Mountain MUSIC Jamboree

Mountain MUSIC Jamboree

Mountain MUSIC JamboreeEach weekend, a variety of people of all ages, from near and far, converge in Glendale Springs, near the northwestern corner of North Carolina, to celebrate the traditional music of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the opportunity to have a good time in a congenial, family atmosphere.

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The Mountain Music Jamboree offers fun every Saturday night year-round, as well as on Friday nights during the summer and fall. More than 100 old-time and bluegrass bands have played there — mostly groups from the northwest North Carolina/southwest Virginia region, with names like the Appalachian Mountain Girls, the Whitetop Mountain Band and Boone Trail. More widely-known musicians such as Doc Watson, the Krüeger Brothers and David Holt have also played at the Jamboree.

“It’s authentic mountain music and dance, open to anyone from anywhere,” said Arvill Scott, the Mountain Music Jamboree’s owner and host. “It’s a place for music to be played and a place for dancers to come and hear good music.”

Dancers take to the 2,400-square-foot floor individually, with partners or in groups to join in on dances including — but not limited to — flat-footing, clogging, Virginia reels, square dances, two-steps, waltzes and even polkas.

Dick and Linda Copus, formerly of Greenfield Restaurant and currently of The Winner’s Circle and The Ship’s Wheel restaurants joined forces with Scott to serve up a combination that is sure to please complete with a buffet with choices that are sure to please everyone.

Friendly Family Atmosphere

One of the biggest appeals of the Mountain Music Jamboree is the friendly, small-town quality of the place. Located in predominantly rural Ashe County, it’s definitely much more like “The Andy Griffith Show’s” Mayberry than Studio 54.

As Scott often announces to Jamboree first-timers, “You’re only allowed visitor status one time. After that, you’re one of us.”

“I describe Ashe County as a place where you only have to lock your car doors during August. That’s to keep people from putting zucchini in your back seat.” That mountain tradition is a standing joke at the Jamboree but also illustrates the down-home hospitality and generosity of area residents.

The no-alcohol, no-smoking policy helps foster a clean, wholesome, relaxed atmosphere. “What makes the Jamboree what it is, is the people who come, the freedom to have fun without the fear of the environment turning into a bad situation when they go there,” Scott said.

Friendships form among regular patrons, some of whom are entertaining characters in their own right. “People come each week to see each other.

“In the parking lot there may be everything from a Lexus to a flatbed truck. Once people come inside, we’re pretty much all the same. Everybody gets along; everyone shakes hands and talks to each other....We’ve had a few courtships and marriages to come out of it.”

The Mountain Music Jamboree is family-friendly as well as sociable. “One of the things I enjoy seeing is children dancing with their grandparents or parents. There are not many places where you have the opportunity to do that. Children have always been a part of it. My kids have been raised here....The Jamboree has taken on a personality of its own. It is traditional fun presented in a great environment,” Scott remarked.

Beginners Welcome

On Saturday nights, two bands alternate sets. “Some of the best cloggers and flatfoot-style dancers anywhere show up here.” But while some like to show off their fancy dance moves and stylizations, experience is not required to join in the dancing, which is decidedly beginner-friendly. Scott calls the square dances and Virginia reels, and dance “veterans” can usually be seen helping and coaching newcomers through the steps.

“Appalachian style square dance is a little unique,” he explains. “It differs from western style in that it’s easy to join in.”

The fun, friendly, energetic spirit is contagious. As Scott jokes, “People have lost their disability checks from coming to the Jamboree just one time....You can participate or just watch people participate. The dancers are entertainment for those who don’t dance. I like the opportunity to introduce the music, family atmosphere and dance to people who are not familiar with it to start with,” he explained.

Mountain Tradition:

The Mountain Music Jamboree is a hands-on — or actually, feet-on — cultural attraction, as the music and dancing is a vital part of the region’s heritage. “I’ve always been interested in tradition. Music fits into that,” Scott said. “This area is as strong as any in the kind of music that we play.”

In fact, the Jamboree itself has become something of a tradition. It was begun 15 years ago at the old Laurel Springs School as a fundraiser for a travel organization. Scott was playing guitar in the Walnut Hill Band, which was one of the groups involved.

