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Play Me Some Mountain Music

Earl Scruggs
Earl Scruggs

Did you know that eleven musicians from western North Carolina have been awarded a National Heritage Fellowship—the country’s greatest honor in the traditional arts? Or that the banjo was introduced to western North Carolina by African slaves migrating west from the Piedmont to the South Carolina Low Country? Of course, North Carolina has since produced a number of historic banjo players, including Shelby’s Earl Scruggs, who arguably took the banjo mainstream with his three-finger pickin’ style and his Grammy-winning song, “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.”

All this and more can be found in a new guidebook from UNC Press: Blue Ridge Music Trails of North Carolina: A Guide to Music Sites, Artists, and Traditions of the Mountains and Foothills.

“Not only is there more community-based performance of traditional music in North Carolina, it’s more accessible than anywhere I’ve been,” said author and folklorist Fred Fussell. “Anybody who’s interested can find it, fifty-two weeks a year.”

From April’s MerleFest in Wilkesboro to the Pop Ferguson Blues Festival in downtown Lenoir this summer, there are no shortage of ways to enjoy North Carolina’s good-time music throughout the year. Not only that, but traditional music has seen a revival of sorts among the younger generations, many of whom are picking up the banjo or the fiddle for the first time.

Jan Davidson, executive director of the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown and a traditional musician, has witnessed the same thing at his popular school, which emphasizes noncompetitive learning.

“We’ve always attracted a lot of retired folks, but in the last four or five years, young adults in their 20s and 30s want to both learn to play and to make traditional instruments,” said Davidson, who grew up in nearby Murphy. The school also hosts free weekly concerts, community dances, regional and national acts, and a fall festival featuring artisans, music and dance.

Blue Ridge Music Trails of North Carolina is part of “North Carolina Arts Trails,” a program of the North Carolina Arts Council. This program also includes NCWN member Georgann Eubanks and her Literary Trails series. For more information, visit