Blue Ridge Sunday Night Concerts

Sunday nights are now in tune.

This Sunday, the Blue Ridge Sunday Nights Concert Series returns to Boone, promising three nights of hot bluegrass during the High Country's coldest months.

The first show, Jan. 10, features Grammy-nominated Barry Scott & Second Wind. Mountain Music Machine will perform Feb. 14, and Balsam Range on March 14.

"Neither Barry Scott or Balsam Range have ever performed in Boone or Watauga County," said Hugh Sturgill, organizer and Mountain Music Machine guitarist. "This will be a first for them, and the Mountain Music Machine hasn't performed here for 30 months. Normally, when you see bands as good as these, you're either in an outdoor event or a large arena. It's very rare to be able to see a band of such quality in a venue such as this."

That venue is St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Boone, a seemingly unlikely location but that's certainly well equipped for music.

"The acoustics in that place are just fabulous," Sturgill said. "The problem is if you filled it up with people, (the sound) was deader than a doornail."

Until recently, the church hadn't any sort of sound reinforcement, said Sturgill, who met with church leaders and consulted electrical contractor Gary Trivette, also a member of area bluegrass act Southern Accent. With Trivette's expertise, Sturgill arranged for the installation of a JBL distributed sound system, complete with an Ashley eight-channel amplifier and digital board, what he called "one of the finest sound reinforcement systems installed in Watauga County."

The new system got him to thinking. "You know what we ought to do so people can see how good this is?" Sturgill asked himself. "Let's bring in a couple good bands."

Sturgill may have exceeded his own expectations. The first concert features Barry Scott & Second Wind, whose first project was nominated for a Grammy Award. "And that just doesn't happen," Sturgill said.

Considered one of bluegrass gospel's most promising performers, Scott formerly sang lead and played guitar for Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver, but left in 2005 to start his own band, Second Wind. Barry Scott & Second Wind recently released its debut album, In God's Time, featuring eight original songs, six covers, and vocals from renowned country artist Vince Gill.

On Feb. 14, the series presents Watauga's own Mountain Music Machine, an ever-changing ensemble of bluegrass professionals, including Sturgill.

"Mountain Music Machine is an organization I put together about seven years ago, and it entails about 50 of the greatest Blue Ridge Mountain pickers and singers," he said. "We've done five or six projects here, and we play all over this part of the U.S. We've not had a Mountain Music Machine performance in Watauga County in 30 months, so I'm calling in the troops."

Joining Sturgill are Tommy and Vickie Austin from Appalachian Trail, mandolinist Scott Freeman, vocalist Katy Taylor, bassist Tony Testerman, dobro player Tony Reece and banjoist Gary Trivette.
"You'll never see the same cast of characters playing," Sturgill said.

On March 14, Balsam Range takes the stage. Based in Haywood County, Balsam Range consists of five members who Sturgill called "high-end professional pickers, who decided to come off the road and stay closer to home." However, their national prominence hasn't seemed to suffer, with their single, "Last Train to Kitty Hawk," hitting No. 1 on Bluegrass Unlimited's National Survey Chart in September 2009.

In addition, Southern Accent, a well-known bluegrass and gospel act from Watauga and Avery counties, will open each performance.

"It's very rare to see bands of such high quality in a venue as small as St. Luke's with sound reinforcement that's transparent," Sturgill said. "Not only will you hear them great, but you get to watch them sweat. That's a rare opportunity. That's the good news. The bad news is, being a very small facility, we're limited to a number of seats available."

Only 200 tickets will be sold for each concert, and Sturgill is selling a concert series pass for $20, which covers all performances. Individual shows cost $10 at the door, though availability can't be guaranteed.

Doors open at 5 p.m., with the program starting at 6 and lasting till about 8:30.
"I think it'll be a chance to howdy and shake with some of the finest musicians in the world - world-class pickers and singers," Sturgill said.

"When I moved here in 1981, what blew me away was the quality of some of the better regional pickers and singers in these Blue Ridge Mountains. It's here, it's wonderful. What draws the most people to these mountains - other than the cool weather for the Floridians - is the cultural fabric we have here. The thread that makes it work is the music that comes out of these mountains - it's real, it's from the soul, and it's many generations old. The mountains are where it's always been, and where it always will be. It's our richest cultural fabric."

For more information, or to purchase tickets, contact Hugh Sturgill at (828) 262-3400 or [email protected], Gary Trivette at (828) 297-4114 or [email protected], or Paulette Isaacs at (828) 898-6828.

St. Luke's Episcopal Church is located at 170 Councill St. in Boone. For directions or more information, call (828) 264-8943.

by Frank Ruggiero

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