A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

For muralist Scott Nurkin, the idea for North Carolina’s Musician Murals Project started as a series of 8-inch-by-10-inch portraits that he’d painted and superimposed over a North Carolina map in

Madison County Championship Rodeo

For muralist Scott Nurkin, the idea for North Carolina’s Musician Murals Project started as a series of 8-inch-by-10-inch portraits that he’d painted and superimposed over a North Carolina map in

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

For muralist Scott Nurkin, the idea for North Carolina’s Musician Murals Project started as a series of 8-inch-by-10-inch portraits that he’d painted and superimposed over a North Carolina map in

Voices Rising: Live Music Across North Carolina

For muralist Scott Nurkin, the idea for North Carolina’s Musician Murals Project started as a series of 8-inch-by-10-inch portraits that he’d painted and superimposed over a North Carolina map in Chapel Hill’s Pepper’s Pizza restaurant. Eventually, the map became a room-size homage to the state’s music legends. When Pepper’s closed, Nurkin thought a bigger canvas was required to do justice to these musical greats.

“I knew the state had produced a wealth of musical talent, and it was important to me to spread the word,” says Nurkin, who never learned about his state’s musical heritage when studying North Carolina history.

The Roberta Flack mural in Black Mountain pays tribute to the singer in her hometown. Photography courtesy of THE NORTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL AND CULTURAL RESOURCES

Today, through the North Carolina Musicians Mural Project, Nurkin helps towns celebrate their musical legends: Shelby has two murals, one for Earl Scruggs and one for Don Gibson. Ben E. King croons “Stand by Me” on the Henderson Tobacco Warehouse. Randy Travis is in Marshville, Blind Boy Fuller is in Wadesboro, and Elizabeth Cotten is in Carrboro — and the list goes on to include 12 cities, from Hamlet to Black Mountain.

As a guitarist, singer, and songwriter, I’ve been fortunate enough to perform in the far corners of our state, and I’m appreciative not only of our rich musical heritage, but also of the wide variety of venues available for our enjoyment. Read on for some of my personal favorites for playing and enjoying live music.



 

Attendees of the Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival see amazing performances by artists like G YAMAZAWA. Photography courtesy of THE NORTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL AND CULTURAL RESOURCES

Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival of Music and Dance — Pittsboro

For four days each May, and again in October (October 5-8, this year!), Shakori Hills is a destination for relaxation, music, and dance, all tucked into a small farm in lovely Pittsboro. You can camp and cook if you choose, and local vendors offer food and drinks, clothing, art, and jewelry.

Environmental sustainability is on display here, as the farm invites guests to walk about and observe large-scale composting, solar electric panels in use, and tractors powered by renewable biodiesel — all in a woodland preserve. There’s even a wild herb expert on standby to guide you on a nature walk.

The ever-enjoyable roots band Donna the Buffalo headlines each season, and throughout the four-day festival, four sound stages feature a wide variety of musical talent, with so many great bands and a diverse line-up of entertainment — but shhh, it’s a secret, so don’t tell anybody.

 

In 2019, Lisa Simone performed during Nina Simone Weekend at the North Carolina Museum of Art. Photography courtesy of THE NORTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL AND CULTURAL RESOURCES

North Carolina Museum of Art — Raleigh

The amphitheater on the grounds of Raleigh’s North Carolina Museum of Art is one of the best places for a quintessential summertime experience: listening to music as the sun sets and stars fill the night sky. I once had the opportunity to play this stage with the Connells, and the night still resonates with me as one of the best venues from the performer vantage point. Being that close to the audience creates a wonderful energy exchange between performers and audience members.

From May through October, the power of this intimacy brings back great talent time and again. A few highlights: See The Mavericks with Maggie Rose on June 8; Juneteenth Joy: A Celebration of Freedom and Gospel Music on June 17, and Watchhouse (formerly Mandolin Orange) on October 1.

