A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

They arrived in station wagons and tour buses, limousines and private jets. They crisscrossed North Carolina, sporting piled-up pompadours and flowing manes. They wrestled guitars and pounded drums, combining catchy

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

They arrived in station wagons and tour buses, limousines and private jets. They crisscrossed North Carolina, sporting piled-up pompadours and flowing manes. They wrestled guitars and pounded drums, combining catchy

They arrived in station wagons and tour buses, limousines and private jets. They crisscrossed North Carolina, sporting piled-up pompadours and flowing manes. They wrestled guitars and pounded drums, combining catchy riffs with a beat that dragged you out of your chair. They antagonized parents, teachers, and preachers, and inspired teenagers to dress down and act up. They created a glorious cacophony that, during the second half of the 20th century, held much of the world in sway.

And, once in a while, they came down from Mount Olympus — or the coliseum stage, at least — and showed up in the real world. When Mick Jagger posed with a beer at The Thirsty Beaver Saloon in Charlotte for an Instagram photo the night before a Rolling Stones concert in September 2021, it was just the latest in a long line of memorable rock star sightings in the Tar Heel state.

Rockers have entertained North Carolinians since the genre’s infancy. Some stayed in luxury hotel suites, while others faced the dreadful realities of Jim Crow-era segregation and had to get creative with their accommodations. Stars like James Brown, Ray Charles, and Ike and Tina Turner took advantage of Green Book-listed sites. Reginald Hodges grew up around the corner from one: the Magnolia Hotel in Greensboro. When he was a kid, he marveled at the sight of Black celebrities pulling up in chauffeur-driven vehicles.

Fats Domino avoided Jim Crow restrictions by traveling with his own lodgings. In an interview in the 1990s, the late North Carolina historian David Southern recalled Domino rolling into Burlington in the ’50s with a fleet of pink Airstream trailers, each with “F.D.” painted on the side.

And there are more. Here’s a look at five historic sightings of rock stars in the wild in North Carolina.

illustration by JAMES OLSTEIN

Elvis has Left the Roadhouse


Elvis Presley wowed the packed house at Walter M. Williams High School Auditorium in Burlington on the evening of February 15, 1956, combining a high-energy performance with an audacious appearance. He sported a greasy ducktail hairstyle, pleated pants, popped collar, and dirty bucks on his feet. Burlington resident Ramona Glenn, who attended the concert, became a lifelong fan that night, even if she thought his hip-swiveling stage moves were “kinda trashy.”

After the concert, Elvis and his crew loaded up their gear and headed west on U.S. Highway 70, one of the primary east-west routes through North Carolina in the 1950s. They drove past dark Piedmont farms and fields until they spotted the welcoming lights of the Brightwood Inn, a red-brick roadhouse on the eastern edge of Guilford County.

The future King of Rock ’n’ Roll was on his first jaunt through North Carolina during his inexorable rise to fame in the mid-’50s. His tour included appearances at Charles L. Coon High School in Wilson, the National Theatre in Greensboro, and — five weeks after his 21st birthday — his memorable stop in Burlington and his visit to the Brightwood Inn.

Decades later, the waitress who served him recalled exactly what he ordered: a hamburger with lettuce and tomato and a glass of milk. The Brightwood later turned the booth where he ate into an Elvis shrine.

“Well, he was good-looking,” waitress Lucille Little told the Greensboro News & Record in 1999. “But I can’t say he was the best-looking. I’ve seen a lot of handsome guys.”

illustration by JAMES OLSTEIN

Knock-Knock-Knockin’ on Sandburg’s Door

Flat Rock

Bob Dylan and some friends were driving a new Ford station wagon through the winding mountain roads around Flat Rock in early 1964, looking for one of the singer’s heroes. They were more than 600 miles from New York City’s Greenwich Village and not sure exactly where they were going, according to Dylan biographer Anthony Scaduto. It was February, and the trees were still bare. Dylan, 22, hopped out at a gas station and addressed a lanky man in overalls.

“Where’s Carl Sandburg’s place? You know, the poet.”

“You mean Sandburg the goat farmer?”

Sandburg’s wife, Lilian “Paula” Sandburg, had made her own mark as an award-winning goat farmer.

“No, I mean Sandburg the poet,” Dylan said.

“Don’t know about no poet. There’s a Sandburg has a goat farm. Wrote a book on Lincoln. Little guy. Littler than you, even. If that’s the one, take the road two miles up there, turn left after the little bridge, can’t miss it if you’re sober.”

Dylan had not yet gone full-on electric rock ’n’ roll, but the young folk singer had already established himself as the voice of his generation with songs like “Blowin’ in the Wind.” He and his friends had headed south just days before The Beatles landed in Dylan’s adopted hometown of New York for their historic appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Dylan had a show to play at Emory University in Atlanta, but he made a detour through the Blue Ridge Mountains. He found Sandburg at the poet’s white house on a hill called Connemara, established and originally named Rock Hill by the first treasurer of the Confederate States of America. Sandburg and his acolyte had a friendly 10-minute chat, although the singer’s friends said that he seemed miffed that the venerated poet didn’t recognize him. Dylan left Sandburg with a copy of his latest album, The Times They Are A-Changin’.

illustration by JAMES OLSTEIN

A Barrel of Monkees & A Guitar God


Treva Brackett shimmied into a shift dress, zipped up her white go-go boots, and left her house in Greensboro’s Dogwood Forest. It was the kind of postwar suburb that The Monkees sang about in their brand-new single, “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” with “charcoal burning everywhere.” The date was Wednesday, July 12, 1967, and school had been out for weeks.

