Mountain Music Jamboree
Now in its 23rd year, the Mountain Music Jamboree in Glendale Springs is a showcase for traditional music, dancing and community events. “Our motto is, you can sit and grin or you can join right in,” says owner and operator Arvill T. Scott.
Scott, an agricultural field supervisor for the Employment Security Commission of North Carolina, grew up in Surry County and developed a taste for traditional music from listening to Mount Airy’s WPAQ-AM, “one of two stations we could receive on our transistor radios.” After moving to Ashe County he became acquainted with Albert Hash and Emily and Thornton Spencer, who played traditional old-time music in the White Top Mountain Band. Lessons with the Spencers and participating in a few jam sessions soon had him playing guitar on his own.
A few years later, Scott, his wife and several musical friends were invited to play at a community event, needed a name and formed the Walnut Hill Band. Together with members of the White Top Mountain Band and others, they decided they had a good fan base, rented an old schoolhouse in Laurel Springs (near West Jefferson) and established a regular music and dance show. The Mountain Music Jamboree premiered on Memorial Day weekend in 1987 and quickly became a popular spot for musicians as well as cloggers, flat footers, two-step and square dancers.
“The music is exciting, it makes you want to dance,” Scott says. “It’s happy music — if anything can make you forget your troubles, it’s bluegrass or traditional old-time music. There’s just something about a banjo ringing or a fiddle tune that stirs me inside.”
In five years the Jamboree outgrew the schoolhouse and moved to the nearby Burgiss Barn, a bigger location with a good dance floor, and drew notable performers like North Carolina Folk Heritage Award winners Doc Watson and Benton Flippen. Most of the Jamboree’s musicians and bands are drawn from a 50-mile radius. “You got potatoes, you make potato salad,” Scott says. This year the performers include Grand Ole Opry stars Big Country Bluegrass, Becca Eggers Gryder & Amantha Mill Band with George Wilson (Boone), bluegrass and bluegrass gospel performers the Dollar Brothers Band (Watauga and Ashe counties), Sugarloaf Ramblers Bluegrass Band (Alexander County), the Crossroads Band (Creston) and the youth bluegrass band Adam McPeak (a 14-year-old mandolinist) and Mountain Thunder
In 2002, Scott opened the Jamboree’s current location in Glendale Springs, a small community where he warns visitors to keep their car doors locked in August, or risk finding a squash or zucchini left on their back seat by a generous neighbor. That sense of community is key to the Jamboree’s success.
“The Jamboree gives people a place to come and meet, to get out of the house and enjoy social interaction,” Scott says. “People get to know each other and to dance together. It’s inspired young people to take up music, to get lessons from other local musicians and to play. Retired people become close friends and do things together outside of the Jamboree. That’s what the music has always been: a focal point for social activities.”
The facility has been the site for weddings, an annual Ashe Youth Ministries concert, a yearly fundraiser for the local Masonic Lodge and even a “cowboy church” on Mondays for locals who ride their horses on Sundays. Scott also looks forward to an annual visit from a group of hearing-impaired children who spend a week at a nearby YMCA camp.
“They’ve come for 15 years, and the first few times they were here I would call the square dance from the stage and their interpreter would stand beside me and cue the instructions,” Scott says. “For many of them it was the first time they attempted to dance, to feel the rhythm of the music, or know what to do. It was a delight to see those children, from seven-year-olds to teenagers, dancing with their families and others who could coach them along.”
The Jamboree also draws a national and international clientele. Scott has three maps: North Carolina, the United States, and the world, and he invites visitors to mark their hometowns with a stickpin. He’s had visitors from as far away as Alaska and from countries including South Africa, Russia, Japan and China. Youth for Understanding, a foreign exchange program, brings a group of international students every year from Raleigh. Even Hmong immigrants living in North Carolina came to play their native Southeast Asian music one night. “They jumped in and did a square dance with us, and a couple of members of their band reached out for us to dance along with them while they performed,” Scott says. “It was a real cultural exchange.”
For half of the year, that cultural exchange includes southern cuisine. The Jamboree features a buffet with traditional country cooking: fried chicken, baked ham, roast beef, green beans, potatoes and biscuits. But for many, including Scott, it’s all about the music.
“The festival is all about the opportunity to showcase the music and turn other people on to it — to ‘bring it up on the main highway’ so to speak,” Scott says. “We give more people a reason to be in a band, and give more groups a reason to come forward and show their stuff in a manner we’re proud of. As long as the bills get paid, we’ll keep doing it. The Jamboree is my passion.”
The Mountain Music Jamboree features live music on Saturday nights starting at 7 p.m. with a buffet May through October from 6 to 7:30 p.m. It offers traditional dance lessons every Thursday and Friday from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. For more information, visit http://www.mountainmusicjamboree.com/ or call (336) 384-4079 or (800) 803-4079.