 

MerleFest is North Carolina’s largest music festival. Photography courtesy of THE NORTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL AND CULTURAL RESOURCES

MerleFest — Wilkesboro

Head to the Foothills in April for the late, legendary musician Doc Watson’s iconic roots and bluegrass music festival named in memory of his son, Eddy Merle Watson. It’s a wang-dang-doodle of a good time and boasts some of the largest crowds for outdoor live music with some of the biggest names in “traditional-plus” genres.

This year, the lineup was so good, you might cry when you realize who you missed: Emmylou Harris was there, along with Old Crow Medicine Show, Rissi Palmer, the Steep Canyon Rangers, and Jerry Douglas — just to name a few. Every year, it seems like the beloved music festival — the biggest in the state — ups its game.

 

See North Carolina bands like the Chatham Rabbits at the International Bluegrass Music Association World of Bluegrass. Photography courtesy of THE NORTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL AND CULTURAL RESOURCES

International Bluegrass Music Association World of Bluegrass — Raleigh

Welcome to the 21st century, y’all. The International Bluegrass Music Association World of Bluegrass returns to downtown Raleigh from September 27 through October 1. The Infamous Stringdusters, The Jerry Douglas Band, Sierra Hull, and the Peter Rowan Bluegrass Band are among the featured acts.

This is a gathering of bluegrass professionals from every aspect of the industry and enthusiasts from all over the world. Stop by the GIG Fair, where artists and buyers can connect one-on-one to kickstart the return of live bluegrass music.

The festival’s biggest-name performers headline at Red Hat Amphitheater, but don’t discount the street stages, performances, and vendor booths in and around Fayetteville Street. Where there’s live music, there are food and beverages close by.

 

Meymandi Concert Hall in Raleigh’s Memorial Auditorium is the North Carolina Symphony’s home stage. Photography courtesy of THE NORTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL AND CULTURAL RESOURCES

North Carolina Symphony — Raleigh

If you prefer a more symphonic form of musical entertainment, the North Carolina Symphony performs in the lovely Meymandi Concert Hall in Raleigh’s Memorial Auditorium, Booth Amphitheater in Cary, and other venues throughout the state.

The Summerfest series of shows at Booth Amphitheater include Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 on June 4, Movie Music Classics on June 11, All Mozart Sunday on June 12, a Juneteenth Celebration on June 18, and We Will Rock You: The Music of Queen on June 26.

 

Salem Band — Winston-Salem

In 2021, Salem Band celebrated 250 years — making it the oldest community band in the country. Over the generations, members have changed, but the spirit remains the same. Pack a picnic and your folding chairs and come sit under Old Salem’s stand of cedars in Salem Square for the band’s summer concert series, which kicks off in May and runs through September.

On the Fourth of July, Salem Band will perform their annual Stars and Stripes Concert and will include a new band arrangement of the Star Spangled Banner.

On July 19, check out TROMBONE MANIA!, a must-see event featuring the world-premiere of commissioned composition by Joel Everett; bass trombone soloist Erik Salzwedel; and pre-concert music with 250 trombones.

 

North Carolina Folk Festival — Greensboro

Born from the National Folk Festival, the annual North Carolina Folk Festival will bring more than 300 performers to downtown Greensboro on September 9-11, where multiple stages will host continuous performers over the course of three days. With a mission to share the meaningful ways communities express their creativity and cultural traditions, the Folk Festival features not only music, but also dance, crafts, and other folk arts, like storytelling.

 

Hip-hop artist and North Carolina native J. Cole hosts Dreamville Music Festival at Dorothea Dix Park in Raleigh. Photography courtesy of THE NORTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL AND CULTURAL RESOURCES

Dreamville Festival — Raleigh

In April, North Carolina-raised, Grammy Award-winning, and multi-platinum hip-hop artist J. Cole’s two-day Dreamville Music Festival returned to The Big Field at Dorothea Dix Park in Raleigh. Dreamville is one of the largest artist-curated music festivals in the country.

This story was published on Jun 16, 2022

George Huntley

George Huntley is the former guitarist, singer, and songwriter with The Connells. Currently, he is the owner/broker of Huntley Realty, a Raleigh-based residential Real Estate firm.