each year. — Buddy Melton fiddler/singer of Balsam Range

Art Of Music Festival Director/ Balsam Range Tour Manager/Publicity: Mandy Tenery Writing: Garret K. Woodward Cover Photo: Balsam Range playing at the IBMA awards show in Raleigh with the N.C. State University Orchestra. DAN SCHRAM PHOTO

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Schedule + More Friday, Dec. 6

Sister Sadie

Mike Snider Snider made his way into the country music scene in the 1980s with his incomparable wit and stellar banjo playing. He first worked his way into people's hearts through his hundreds of spots on TNN's “Nashville Now” and his seven-year stay in the cornfield on "Hee Haw.” In addition to his television work, Snider and his band entertained crowds for seven years at Nashville's Opryland USA. A Grand Ole Opry member since 1990, Snider continues to draw laughter and entertain crowds with his music.

Tim O’Brien Band Mike Snider

Grammy winning singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, O’Brien first toured nationally with Colorado bluegrass band Hot Rize, who recently marked 40 years together as one of the most innovative groups in the history of bluegrass music. Over the years, O’Brien has collaborated with Darrell Scott, Steve Earle, Mark Knopfler, Bill Frisell, Steve Martin and countless other musical icons. Shaping O’Brien’s blues, jazz and Celtic influences within a string band setting, his band transforms originals and some well- chosen covers into a unique brand of bluegrass.

Saturday, Dec. 7 Whitewater Bluegrass Co. For over 35 years, the Whitewater Bluegrass Co. has captivated audiences throughout the Southeast with a blend

TICKETS • Call 800.965.9324 or visit www.balsamrangeartofmusicfestival.com • For tickets and lodging information at Lake Junaluska, call 800.222.4930 or visit www.lakejunaluska.com.


of bluegrass, country ballads, mountain swing and down-home humor. For the band, mountain culture is a celebration of music, song and dance.

Sister Sadie The 2019 International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) “Vocal Group of the Year,” Sister Sadie includes singer Dale Ann Bradley, a five-time IBMA “Female Vocalist of the Year,” within a quartet of beloved harmonies and incredibly skilled pickers. The act originally formed after playing a sold-out show at Nashville’s legendary Station Inn. Since then, the band has continued to turn heads within the genre, with fellow bluegrass alum Alison Krauss stating, “Sister Sadie is an inspiring musical collaboration bringing together some of the best women bluegrass music has ever claimed.”

Darrell Scott A pillar of the Nashville music scene and regarded as one of the torchbearers of modern-day Americana, Scott is a widely sought-after singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. Aside from recently touring with Robert Plant (of Led Zeppelin) and the Zac Brown Band, he also produced al-

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And the music never stops Before the festivities take place at the Stuart Auditorium in Lake Junaluska, there will a handful of events around Haywood County in celebration of the “Art of Music Festival.” The events are as follows: • Tuesday, Dec. 3: The Darren Nicholson Band (Americana/country) will hit the stage at 7:30 p.m. at Frog Level Brewing in Waynesville. Nicholson is the award-winning mandolinist for Balsam Range. Free and open to the public. www.froglevelbrewing.com. • Wednesday, Dec. 4: The second annual “Bluegrass Boogie” will take place at 7:30 p.m. in The Gem downstairs taproom at Boojum Brewing in Waynesville. Performance by J Rex & His High Mountain Pals, as well as special guests. Free and open to the public. www.boojumbrewing.com. • Thursday, Dec. 5: To officially kick off the festival, there will a special performance starting at 6 p.m. at the Folkmoot Friendship Center in Waynesville. Members of Balsam Range and special guests. The event will also feature local craft beer and a food truck. Tickets are $25 in advance ($28 at the door) and can be purchased in advance at www.folkmoot.org or by calling 828.452.2997.

bums for Malcolm Holcomb and the late Guy Clark, on top of being named “Songwriter of the Year” for both ASCAP and NSAI. His songs have been recorded by dozens of artists, including Dixie Chicks, Keb Mo, Faith Hill, Guy Clark, Sam Bush, Maura O’Connell, Kathy Mattea, Brad Paisley, Garth Brooks, Patty Loveless, Trace Adkins and Tim McGraw.

