By Harley Nefe
Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines! The 2022 Jones House Indoor Concert Series will be revving up when NASCAR icon Kyle Petty comes to Boone to perform two shows at 4:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, February 26.
This musical event wasn’t the first time Petty was scheduled to come to the High Country.
“Kyle was supposed to come here in the spring of 2020,” explained Brandon Holder, Town of Boone Cultural Resources staff. “He was going to do a concert here, but he was also going to be the grand marshal for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which got canceled unfortunately, so we’re super happy to be able to reschedule him.”
In less than two weeks from now, Petty is coming to Boone, and he’s pretty thrilled to be able to put on a show at the Jones House.
“I was excited about coming to Boone the last time because they were going to let me be the grand marshal at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and then Covid hit. So, that kind of stopped the world in a lot of ways,” Petty said. “I was looking forward to coming to Boone riding in a convertible. That was going to be fun, but playing at the Jones House? I’m really excited about that!”
After his stock car racing career, some may be surprised to learn that Petty is such an avid musician.
“That’s the fun part because, honestly, people look at you like, ‘Is this guy going to play guitar? Is this guy really going to try this?’ You just get pigeon-holed. They think all you can do is ride around in circles,” Petty laughed.
He explained that his interest in music began at an early age.
“I’ve been playing the guitar since I was 12, but I was a band geek,” Petty said. “I played the saxophone in the high school band, and then in the early 80s, I dabbled in music a little bit. I did some pretty interesting things, but I went back to driving a racecar, and then when that career was over, I started doing TV, and the music just came back naturally.”
Petty said that he started by playing songs that he had written for his children.
“They were kid songs mostly, and it just evolved, and I kept playing, singing and writing,” he said. “I met a gentleman named Dolph Ramseur, and he is the manager for the Avett Brothers, and he was a big race fan. I said, ‘Hey, listen to some of my stuff and tell me if I need to put it in a box and bury it in my backyard or if it would be okay to step out and play it a little bit,’ and he pointed me in a couple of different directions.”
Around a year and a half before COVID-19 hit, Petty started playing at various venues such as The Spinning Jenny in Greer, South Carolina, and the Ole Dallas Brewery near Gastonia, North Carolina.
“I played around and was just beginning to venture outside of my 25-minute comfort zone to head to Boone, North Carolina, when everything got canceled,” Petty said. “So, this is new to me. It’s a little bit new, a little bit exciting and a little bit terrifying all at the same time.”
When asked about what attendees can expect from his performance at the Jones House, Petty said, “You know, that may be the hardest question I’ve ever been asked in my life. There will be no magic tricks, just so they know that.”
When it comes to major musical influences, Petty grew up listening to a lot of artists.
“I grew up listening to country, and when I say country, I mean Conway [Twitty] and Loretta [Lynn], Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson in the late 60s, early 70s,” Petty described. “When I started playing guitar, my focus kind of became James Taylor, John Prine, Jason Isbell and singer-songwriter Carole King — just people who sat on a stool and played and told a story.”
Petty said the majority of his songs are ones that tell a story.
“I would probably say it’s not country, so it probably falls into that more all encompassing group — Americana,” he described. “But they are story songs. Some are funny, some are sad, some are biographical, some are not. Some of them have a little bit of truth to them, and some of them have a lot of lies. That’s the way it works.”
However, it’s all original music for the most part.
“I do one song sometimes, and it really depends on the crowd,” he said. “Rodney Crowell wrote a song called ‘Oh King Richard,’ and it’s a song about my dad, and if I’m around a race crowd, I’ll play that because if I don’t play it, they’ll keep screaming at me until I do play it because they’re a race crowd. If I knew any other racing songs, I would probably play them just for that kind of crowd, but that’s about the only one I know.”
Apart from his racing and TV careers, Petty is also a commentator, philanthropist and family man. He stays busy making many appearances doing speeches, autograph sessions and more.
“I drove a race car, I give speeches, I sign autographs,” Petty said. “I do everything, but … Well, I’ll take that back. I have walked a tightrope it feels like many times in my life. I have yet to be a clown in a circus, but I could try!”
