Music Of The Hills


Old-time music is alive in the hills of the High Country – from the front and back porches in the holler and general stores to the streets of downtown Boone.

If you love the sounds of Appalachia, if you love the cadence of the banjo and fiddle and the flatpicking on the guitar and mandolin and that high-lonesome sound, then the High Country is the place to visit because the musical heritage is engrained in the area. Banjo player Clarence Ashley, who was raised just beyond the border in Mountain City, Tenn., performed in Boone in the ‘20s and ‘30s with the Cook and Greer sisters and, of course, the legendary Doc Watson in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. Ola Belle Reed, a celebrated musical figure who wrote “High on a Mountaintop,” was born in Lansing, a small community along the New River in Ashe County, in 1916. And those are just a few of the artists to come out of the region.

While Doc would go on to win seven Grammy Awards in addition to a lifetime achievement award for his music and introduce an untold number of people to the sounds of old Appalachia, a he passed a musical torch, so to speak, to a younger generation of musicians with roots in Boone that wasted no time introducing the masses to the old sounds with a youthful vigor.

That band was Old Crow Medicine Show, which formed in New York, toured Canada for two years while honing their skills and eventually settled in a house on the backside of Beech Mountain. They were lured to the High Country because of the culture and prevalence of old-time music. It wasn’t long before Doc Watson’s daughter Nancy Watson discovered the band playing in front of Boone Drug Pharmacy on King Street in downtown Boone – just down the block from where Watson got his start in the ‘40s. Nancy then went and retrieved Doc, who immediately invited them to play at MerleFest, one of the nation’s premiere music festivals just down the road in North Wilkesboro that is named in honor of Doc’s late son Merle Watson, who was also a talented banjo and guitar player.

Where To Hear Old-Time Music

While you may have to know a local to hear some “authentic” mountain music on someone’s front porch or in the backyard, there are plenty of venues to see the real deal in a live setting in the High Country.

Check out some of the options to hear some mountain music in the Boone area and click on the links for more details.


MusicFest ‘n Sugar Grove: Set on the grounds of the historic Cove Creek School, MusicFest ‘n Sugar Grove began years ago as Doc Watson Appreciation Day. It has since grown into a successful fundraiser for the community and features world-class musicians each year.

MerleFest: One of the premiere festivals in the country, MerleFest attracts a global audience and some of the best musicians in the world to the Wilkesboro Community College, which is located just 30 minutes from downtown Boone. With so much music being played off the stage, bring an instrument and join in the fun or just witness real-deal, old-time music.

Valle Country Fair: While not necessarily a music festival, the Valle Country Fair, held on the third Saturday in October in Valle Crucis, is mountain festival that features homemade jams and crafts – and of, course, live old-time music.

Boone Heritage Festival: Held in October, the Boone Heritage Festival celebrates, as its namesake suggests, the heritage of Boone and the surrounding communities. Along with 18th-century demonstrations, the festival features Appalachian music and storytelling and a jamming circle for musicians to join in the fun.

Ola Belle Reed Festival: Held in August each year in Lansing, a small community along the New River in Ashe County, Ola Belle Reed Festival celebrates the musical heritage of Ola Belle Reed, a legendary musician who grew up in Lansing and went on to write “High on a Mountaintop” and received much acclaim for her traditional musical talents.

Local Music Series

Concerts at the Jones House: From June to October, the Jones House, located on King Street in downtown Boone, hosts a summer concert series that covers a wide-range of musical genres – including old-time music. Consider the annual Doc Watson Celebration concert held on June 20, 2014 that features very talented musicians performing songs of the mountains.

Music in the Valle: Held during the summer months at the Valle Crucis Community Park, the Music in the Valle concerts also offer varied musical styles. However, you are sure to hear some traditional music in the mix.

General Stores

From the Todd General Store to the original Mast General Store in Valle Crucis, mountain music performances have been a mainstay in the throwback stores here in the High Country. The Todd General Store features bluegrass music on Fridays from 6:30 to 9:15pm. The Mast General Store also offers mountain music performances on the back porch on Saturdays.


If you happen to stay at some of the campgrounds in the High Country, many of them have live music performances on Fridays and Saturdays during the warm-weather months that feature talented, local musicians playing traditional songs.