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Asheville's musical legacy has deep roots. The story begins with Scotch-Irish immigrants who settled Western North Carolina because the mountains and rolling hills reminded them of home. They brought their haunting melodies and traditional ballads and influenced the local music scene for centuries to come.
The power of Scotch-Irish melodies and their ties to local music was recorded for prosperity thanks to the dedication of Bascom Lamar Lunsford (1882-1973), a collector and performer of traditional Appalachian music. He was known as the "Minstrel of the Appalachians." According to local legend, he would "cross hell on a rotten rail to get a folk song."
Because of Lunsford's dedication to recording and preserving local music, he was tapped by the Asheville Chamber of Commerce to add a music and dance element to the city's annual Rhododendron Festival. The result was the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival, which continues today as the nation's oldest folks festival.
Western North Carolina's music was first known as mountain music and included Old English favorites such as "The Hangman Song" and "Barbara Allen." In the 1920s and 1930s, mountain music began to reach a national audience. Buncombe County natives J.E. and Wade Mainer had notable music careers recording traditional mountain music and helped shape the future of country and western music. Today, you can hear the melodies and harmonies of the mountain music in local musicians such as Doc Watson, Sheila Kay Adams and David Holt.
In the 1940s, traditional mountain music took another turn and evolved into bluegrass. The traditional sounds of bluegrass music still ring true in Asheville with bands such as Balsam Range, Buncombe Turnpike, High Windy and Sons of Ralph.
Its more contemporary counterpart, newgrass, has made waves with music that includes bluegrass mixed with rock and roll elements. Its popularity is embodied in new local artists such as The Biscuit Burners, Lo-Fi Breakdown and Bobby and Blue Ridge Tradition.
Today, Asheville's music scene can best be described as an eclectic mix of indie rock with traditional mountain music influences.
The city's creative atmosphere generates a collaborative atmosphere that results in a melting pot of sounds. A bevy of local recording studios and a creative atmosphere draws musicians and bands to Asheville. Projects that are recorded in the city often have an experimental edge, like bluegrass mixed with reggae or bluegrass tinged with hippie music.
Sounds coming out of Asheville include bands such as the Mad Tea Party, Woody Wood and Hollywood-Red, The Blackhole Bluegrass Boys and artists like Kellin Watson.
Today, you can hear the melodies and harmonies of the Scotch-Irish in local musicians such as Doc Watson, Sheila Kay Adams and David Holt. The sound continues to evolve and be celebrated as younger musicians take the sound and make it their own.