Atlanta Pops Orchestra (with Balsam Range and John Driskell Hopkins) Founded in 1944, the Pops were initially started as a way for the finest musicians in Atlanta to come together and perform as one entity, whether it be on the radio or onstage for public viewing. It’s all in an effort to spread the love, passion and talent of music to others, in hopes of perhaps sparking a creative fire in those within earshot — a professional vision, and personal sentiment, that resides between the Pops and Balsam Range.

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John Driskell Hopkins No stranger to the music industry, Hopkins is a founding member and multi-instrumentalist for the Zac Brown Band, a renowned multi-platinum country group who has garnered numerous awards and sold-out arenas around the world. In his downtime between tours, Hopkins is a jack-of-all-trades musician, one who will pick up and learn any instrument he comes across. In recent years, he’s also collaborated extensively with Balsam Range, which resulted in the critically acclaimed 2012 album “Daylight.” Doors open at 6 p.m. both nights with music starting at 7 p.m. on Friday and 6 p.m. on Saturday. Balsam Range will perform each evening. On Friday, the group will play with talented studio musicians, with Saturday being a special showcase alongside the Atlanta Pops Orchestra and John Driskell Hopkins to close out the festival.


Darrell Scott

It’s a great day to be alive Conversation with Darrell Scott


t age 60, legendary singersongwriter and multi-instrumentalist Darrell Scott is having a career rebirth of sorts. Though he’s always been known as a prolific and productive artist — whether in Nashville musical circles or endless on the road touring — this re-


cent birthday milestone has been a full circle thing, where Scott is reevaluating just what it means to create in your autumn years.

As a songwriter and musician, what’s been your thought process as you’ve approached this age?

Well, oddly enough, I think I spent a couple of years wondering if I should just turn all this down and just stay out at my farm. But, in fact, I’m more energized than I’ve been in decades about music, projects, playing music and new ideas. So, when I was very much considering toning it all down, I’m doing

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the opposite. I’m working on four records right now, with the first one being a Hank Williams tribute. For whatever reason, I’m more energized than ever.

I’m sitting around, but I have to do away with the things I’m not going to spend my time on. And that leaves me with the things that I’m going to monkey with.

Well, it’s a whole other chapter that is unwritten.

But, then what does that also reveal to you as your purpose as not only a musician, but an artist, in general?

Yeah. And that’s the way I feel. But you know, for a while, I didn’t know if I was just old and in the way. But, it’s just not the truth. I have a lot more to say. I have a lot more music to put out and for some reason I’ve got the energy. It seems like I’ve got the green light on all of that. I’m just going with all that stuff and then putting out more music and videos. We’re kind of going after it just because the energy seems to be there.

It comes down to such a simple thing — this is what you do and what you love, so why not? Yeah. I finally turned that corner. I’m working on more things than any other period of my life. I can’t even think of anything that comes close and, very specifically, to it also being me putting out my own records. I’ve never done so much for myself than what I’m doing right now.

Do you think that was the inevitable, as in that’s just how things roll out? It is that. And the other thing, it’s like Sherlock Holmes, where he was about the “science of deduction.” So, I deduced the things I don’t want to do. I get them out of the way and then all that’s left is the stuff I want to do. And right now, it’s about working on my own stuff and not really kind of watering it down by playing with other folks or being in their bands or being a studio musician in Nashville. Putting out a working on my own music — it’s really detoxifying.

And there has to be intrinsic value with that. There is. And I think that’s where this energy of working harder on this stuff than I ever have is coming from. It’s because I don’t really have the other stuff to be working on. I mean, it’s not that

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Well, I would say it’s about time on one level, and then on the other hand, you could say, “Why didn’t I do this when I was 20 or 30?” [Back then], I always sort of had four or five irons in the fire — a session life, a songwriting life or road life, a family life. I get to work on what I want to work on. Something has basically given me full permission to just do this and, silently, I’m listening.