He further said, “I’m that guy that when I’m 95 years old, and I’m sitting around somewhere and somebody says,’Man, I had a chance to ride a bull one time, and I didn’t,’ I’m going to raise my hand and say ‘Let me tell you about 2012. I rode a bull’ or ‘Man, I had a chance to learn to fly.’ Well, I did that too,” Petty said. “So, I’ve always been one of those guys that I rather try and fail than not try because even if you fail, you got a good story.”
Kyle Petty is also well known for the Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America, which is an annual motorcycle trek that engages celebrities, ride sponsors, motorcycle enthusiasts, fans and local communities to raise funds and awareness for Victory Junction, a camp for chronically ill children that is located in Randleman, North Carolina.
Petty and his family started the motorcycle ride, and they made it 25 years in 2019 before COVID-19 hit. They couldn’t hold the charity ride in 2020, so it was postponed. However, in the fall of 2021, Petty hosted a three-day “Charity Ride Revival” in Virginia.
“It was fantastic,” Petty said. “The ride has brought together such a cross section of people. We have people from Connecticut, people from L.A., people from Texas, people from Louisiana, and once a year, we all get together and ride motorcycles and raise money for Victory Junction. After 25 years of doing it, and a lot of these people have been on it 20 plus years, you become family. There’s a bond there. There’s a bond with a motorcycle, but there’s a bond with the road and to not be able to do that one year, and then to have the opportunity to come back and all get together and ride and talk — talk motorcycles and talk family and talk about what’s going on in the world. Even though it was a three-day event, it may have been one of the most special rides I’ve ever had because it brought us all back together like it was supposed to. It was a reunion.”
The larger Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America will be returning this spring after the brief COVID-19 hiatus. Riders will be leaving Phoenix, Arizona, at the end of April and will travel through Lake Havasu City, Flagstaff, up around the Grand Canyon to Bryce Canyon. Then they will ride over to Monument Valley in Utah and come back through Sedona, Arizona, before they end back in Phoenix.
“We’re just doing a little bit of a circle, and we had that planned even before Covid, but there are so many variants of Covid that keep popping up, we decided that we would stick with this ride and try to keep it contained to a certain area, and then in time, we can get back to Phoenix. We’re never more than 400 miles from Phoenix, so we can get back if anything drastic happens,” Petty explained.
He further said it feels amazing to be able to resume such an important event.
“My wife runs the charity ride with me, and she’s been hard at it, and she worked and worked,” Petty said. “The disappointment of not being able to do it is long forgotten when you see the joy in her eyes of being able to do it this year and knowing that the end result will send 200-300 kids to camp totally free of charge because that’s what Victory Junction is. We just make a donation, and kids go to camp, and that’s gratifying and fulfilling in itself just knowing that yeah, we get to ride motorcycles, but it’s for a bigger cause.”
Victory Junction gives young children with chronic and life-threatening illnesses a chance to enjoy the great outdoors in a fun and safe environment.
“Spina bifida, AIDS, hemophilia, sickle cell anemia, Crohn’s disease — These are illnesses that these kids will have their whole lives,” Petty said. “They deal with it when they are 3, and they will deal with it when they are 33, and they’ll deal with it when they are 93 because that’s just the world we live in right now. Hopefully someday, some of these illnesses will be cured. But until they are, our goal is to give these kids a medically safe camping experience and to give their parents a week of not worrying about their kids being at camp, but knowing that they are at a camp with a doctor that has nurses and has volunteers that care about their kids. Just to empower these kids to be kids, that’s what it’s all about.”
Victory Junction was built in 2004 after Kyle Petty’s oldest son, Adam Petty, died in a racing accident in New Hampshire in 2000 at the age of 19.
“We built this thing and had no clue if we had a chance or not,” Petty said. “But to date, through the camp and through the outreach program where we go to different hospitals all over the state of North Carolina to visit kids, we’ve touched over 90,000 kids and their families, so it’s been a phenomenally successful project. And all of the fans in NASCAR and all of the drivers in NASCAR, it wouldn’t happen without them. We lost a son and raised our hand and said we are going to do something and all of these people said, ‘We’ll help you.’ And that’s the biggest lesson for me is it’s hard to do things on your own, but when people believe in the project and believe in it, you can do anything.”
The Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America started in 1994 before Adam’s accident and Victory Junction.
