I think I'm falling for a town called Boone.
We didn't hit it off straight away. It’s less than 50 miles from Taylorsville, where I’ve been staying, but roughly 45 of those miles seemed to be uphill, and by the time I arrived my car’s miles per gallon had plummeted. I was feeling pretty grudging of the place when I pulled in to the Appalachian Music Shoppe to buy myself some replacement strings.
The nice man behind the counter knew all about the bluegrass jam I was heading to. I was about four hours early for it, so I asked him where I could get a cup of coffee and he looked a bit bemused. There was a Starbucks concession in the local grocery store, he said. My opinion of Boone sank further. Where were the funky cafes where I could sit and use the wifi and nurse a drink for an exploitatively long time?
Things started looking up when I discovered the Appalachian Mountain Brewery. It had a dozen beers on tap, half a dozen ciders and a food truck outside serving pizza and veggie tacos. (It also had The Lumineers blasting from the speakers, but you can't have everything.) But what's really thrilling about Boone is the music. I've been to back-to-back jams there this week, each completely different, each brilliant in their own way.
The Red, White and Bluegrass Jam at the Harvest House takes place on stage in front of an audience, and is led by seriously impressive musicians from local bands like Surefire and ClayBank. (This was pretty intimidating for a newcomer like me, but they were incredibly encouraging and affirming and also let me hide at the back of the stage whenever I wanted.) Meanwhile Murphys, one of the restaurants on the main street, hosts an open jam on Wednesday nights where musicians of all levels come together and sit round in the traditional circle, right in the middle of the dining room.
If that wasn't enough, there's a historic house called Jones House which hosts regular gigs and a weekly old-time jam, and has a pretty garden outside it where you can sit outside and pick in the daytime and no one will come shouting at you to get off their lawn. And the Appalachian State University here has an entire archive of Appalachian culture, including bluegrass recordings and documentaries and manuscripts going back to the very dawn of the music.
Also it has this law firm.