Lenoir puts spotlight on musical heritage

Jul. 01, 2014 @ 08:13 AM

By late summer, local residents should see tangible evidence of Lenoir's efforts to capitalize on its musical heritage: a historical marker to tell visitors what happened here.

Doc Watson, Etta Baker and Pop Ferguson, all greats in traditional music, have one thing in common – a deep connection with Lenoir.

From Watson, who is from Watauga County, playing on downtown street corners for tips before he became successful and even getting his “Doc” nickname here, to Ferguson getting kicked out of church for playing the blues, Lenoir has played host to its share of the musical heritage of the Blue Ridge.

By late August or early September, the city plans to install a pedestal-style marker, much like ones found in state parks or along the Blue Ridge Parkway, that will have photos and information on the city’s musical heritage.

And this fall, tour buses are expected to begin making stops in Lenoir as they follow the Blue Ridge Music Trails of North Carolina, a project launched this year by the North Carolina Arts Council, N.C. Department of Natural Resources and the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area. 

The "trail" covers 28 counties in Western North Carolina, from Rockingham County to the western tip of the state at Cherokee County. The intent is to showcase historical and traditional music festivals, places and concerts for tourists who look for those kinds of things.

“It’s just a really great opportunity for us,” said Kaye Reynolds, Lenoir's communications and resource director, explaining that Lenoir has a particular role as a joining place for different music trails, such as the African American Music Trail that starts in the eastern part of the state.

The project includes a website, blueridgemusicnc.com featuring an interactive map where officials hope to spotlight venues and events in each county. Currently listed in Caldwell are Sims Country Bar-B-Que, the annual Happy Valley Old-time Fiddler's Convention, Hardee’s in Lenoir, which has a “Bluegrass and a Biscuit” event every Wednesday morning, and downtown Lenoir, which is hosting the N.C. Blackberry Festival July 12. The site also includes artist profiles, a traditional artist directory and information on the different traditional music styles.

The website is still in its early stages, and more things will be added to the map, including the annual Happy Valley Fiddler’s Convention and the Pop Ferguson Blues Heritage Festival, Reynolds said.

“What’s up now is the beginnings of what will be a very intensive, resource-rich (site),” Reynolds said.

City and state officials hope the trail will bring more tourism to the area.

“The key thing is obviously we’re featured in a website that we could not possibly begin to afford,” Reynolds said. “The marketing they do is significant.”

The city hasn’t spent much – just $1,500 for the sign so far – but will be getting much more in return, she said.

The city’s biggest commitment, she said, is having someone to meet the tour buses and guide the visitors around the city.