“In the beginning we wanted a place to play with our band,” he recalled. “Just out of necessity I began to do emcee work as well as calling the dances. I took on the role of a host.... The format was pretty much the same as it is now, based on old-time and bluegrass music.”

After about three or four years, the travel organization closed up shop, but the Mountain Music Jamboree continued to thrive and grow. After five years at the Laurel Springs School, the Jamboree moved to the Burgiss Barn in Laurel Springs, where it remained until 2001.

Then in April 2002, Scott opened the Jamboree’s new home in Glendale Springs. “We were running out of space (at the Burgiss Barn). We had added on about all we could.” The new building is a 7,200-square-foot facility with a seating capacity of 330.

Originally from Pilot Mountain, N.C., Scott worked in Reynolds Tobacco’s engineering department before moving to Lansing in Ashe County in 1980 to farm there. “When we started having children, I moved to the mountains. I put down roots pretty quick,” he said.

That is when the music became a big part of my life.

His children — Sara, Laurel and Isaac — now range in age from teens to early 20s. The youngest, Isaac, was born during the first year of the Mountain Music Jamboree.

The Jamboree can boast that it has entertained people from all over the world. Just since opening the new site in Glendale Springs, Scott has met visitors from places like New Zealand, South Africa and Israel.

Warmth and Laughter:

The Jamboree’s 15-year history includes a wealth of stories, some humorous, some touching. One especially fun tradition there, for both participants and spectators, is the “broom dance.” The broom dance is somewhat similar to musical chairs: each time the broom hits the floor, everyone must change partners. The “odd man out” is left to dance with the broom.

“We’ve had some times with that,” said Scott. “That can be hilarious....One time at the old school, one fella was laughing so hard at the broom dance, and his false teeth fell out onto the floor underneath the dancers. He was trying to scramble among the dancers to get his teeth back.”

Scott said one of the most rewarding experiences was when a group of families with deaf children stopped in about five or six years ago. “Many of them had never had the opportunity to dance. The regulars greeted them and encouraged them to dance.”

One of the group signed Scott’s calls during the Virginia reels and square dances. “There was pure joy in the faces of those children, who wouldn’t have had the opportunity to dance otherwise.” The group has returned to the Jamboree each year since.

“It’s a Lot of Fun”

During a recent Saturday night at the Mountain Music Jamboree, several patrons were asked what they enjoyed about the place. Jennifer Howell of Warrensville, N.C., who is in her early 20s, said she has been coming to the Jamboree half of her life, since about 1989. “I like the dancing, the friendship, cutting up and acting a fool,” she said.

“The music’s hard to beat,” said Paula Mathis of North Wilkesboro, N.C. “What I like is the environment. It’s clean, there’s no smoking, no drinking.”

Those sentiments were shared by JoAnn Call of Roaring River, N.C., who said she has been coming to the Jamboree since it started. “It’s a lot of fun. I like the bands,” she remarked.

Harvey Rutherford of Independence, Va. is another long-time regular at the Jamboree. Typically seen sporting overalls and a straw hat, he said he introduced the broom dance to the Jamboree, and he recently placed a sign there that says, “All 4 Fun & Fun 4 All”.

Rutherford said of the Jamboree, “It’s a good place to come and bring your kids, a good family atmosphere. If you don’t have fun, it is your own fault.”

A couple of first-timers were impressed by the Jamboree. Bob and Patty Thompson of Fort Collins, Colorado were spending time with relatives in the area and decided to include a stop at the Mountain Music Jamboree.

Patty Thompson remarked, “I’ve never seen so many people have so much fun, without a drop of alcohol, in my life.”

Her husband agreed it was a lot of fun. “I never heard this kind of bluegrass music before. It’s awesome. We don’t have this at home. It’s a real community. I love the atmosphere; it’s genuine. We can’t wait to come back.”

Scott himself shares the enthusiasm. “I still get excited about getting to be there on Saturday nights,” he said.

The Mountain Music Jamboree is open every Saturday year-round, and on Fridays during the summer and the fall. Music plays from 7 p.m. until 11 p.m. Antiques are on display in the lobby, and refreshments are available at the concession stand.

The Jamboree is located on North Carolina state highway 16 just south of Glendale Springs, N.C. (The road continues into Virginia, where it is also highway 16 there.) Campgrounds, motels and restaurants are available in the area.

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