What is the role of the songwriter in the 21st century and the digital age? I think it moves around. I think for some it’s to write to have hits. For others, it’s to talk and comment about what’s going on in our world — the social, the political, the environmental, the emotional side of humanity. So, the good news is it’s a bunch of things, there’s no one thing that it is. Some people will be chasing the hits and others will be trying to write about their mother that they lost when they were six years old. Of course, my leaning is toward the latter. They’re writing about something that means something to you. That’s a very important expression to make. I’m way more interested in the expression than the hit climbing style.

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It’s about making a connection about the human condition with another human being. Yeah. And that’d be great. I mean, sometimes hits do that, too. But, it’s about the intention. I don’t think there’s one answer to it, but I’m really trying to answer that as to what I want to say and do as a songwriter — a maker of albums and makers of shows, of travel and all that stuff. It’s becoming more personal to me. It always was, but now I’m not confused at all about that.


Love me through this crazy life John Driskell Hopkins


hen describing the Zac Brown Band, you can’t necessarily pin down the enormously successful country group. Even simply terming them “country” does a disservice to the rock, folk, bluegrass and pop depths they meander in. At the center of this melodic whirlwind is not only Brown himself, but also the band’s co-founder and multi-instrumentalist John Driskell Hopkins. Formed in Gainesville, Georgia, the act has achieved several platinum-certified albums and garnered 13 number one hits on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. The beloved recordings have also received three Grammy awards and several County Music Association accolades. In the studio, the Zac Brown Band continually seeks out superstar collaborations, including the likes of Alan Jackson, Jimmy Buffett, Dave Grohl and Chris Cornell. The latest album, “The Owl,” features appearances by Skrillex, Max Martin and Benny Blanco, to name a few. And for Hopkins, the music itself pours out of his heart and soul. When he’s not touring or recording with the Zac Brown Band, he has released an array of solo material and Christmas albums. In 2012, Hopkins teamed up with Balsam Range for the critically acclaimed record “Daylight.” Just this fall, he released his latest single, “Lonesome High,” an ode to life on the road and the yearning to be with your family and loved ones back at home.

Why is it important to have this solo outlet for releasing your own singles and albums, playing and fronting your own shows? John Driskell Hopkins

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You know, 15 years before I joined the Zac Brown Band, I was my own artist to begin with. And you don’t really crush that. You

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don’t really lose that sense of yourself, even after joining a powerhouse band like the Zac Brown Band, with a bunch of other guys who were already established artists. I think if we’d all had become this band with it being “our first band” when we were in our early twenties, we might have a different perspective. But, I was 33 years old when I joined and already had several records of my own. So, as a matter of necessity for me now, I need to continue my artistic pursuits — it’s part of who I am.

Right out of the gate, the Zac Brown Band had been considered country. But, since then, you guys have always done your own thing. Was that part of the design starting out or is that just how things evolved? I think that when you start to recognize that people are appreciating a certain kind of aspect of what you do, you may spend a little time enhancing that and maybe making more of it. But, throughout the beginning or throughout the entire time we’ve been a band, we’ve always been covering things like Rage Against the Machine and then flipping over to James Taylor. We just have a massive respect for a massive number of genres of music. We don’t want to be pigeonholed. So, I do consider that to be us doing our own thing. We’ve been doing it since the beginning. It’s just that we’ve got this huge catalog that continues to be recurrent on country radio. And those people who don’t know us as a live band have no idea who we actually are. It’s tricky because out of seven or eight records, there’s only 10 or 11 songs that everybody knows and they’re all similarly in the country genre.


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One would surmise to that it’s about serving the song, rather than a formula.

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Right. You know, I find a lot of these songs speak to me and a lot of them don’t, but that’s just the nature of being in a band with eight guys. I mean, you’re not going to agree on everything. It’s a little tricky, personally, but I wouldn’t have it any other way — I wouldn’t.

