Blue Ridge Parkway | BLUE RIDGE MUSIC CENTER (MP 213)

Blue Ridge Music Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Blue Ridge Music Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway

For those traveling south on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Blue Ridge Music Center is the last stop before entering North Carolina. This entertainment venue serves as a Parkway Visitor Center and has a large Roots of American Music Museum, a small seating area for free daily concerts, a large outdoor amphitheater for large ticketed concerts, and two hiking trails (High Meadow Trail and Fisher Peak Loop Trail). The facility is typically open from May until the end of October, 10 AM to 5 PM. For an up-to-date schedule of opening hours and concerts, visit the Blue Ridge Music Center’s website.

VISITOR CENTER

Blue Ridge Music Center information desk and gift store

Blue Ridge Music Center information desk and gift store

Though it appears to be its own entity, the Blue Ridge Music Center is operated by the National Park Service and is part of the Blue Ridge Parkway park. As such, the Center serves not only as a venue for music, but as a Visitor Center. Here you will find an information desk staffed by both park Rangers and concessionaires and a small gift store. You can pick up Parkway maps, the essential Blue Ridge Parkway Outdoor Guide, and Music Center concert schedules.

ROOTS OF AMERICAN MUSIC MUSEUM

Roots of American Music Museum at the Blue Ridge Music Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Roots of American Music Museum at the Blue Ridge Music Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway

In addition to being a source of information, most Visitor Centers on the Parkway have an exhibit area focusing on one aspect of Blue Ridge Mountain natural and human history. At the Blue Ridge Music Center the focus is on mountain music, and its story is told at the Roots of American Music Museum, an excellent, full-fledged museum that could take you over an hour to visit. The museum theorizes that what is today considered “American Music” originated in the Blue Ridge Mountain area. Of course, exactly what genre of music constitutes “American Music” can be debated—head over to New Orleans and they’ll tell you that it’s jazz.

Mountain music came about through the merging of the European violin and the African banjo, which was first introduced to America by slaves. Traditional instruments eventually morphed into fiddles and modern banjos. The museum houses a wide variety of instruments, as well as exhibits on the roots of mountain music.

Exhibit on the roots of mountain music at the Blue Ridge Music Center's museum

Exhibit on the roots of mountain music at the Blue Ridge Music Center’s museum

Early 18th century style gourd banjo built by Peter Ross in 2009 is on display at the Blue Ridge Music Center

Early 18th century style gourd banjo built by Peter Ross in 2009 is on display at the Blue Ridge Music Center

An interesting exhibit is one on the minstrel shows that originated in the 1830s. These shows mixed music (banjo, fiddle, hand drums), dance, and comedy, and the songs from this era became the first to reach nationwide popularity. While it was the black slaves who developed the banjo in America, they certainly had no opportunity to tour the country as musicians. Thus, it was the white musicians who copied their style who made the music popular. Being that the music was associated with blacks, to add to the authenticity of the show, white musicians began performing as black musicians by coloring their faces black, what would go on to be known as Blackface. Being that comedy was also part of the shows, the acts gradually evolved to include race-degrading jokes and mannerisms. In fact, black musicians abandoned the banjo after the Civil War, for a black man with a banjo had become as stereotypical as a black man with a watermelon or a chicken.

It is always interesting to learn the roots of common phrases, and this exhibit includes information on Thomas Rice, a white comedian who popularized blackface performances with his character Jim Crow, a poor slave who had a limp. The show was a parody of every degrading stereotype associated with the black race, and it became so popular that it made Rice the highest paid actor of his time. Anyone who has attended an American high school knows that the term “Jim Crow” went on to become the name for segregation laws.

Playbills for early Blackface minstrel shows on display at the Roots of American Music Museum inside the Blue Ridge Music Center

Playbills for early Blackface minstrel shows on display at the Roots of American Music Museum inside the Blue Ridge Music Center

Mountain music would have remained in the mountains had it not been for radio. In the early 1920s, with the demand for live performances booming, the “country music” industry was born. It was the radio personalities who first labeled the music as “hillbilly” or “mountain” music.

Radio and recording exhibit at the Roots of American Music Museum inside the Blue Ridge Music Center

Radio and recording exhibit at the Roots of American Music Museum inside the Blue Ridge Music Center

The museum goes on to cover the acts that made country music what it is today and has plenty of interactive exhibits, including an opportunity to see video performances from popular country music acts, old and new.

Mountain music families exhibit at the Roots of American Music Museum inside the Blue Ridge Music Center

Mountain music families exhibit at the Roots of American Music Museum inside the Blue Ridge Music Center

Watch video performances of mountain music acts old and new at the Roots of American Music Museum inside the Blue Ridge Music Center

Watch video performances of mountain music acts old and new at the Roots of American Music Museum inside the Blue Ridge Music Center

MOUNTAIN MUSIC CONCERTS

Performers at a Mid-Day Mountain Music concert at the Blue Ridge Parkway's Blue Ridge Music Center

Performers at a Mid-Day Mountain Music concert at the Blue Ridge Parkway’s Blue Ridge Music Center

Free concerts in the atrium just outside of the Visitor Center and Museum are held daily during the operating season from 12-4 PM. No tickets are needed, and you can come and go as you please. The acts are popular local musicians who volunteer for the season. Each act signs up for a day of the week, so if you come on two consecutive Mondays, you will see the same act. In between sets you can talk to the performers. Though they volunteer to play, they do sell their CDs and other merchandise, so if you like the music, you can take it with you and help support the performers.

SUMMER EVENING CONCERT SERIES

Blue Ridge Music Center amphitheater

Blue Ridge Music Center amphitheater

From Memorial Day through mid-October, the Blue Ridge Music Center hosts concerts at its outdoor amphitheater. Most shows are on Saturdays with summer show times at 7 PM and fall show times at 4 PM. There is a charge, and you do need to purchase tickets. According to a brochure I picked up, the ticket includes the performance, dancing, and Bar-B-Que. See the Blue Ridge Music Center’s Concert Season web page for the current schedule.

HIKING TRAILS

The High Meadow Trail is a 1.35-mile one-way trail that runs from the Music Center to a trailhead on Foothills Road. If you don’t have a ride at the end, you have to hike back the way you came, making this a 2.7-mile round trip hike. It intersections twice with the other area trail, the Fisher Peak Loop Trail. If you don’t have a ride, since over a half-mile of the High Meadow Trail overlaps with the Fisher Peak Trail, I’d suggest hiking the loop, which is also 2.75 miles. That way you don’t have to see the same things twice. The High Meadow Trail is rated as Easy, and the Fisher Peak Loop Trail is rated as Moderate. For information on the loop hike, see the High Meadow Trail – Fisher Peak Loop Hike web page here on National Park Planner.


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Last updated on November 7, 2023
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