Traditional Music in Madison County, North Carolina

Collecting and Preserving the Heritage

Madison County has been fertile musical ground since the first settler with a fiddle under his arm and a ballad in his voice set foot on this new land just north of Asheville in the 1790s. In those early years, the Scots-Irish settlers found time at the end of their days to gather with family and neighbors sharing the ballads and fiddle tunes brought with them when they came to his new land. That music was passed down through the generations in much the same manner. Madison County has the longest unbroken tradition of ballad singing in the United States. This collection of music treasures remained hidden until the efforts of two men brought the heritage to other’s attention. Bascom Lamar Lunsford, a musician himself, was born in Madison county but Cecil Sharp, a scholar and folksong collector, had to travel from England for this purpose. The movie, “Songcatcher” is loosely based on the discovery and collection of that music. Both were responsible for preserving the rich musical heritage of Madison County beginning in the early 1900s.

The “Royal” Family

Sharp collected ballads from several families, most notably from some families in the Laurel country whose musical legacy continues even today—the Wallins and the Chandlers. Several members of the family kept the ballads alive for decades by passing them down to the next generation. But, it was not until the resurgence of interest in folk music in the 1960s that the depth of our music heritage was widely recognized.

100 Years Later

Today, there is still evidence of that heritage handed down for centuries not only in the direct descendants of the family but in those who seem to have grown from the rich soil and those who have been attracted to the area by our legacy. Our traditional music and  dance  is celebrated with special events and festivals. There are opportunities throughout the year and throughout the county to listen to the music that has held such charm not only for the generations of families but also for those who visit the area. And, there is even more to Madison County’s place in traditional music history. Beyond playing and singing the music, we hold a place in the history of traditional dancing, or clogging. And, “you can’t throw a rock in this county without hittin‘ a musician.”

Laurin Penland, the daughter of one of our local singer/storyteller/musicians Joe Penland, is an intern at NPR. Her story about “The Evolution of Oral Tradition of Mountain Ballads” was aired on December 4, 2011. Read the full article or listen to her story. To learn more about our rich musicheritage, continue through this section on our website. You may be surprised by the wealth of our heritage, but it’s just part of who we are!

 

I Wish I Was A Mole in the Ground

Interest Grows in Traditional Music in the 1960s

The traditional music had quietly continued to be preserved by each succeeding generation and some had traveled beyond the county borders. However, the way of life in the mid 20th century was quite different from the early 1900s. When musician/filmmaker John Cohen was drawn to Madison County in the 1960s, his tools were more powerful in spreading the story of the county’s musical heritage.

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Listening to Traditional Music in Madison County, NC

There are plenty of opportunities to hear talented musicians just minutes from Asheville in Madison county, a place that seems to have a fiddler in every holler. Ranging from every week at selected locales to scheduled concerts by the Arts Council to annual festivals, you can find music everywhere.

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Featured Businesses in Madison County

Mad County Brewing

45 North Main Street Marshall, North Carolina 28753
828-649-8600

Mad County Brewing

Sweet Monkey Bakery & Cafe

133 South Main Street Marshall, North Carolina 28753
(828) 649-2489

Sweet Monkey Bakery & Cafe

Wolf Ridge Ski Resort

578 Valley View Circle Mars Hill, North Carolina 28754
(828) 689-4119

Wolf Ridge Ski Resort

Toops Photojournalist Services

774 Wilson Cove Branch Road Marshall, North Carolina 28753
(828) 649-3276

Toops Photojournalist Services

Zimmerman’s Berry Farm

2260 Revere Road Marshall, North Carolina 28753
(828) 656-2056

Zimmerman’s Berry Farm

Walnut Creek Gallery

2970 Walnut Creek Road Marshall, North Carolina 28753
(828) 649-0568

Walnut Creek Gallery

Becca Floyd

1257 Fred Holcombe Road Mars Hill, North Carolina 28754
(828) 689-9242

Becca Floyd

Little Creek Cafe

11660 U.S. 23 Mars Hill, 28754
(828) 689-2307

Little Creek Cafe

Hot Springs Rafting Company

22 U.S. 25 Hot Springs, North Carolina 28743
877 530-7238

Hot Springs Rafting Company

Sandy Bottom Trail Rides

1459 Caney Fork Road Marshall, North Carolina 28753
(828) 649-3464

Sandy Bottom Trail Rides

Madison County Tourism Development Authority

56 South Main Street
Mars Hill, NC 28754

Click here for Driving Directions

Contact
 

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Local: (828) 680-9031

Toll Free: (877) 262-3476

Mailing Address: PO Box 1527
    Mars Hill, NC 28754