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Tim O’Brien Band

No way to stop the flow Tim O’Brien


n the annals of bluegrass history, the chapter on multi-instrumentalist Tim O’Brien is not only long and bountiful, it’s also ongoing — a continual evolution of string music and melodic exploration. O’Brien hails from Wheeling, West Virginia, home of the WWVA Jamboree, which — since 1933 — is one of the most popular country and

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variety radio programs, second in longevity after the “Grand Ole Opry.” As a teenager, O’Brien dropped out of college in 1973 and hit the road with dreams of becoming a professional musician. By the late 1970s, he ended up in Colorado, forming the groundbreaking newgrass act Hot Rize (which won the first International Bluegrass Music As-

sociation award for “Entertainer of the Year” in 1990). And though the group still performs semi-regularly, O’Brien himself has found footing over the last few decades as a Grammy-winning solo artist (and IBMA “Male Vocalist of the Year” in 1993 and 2006), one whose output and rigorous touring schedule has brought

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Caleb Smith

Workshops The festival workshops will take place on Saturday, Dec. 7. • 11 to 11:50 a.m. — Balsam Range (full band) at the Terrace Auditorium. • Noon to 12:50 p.m. — Individual instruments in the Terrace Auditorium. Instructors include Buddy Melton (fiddle), Tim Surrett (bass), Caleb Smith (guitar), Darren Nicholson (mandolin) and Marc Pruett (banjo) of Balsam Range. • Noon to 1 p.m. — Songwriting in the Terrace Room. • 1 to 2:30 p.m. — Instrument building with Caleb Smith in Terrace Auditorium. • 1 to 3 p.m. — Dance in the Harrel Center with Uncle Ted White & Whitewater Bluegrass Co. Youth welcome with adult. All workshops listed above are included with a ticket to Saturday’s show. Space will be filled in a first come, first serve basis. No signup is necessary. For more information, click on www.balsamrangeartofmusicfestival.com.

him into the upper echelon of that “high, lonesome sound.”

With the new elaborate Ken Burns documentary, “Country Music,” did that circle back at all about not only what you love about these genres (bluegrass, country, blues, folk), but also your responsibility as an artist to perpetuate these histories and traditions? Well, it all starts resonating and watching that really kind of brings that forward. You just kind of tingle a little bit about where you are in this. It’s a big thing and it’s a sort of an overall cultural expression of our country — the United States and the melting pot that it is. All the elements are still interacting and, you know, there’s still some friction there, still some cultural appropriation. It’s such a big subject, but mostly I’m humbled that I’m in this amazing body of music. And also, I realize there’s so many people doing this and it’s just sort of natural, like trees growing or grass growing. It’s just

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like part of the natural world.

It must also push forth this notion of keeping these traditions alive in the 21st century. Yeah. I’m probably like one of my gurus and heroes, [the late] John Hartford, I’m probably leaning the same way he did later in his life where he went back and revisited the old days. He started taking up calligraphy and concentrating more on old-time fiddle music, as opposed to songwriting and being a hippie. He kind of transitioned into an elder statesman and somebody who was pointing the way back. Because if you make a little innovation and then you point to where it started for you, that sort of suggests to the younger generation what this is really about. I feel like it’s part of my role. It’s moral to be doing this, to be calling attention to Mac Wiseman, The Carter Family and people like that.

It’s one of those things that you can’t replicate — the magic that is a

live bluegrass performance. You can’t recreate it unless you are onstage in front of an audience. And [really you] don’t need a stage to play it. You get up close to it because it’s kind of an underground thing, and will probably always remain so. It’s never going to be that hard to get close to the actual performers and see what they do. And then you have the added a feature of festivals, where amateurs and professionals all jam at night after the stage is closed. That’s where it really catches fire. People are close up. They feel the pressed down pressure coming up off the instruments while they’re standing there, just off the instrument itself and it kind of blows you away. That’s the story over and over with bluegrass music. People see it up close and they go, “Oh, my God, I can’t believe this. This is so fantastic.” I mean, sure you can get that at a rock concert and you can get that at a jazz show. But, the fact is, bluegrass is designed to be a little bit more up close and it serves a great purpose that way.