Treva rode with her friend Sally Birdsong to the Oaks Motel on Summit Avenue. Sally was president of the Gate City chapter of The Monkees’ fan club; Treva was vice president. Neither girl had turned 16 yet, so they had to get an older relative to drive them.

A couple of skinny guys swam in the motel pool. Their hair was longer than most people in Greensboro had ever seen on men. Police officers, standing guard to keep The Monkees’ teenage fans at bay, made rude comments, questioning the swimmers’ masculinity. But the swimmers weren’t Monkees — they were young Englishmen who played with the flamboyant guitarist who was opening for The Monkees that night: Jimi Hendrix.

The Monkees were the original manufactured boy band, assembled by Hollywood producers to sing a song or two and goof around on TV for half an hour each week. But they chafed at their image as rock ’n’ roll poseurs for teenyboppers, and yearned to earn respect in the serious rock scene of the mid-1960s. They enlisted an unlikely band as the opening act for their summer tour: The Jimi Hendrix Experience, a provocative psychedelic rock trio from England, led by an American expatriate.

Hendrix’s group had just made its stateside debut at the Monterey Pop Festival in California. There, he’d wowed fans and critics alike with his audacious guitar playing and an outrageous performance that culminated in him burning his guitar on stage.

Treva had trouble meeting all of The Monkees, despite her position in the fan club, but she did get an autograph from Mickey Dolenz, who sang and played drums for the group. Then she sheepishly knocked on the door of Hendrix’s room, finding him inside playing an acoustic guitar left-handed. She told him that her English pen pal had said that he was really cool, and she just wanted to say hello.

“He grunted at me,” she remembers, “like, ‘What are you doing here, you little kid?’”

At the Greensboro Coliseum that night, Hendrix lived up to his ostentatious image. “He comes onstage, and he’s got this fop outfit with the big sleeves and the puffy stuff, a purple jacket — very flamboyant and loud,” Treva recalls. “I remember standing up, going, ‘Yes! Yes!’ All these people are like, ‘Who is this man who’s up there being naughty?’ He played ‘Foxy Lady,’ which was my favorite at the time. Everybody thought I was out of my mind, but I was told he was cool, and I was gonna make sure that somebody liked him.”

Hendrix opened for The Monkees in Charlotte the next night, too, but dropped off the tour after only seven shows, fed up with the hostile reception that his music was getting from most of The Monkees’ teenybopper fans.

illustration by JAMES OLSTEIN

Something to Talk About

Chapel Hill

As Bonnie Raitt walked along the sidewalk in Chapel Hill, she saw and heard something unusual, even by the college town’s freewheeling standards in 1973. A group of musicians were in the bed of a single-cab Volkswagen pickup truck parked in front of the Record Bar on Henderson Street, playing and singing a song that was very familiar to her, “Takin’ My Time,” by the blues singer Spider John Koerner.

“I remember she started smiling and cocked her head and kept walking toward us,” says Bland Simpson, who sang and played a compact rehearsal piano in the truck. “And then she just started laughing and shaking her head and saying, ‘I haven’t heard that song in way too long.’”

Raitt had named her latest album for the song, and she was in town to promote it. When Simpson and two of his friends in The Southern States Fidelity Choir got wind that she was coming, they decided to give a memorable welcome to one of their favorite singers. Raitt was scheduled to sign albums at the record shop on the afternoon before her show at Memorial Hall on the University of North Carolina campus.

Another Raitt fan, UNC sophomore Marvin Veto, had brought his camera downtown and captured the whole encounter on film. “I wasn’t sure if Bonnie knew who her serenaders were,” he recalls, “but she was visibly blown away by the reception.”

illustration by JAMES OLSTEIN

A Material Girl in Training


The summer sun lit up the colorful tights worn by a group of young dancers rehearsing outdoors on Duke University’s East Campus in June of 1978. Richard Maschal, an arts reporter for The Charlotte Observer, had just arrived from the Queen City to do a story on the American Dance Festival’s first year in Durham.

“There were all these dancers milling about, so I looked for a person to kinda hang the story on,” Maschal remembers. “I was struck by this young woman who was very beautiful. Not only that, but she really had a presence. Something about her stood out — like she really knew who she was.”

The young woman had traveled south from Michigan to study at the ADF, and she would turn 20 in a few weeks.

“Her name is Madonna Ciccone, and her face matches her name,” Maschal wrote. “Round eyes, arched eyebrows, finely drawn mouth — Da Vinci would have loved it … And she has a dancer’s body — thin as a blade, lithe and agile. Doll-like, she looks as if she’d snap in a strong wind. She wouldn’t.”

Five years later, unbeknownst to anyone at the time, the MTV hits “Holiday,” “Borderline,” and “Lucky Star” would launch Madonna to superstardom. “She was a little bit self-possessed,” Maschal recalls. “She wasn’t gushy. I was really struck by that. I had no idea that she had aspirations to be a singer, but I was not totally surprised when she became a star.”

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This story was published on Jun 27, 2023

Eddie Huffman

Huffman is a freelance writer who lives in Greensboro. He's currently writing a book on Doc Watson.