The Southeast region of the United States is home to the country’s most distinct sub-culture, well known for its warmth and hospitality, for soul food, and a lush landscape steeped in history. But what it’s perhaps best known for is its music. The musical heritage of the South is deep and dynamic, encompassing a wide variety of styles from blues to bluegrass, ragtime to gospel to Appalachian Folk. The Appalachian Summer Music Festival in Boone, North Carolina is a vibrant and eclectic celebration of music and art from the Blue Ridge Mountains and beyond.
The festival, hosted by the Appalachian State University office of arts and cultural programs, began in 1984 as a series of chamber music concerts. Over the past three decades it has grown into one of the nation’s largest regional multi-arts festivals, attracting over 26,000 visitors every summer. Throughout the month of July, the campus of ASU comes alive with music, dance and theater, along with visual art installations, film screenings, workshops, and more. In recognition of its artistic excellence, innovation, and engagement, the Southeast Tourism Board has named the festival one of the “Top 20 Events in the Southeast” for the past ten years.
Pay a visit to the festival to hear contemporary voices such as The Band Perry, Little Big Town, and Nickel Creek, timeless classics like Sheryl Crow and the Doobie Brothers, and the enduring sounds of Emmy Lou Harris and Doc Watson.
But the festival’s diverse musical and artistic offerings hail from far beyond the American South. Past lineups have included the Broyhill Chamber Ensemble, Glee’s Mathew Morrison, and the Greensboro Symphony, the Dance Theater of Harlem, comedian Paula Poundstone, and the Youth National Orchestra, to name just a few. Along with internationally recognized performance and visual artists, the festival also provides a supportive platform for new and emerging talent from across the country.
A focus on community outreach and partnerships with local schools, along with a central belief that art is an essential component of a healthy and thriving community and should be accessible to all people, is paramount to the vision of this summer music celebration. Tickets for children are heavily discounted; they cost less than five dollars in 2014. Educational opportunities for ASU students, including lectures, workshops, and exhibitions, as well as employment opportunities and student internships, provide a meaningful connection between artists and the university.
Although the majority of the events take place on the campus of ASU, the entire town of Boone plays a role in the festivities, with local businesses hosting readings and children’s activities, offering discounts and special menu items, providing free appetizers before shows, and even hiding concert tickets as part of a town-wide scavenger hunt. You might find a ticket to Mary Chapin Carpenter and Shawn Colvin hidden inside a barrel of penny candy at the Mast General Store, or free entry to a modern dance exposé tucked inside a menu at Hob Nob Farm Café.
The Appalachian Summer Music Festival keeps traditional sounds and art forms alive, while keeping performances fresh and relevant with each passing year. With so many reasons to visit the sultry beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains in high summer, this illustrious celebration of culture may be the most compelling.