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that ‘high, lonesome sound’ IBMA awards showcase celebrates 30 years



ust before he entered the main auditorium of the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts in Raleigh back in September, Darren Nicholson stood back for a moment as he watched the entire bluegrass industry mingle before his eyes. “We’re just a bunch of boys from Haywood County. It’s a big night for us and we’re just glad to be here,” said Nichol-

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son, mandolinist for Balsam Range. “Here” being the 30th annual International Bluegrass Music Association award show. Celebrating the biggest names in bluegrass and string music, the IBMA showcases fiery legends and bright newcomers in the industry, where the scene itself comes together for an unforgettable night of melodic magic and life-changing recognitions. 

“We’re nominated amongst all of our heroes. This is the best of the best. We just want to have fun and make music. And we’re here because we try to make music that matters — it’s a huge honor,” Nicholson said. The reigning IBMA “Entertainer of the Year,” Balsam Range was once again up for the top honor. And though the Haywood County group didn’t retain their

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crown, at least for this year, the band’s legacy as one of the most awarded and talented acts of modern bluegrass remains secured. Capturing her third in a row “Female Vocalist of the Year” honor, Brooke Aldridge stood in front of the award podium and humbly stated, “This is all I’ve ever wanted to do.” Aldridge fronts a renowned bluegrass ensemble with her husband, Darin. Also on the Mountain Home label, Sideline won “Song of the Year” for “Thunder Dan” and Kristin Scott Benson (of The Grascals) received “Banjo Player of the Year” (her fifth award in the category).  Bluegrass legend Roland White, who recently put out an album with Mountain Home, was honored for his iconic mandolin work when his groundbreaking group The Kentucky Colonels was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame.  Aside from co-hosting the award show with beloved singersongwriter Jim Lauderdale, bluegrass pillar Del McCoury also picked up “Album of the Year” for “Del McCoury Still Sings Bluegrass” (Del McCoury Band).  “Back when we started [the IBMAs], we couldn’t envision it being this big. Through the years, you grow and stay there for a while, and then you grow again. Now, it’s worldwide, and we’re really proud of it,” said McCoury, who recently turned 80 years old. “I first heard Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs when I was 11. And I thought, ‘That’s what I got to do.’ And I still feel that way. Those guys were architects and nobody can come up to that level, even though that was in the 1940s — they were just that good. They could pull all together and make a sound that’s lasted.” But, the highlight of the award show came when Balsam Range jumped onstage with the North Carolina State University Symphony for a cover of The Beatles’ “If I Needed Someone,” a mesmerizing rendition of sound and scope that left the audience in sheer awe. “That’s a song we’ve wanted to do for years now. The melody of it got to me, so I wanted to hear it sung in three-part [bluegrass] harmonies,” said Tim Surrett, bassist for Balsam Range. “You have The Monroe Brothers who influenced The Blue Sky Boys, who influenced The Louvin Brothers, who influenced The Everly Brothers, who then influenced The Beatles — it all comes right down through there.”  With the award show coming to a close, industry folks and musicians alike scattered in every direction toward raucous after-show label parties and never-ending late-night hotel lobby jam sessions, only to wake up in the morning and head back out on the road for another year of endless miles and countless performances — all in the name of chasing long-held dreams in real time.  “The fact that [the IBMAs] has been around for 30 years means that bluegrass is for real. It’s a real American art form and people take it very seriously,” Nicholson said. “You have 5-year-old kids who are wizards on their instruments to 90-year-old people who have played their whole lives — this music has changed culture, it’s changed people, and it’s brought people together.”

