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North Carolina Bluegrass on NCpedia: getting you ready for the weekend’s Wide Open Bluegrass Festival!

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Black Walnut Banjo, c. 1970, made by renowned maker Edsel Martin, Buncombe County, N.C.  From the collections of the N.C. Museum of History.

Black Walnut Banjo, c. 1970, made by renowned maker Edsel Martin, Buncombe County, N.C. From the collections of the N.C. Museum of History.

With the Wide Open Bluegrass festival set to take the stage in downtown Raleigh tomorrow and Saturday, it’s a good time to take another quick tour through North Carolina’s country and bluegrass music heritage.  But, let’s face it, a blog post can’t do this topic justice!

But before I start pickin’ about North Carolina’s folk, country, and bluegrass music heritage, I want to do a little grinnin’ about NCpedia to note that the education I’ve  been giving myself has come almost entirely from the online encyclopedia resource.  Pulling together a handful of sources from NCpedia, I’m impressed by the way folk, country, and bluegrass music have dug deep and continually lengthening roots in the state, how they have developed an almost natural and symbiotic relationship with grassroots folk and music festivals, contributed to a long-standing independent recording industry, influenced crossover musicians, and become part of a beloved and mainstream local music scene across the state. The music has shared center stage with 4th of July celebrations, fundraisers, food and craft festivals, and supported numerous festivals around the state to preserve threatened local natural heritage areas.  It’s a fabulous tapestry of art, industry, and the natural environment.

If you’re like me, you’ve heard of North Carolina’s greats from the pantheon of the wider genre encompassing folk and bluegrass: for starters, Doc Watson and Earl Scruggs.   Then there are the immortal names of more traditional folk practitioners like  Tommy Jarrell and Frank Proffitt. Many more North Carolina musicians have appeared on well-known national acts, with a number of North Carolina bands garnering national reputations and airtime – including the names of Hack Johnson and His Tennesseans, the Church Brothers, the New Deal String Band in the 1960s, and the Bass Mountain Boys from Burlington from the 1980s to mid 1990s.

And I was surprised to discover that Charlie Daniels (aka the Charlie Daniels Band), the country rock sound I remember vividly from my youth, was born in Wilmington and began his career in bluegrass. He formed the Misty Mountain Boys in the 1950s before he began to move into an award-winning fusion of rock and bluegrass.

I also learned about the symbiosis between the string band, folk, and bluegrass traditions and the independent recording industry foothold in the state. Label names such as Chapel Hill’s Colonial Records, North Wilkesboro’s Blue Ridge Records, and Durham’s Renown Records promoted the genres and launched a number of careers.  I was surprised to learn that Colonial launched the recording career of none other than Andy Griffith.

So, don’t spend another minute reading this post! Visit NCpedia and learn about the range of North Carolina’s musical heritage, its recording industry, and its folk festivals.  And come on down to Raleigh to enjoy the music live this weekend!

NCpedia Resources:

—  Kelly Agan, Government & Heritage Library

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