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Del McCoury

Brooke and Darin Aldridge

Kristin Scott Benson

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Stuart Auditorium The voices and music within these walls


or over a century, the beloved Stuart Auditorium has remained a central gathering spot for Lake Junaluska and several Haywood County events throughout the year. “We have a distinct belief that the arts touch the human spirit and open the door to transformation,” said Ken Howle, executive director of the Lake Ju-

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naluska Conference and Retreat Center. Aside from the annual Balsam Range Art of Music Festival, the auditorium has also held the Smoky Mountain Folk Festival for decades, which celebrated its 50th anniversary this past Labor Day Weekend. “Getting together to dance and play music has always been part of these

mountains. People here in Haywood County and Western North Carolina celebrate the seasons, their lives, their culture,” said Joe Sam Queen, a founder/organizer of the SMFF and a state representative in the N.C. House. “Back then, you’d work on the farm all the time and you wanted an opportunity to get together with your friends,

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family, neighbors and visitors — that’s what dance and music has always been about.” Now a half-century into its existence, the Smoky Mountain Folk Festival remains one of the last, true vestiges of mountain music and clogging, where the omnipresent ghosts of those talented souls who came before us will always have a place on the dance floor for generations to come.  “For centuries, we’ve been a hot spot for folk music and folk dance in America, right here in Haywood County,” Queen said. “And there was an urgency, even when we started, to ensure the survival of traditional dance and music in Southern Appalachia.”  “The Smoky Mountain Folk Festival showcases the unique music traditions of the Southern Appalachian mountains,” Howle added. “The festival is also where members of Balsam Range performed early in their careers and is always a showcase of the best up-and-coming talent from around the region.” Howle also noted the prominent world leaders and cultural figures who have also held court in the auditorium. “Many famous people have spoken on this stage including Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon, Billy Graham, Eleanor Roosevelt, John Glenn and Nobel Laureate Leymah Gbowee,” Howle said. “And voices like Ricky Skaggs, Doc Watson, George Beverly Shea, Balsam Range, Bob Carlisle, David Holt, Sandy Patty and countless Lake Junaluska Singers concerts have delighted audiences in this historic auditorium.” And it was about 30 years when the Smoky Mountain Folk Festival was relocated to the Lake Junaluska Conference Center & Retreat Center, where it has called the Stuart Auditorium home ever since. “Well, now 50 years later, the festival is still about preserving these traditions and sharing them with the locals and visitors,” Queen said. “And for something that started out as a harvest time festival, it has really become an institution for hospitality in Haywood County in sharing our history through dance and music.” 

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Raymond Fairchild and Ralph Stanley

Fingers like LIghtning Remembering Raymond Fairchild (1939-2019)


irst 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. On Sunday, Oct. 13, Fairchild passed away unexpectedly at the age of 80.

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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. Fairchild and his wife, Shirley, owned and operated the Maggie Valley Opry House for 33 years. He was proud of his Cherokee blood and of being a mountain man. He was a native of Haywood

County and the Great Smoky Mountains, forged from the strength of humble beginnings, and always figuring out ways to survive not just life, but simply another day in a sometimes-cruel world. He was a devoted husband and protective father. In terms of his character, he was a God-fearing man and longtime Freemason who built a life for himself through sheer hard work and stubborn grit.

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He could spot a phony a mile away. He knew the difference between right and wrong. With a handshake like a vise, his word was his bond — something that resided deep in his rugged heart and restless soul. If you’re unaware of who Raymond Fairchild is, you might be unaware that he’s regarded as one of the three all-time great banjoists in the history of bluegrass and mountain music, the other two being the late Earl Scruggs and the late Don Reno — a statement of merit made to Fairchild by the “Father of Bluegrass” himself, the late Bill Monroe. “Bill Monroe told me that. Earl Scruggs told me that, too,” Fairchild said earlier this year. “And when you say bluegrass, it’s Bill Monroe — the rest after Bill Monroe are just copycats. Bill Monroe was the true bluegrass man, and he’ll never be equaled — you don’t beat a man at his own game.” Along the walls of the aging Opry House, there are numerous awards, including plaques signifying over two million records sold of Fairchild’s instrumental “Whoa Mule,” now a standard of traditional music. Right next to the stage, there’s also his award for induction into Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Hall of Fame (Bean Blossom, Indiana), an honor he received in 2015. Within the 65 years he played professionally, one moment sticks out more than the rest — the first time Fairchild took the stage at the Grand Ole Opry, held at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee. Fairchild reckons that initial appearance was somewhere around 1977 or 1978. No matter though, because it led to several other pickin’n-grinnin’ sessions onstage at “The Mother Church of Country Music.” “It was me and The Crowe Brothers — the greatest [three-piece] band that’s ever been together,” Fairchild reminisced. “A lot of people say their knees are shaking and they were nervous [being onstage at the Grand Ole Opry]. It didn’t bother me more than stepping out here [at the Maggie Valley Opry House]. But, I knew it was the highest you were going to go in this type of music — when you stand in front of them WSM microphones.”

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In Their own words “Raymond took the influence of Earl Scruggs and Don Reno and created his own unique style. He had impeccable timing and I heard him once say, ‘You could play a waltz, but it still has to have drive.’ As a bluegrass musician, I know exactly what he means by that, and he had it. We played quite a few shows in the 1980s and 1990s with him and enjoyed his friendship. He was always kind and shared words of wisdom and laughs with us. On a few rare occasions, Dad and Raymond would sing the Bill Monroe and Frank Buchanan duet ‘There Was Nothing We Could Do’ onstage, which was always a highlight for me. Our thoughts are with the Fairchild family. Rest in peace to the ‘King of the Smoky Mountain Five-String Banjo’ and our friend, Raymond.” — Ronnie McCoury, singer/mandolinist for The Del McCoury Band “The Crowe Brothers started our professional career with Raymond Fairchild in 1975 and traveled many years together. To say a lot in a little, he was one of the greatest banjo players of all-time and whenever five-string banjo playing is mentioned, Raymond Fairchild’s name should definitely be included. His unique style was what made him so great. His playing was so different in every way from all the others. Rest in peace, friend.”  — Wallace Josh Crowe, guitarist for The Crowe Brothers  “Early in my life, Raymond was an inspiration to me. With admiration and respect, I watched him play his banjo many times. He achieved

something few instrumentalists do — he created his own style of playing. He had the fastest thumb I ever saw. He could play dizzying sections of single notes using only his thumb and index finger. Raymond adapted complex melodies and made them fun to hear on the banjo. Respected worldwide, Raymond Fairchild will be missed for his sharp wit, his promotion of our mountain region, and his stylistic playing. Bluegrass Heaven gained a good man.” — Marc Pruett, banjoist for Balsam Range “I know Raymond was an icon to the bluegrass world, but, to me, he was the guy who came to Pennsylvania Avenue Elementary School when I was a little kid. He mesmerized us with that banjo and his funny stories, and help foster a love of mountain music that still endures. He always wanted to talk the Bible with me — I’ll always appreciate that. He is a bluegrass treasure, for sure, and a true Haywood County man. God bless Shirley and the kids.”  — Tim Surrett, singer/bassist for Balsam Range “In 1963, when he signed with Rural Rhythm Records, Raymond’s first album of banjo music sold hundreds of thousands of copies. It was the first time many people, especially on the West Coast, heard three-finger banjo style. Raymond Fairchild was the real thing, a true mountain man. His music was mountain to the core.”  — David Holt, acclaimed storyteller/musician and host of PBS’ “David Holt’s State of Music”

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“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” — Plato




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Profile for Smoky Mountain News

Art of Music 2019  

A musical event that celebrates the diverse art of music in Western North Carolina. Each evening will include a concert featuring some of th...

Art of Music 2019  

A musical event that celebrates the diverse art of music in Western North Carolina. Each evening will include a concert featuring some of th...