“This is when you know there’s a God,” Petty explained. “We started the charity ride to stop at children’s hospitals all across the country and help parents pay their bills, and that’s what we would do. We went to UCLA Medical Center, UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland, Children’s Mercy Hospital Kansas and Brenner Children’s Hospital, and we would give a check to the hospital, and we would say this goes to help pay the bills to alleviate the financial burdens of parents who can’t, and that’s what it’s for. It’s not for anything else. It’s just for helping these families. So, when we started camp, it was just a natural extension to continue to help families and to continue to help kids. We just thought we would take the kids away from the hospitals and bring them to camp, and that’s what we do.”
“There’s a percentage of our kids that will come some years straight from the hospital, straight to camp, then go back to the hospital for their treatments, but we can do that at the camp,” Petty continued. “We can do chemo; we can do dialysis. We can do things like that. We have a facility. It’s really a hospital disguised as a camp. But just that week of fresh air.”
Petty said the entire experience is life changing for the children, their families and even himself.
“It was for me,” he said. “Watching these kids changed my life. After losing a son, watching all these kids come, it changes your perspective on life.”
Overall, Kyle Petty is thrilled to come to Boone and continue his mission of benefiting Victory Junction while sharing his passion for music.
“I’m truly excited,” he said. “I played at Song of the Mountains in Marion, Virginia, a few weeks ago, and that was the first time I had played since before Covid. I’ve had a couple more opportunities, so I’m practicing. Tell everybody I’m practicing, and I’ll do the best I can! But I am excited about coming. I’m really excited about coming up there!”
When it comes to Boone, Petty is no stranger.
“Are you kidding me? There should be a table at the Dan’l Boone Inn with my name on it. We used to race in Bristol, Tennessee, twice a year. I didn’t go to Bristol, Tennessee, without stopping at the DBI on the way over and stopping on the DBI on the way back,” he said.
Kyle Petty’s original show at the Jones House was scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on February 26. However, tickets have already sold out, so another showtime has been added at 4:00 p.m.
“If they add another show, the 7:30 show will get canceled because I’ll be hoarse and won’t be able to sing,” Petty laughed. “I joke, I joke, I joke.”
Brandon Holder from the Town of Boone agreed and said they probably will not add another show.
“That would be a magnificent feat of energy to be able to do three of these in a day, but we would probably just have him back here in the future sometime,” Holder said. “Kyle hasn’t played here that I’m aware of, but we’re familiar with his representative through another artist that we’ve had here.”
The anticipation for Kyle Petty’s upcoming performances have been very well received.
“Some people are super excited to have him here,” Holder said. “A lot of the people who have been buying tickets are not necessarily High Country people. I would say it’s been pretty split. This one will probably have more out of town people than normal, which is great for us bringing more people up to Boone and seeing shows at the Jones House. We have people from Bristol and Lexington and the Charlotte area who are coming up for it and will probably eat in restaurants and make a night of it. So, that’s been neat. We’ve had some of that in the past with some of our other acts, but I would say the majority of the people are people in Boone, Blowing Rock and Banner Elk who come to the concerts, so this one is a little different in that regard. It’s a different ballgame than when we advertise a bluegrass musician because of his popularity and his family’s connection to racing and that popularity in this area. A number of people who have bought tickets mentioned to me that they’ve known Kyle or Kyle’s family for a number of years.”
Kyle Petty will be performing in the intimate atmosphere of the Mazie Jones Gallery, where there is a limited number of only 40 seats available.
“We have an intimate space here,” Holder described. “That’s part of the reason for the two shows. We can only have 40 seats, so there’s no barricade between the artist and the audience. It’s like a living room or house show, just like a small unconventional venue space, but we’ve been doing these here for a number of years in the fall, winter and spring, and they’re super fun. It’s a listening room, too, where people aren’t talking, and there’s not a lot of space for that here in Boone, so we’re kind of hoping to fill that void.”
As for a meet and greet opportunity, Holder said they don’t have anything like that officially scheduled.
“We’ll have a little merchandise area set up in the front room,” he said. “I certainly assume that it would have every indication as of now that Kyle will be talking to audience members, and usually we’ll do just one big set here, but normally after the show, the artist will go into the front room where they are selling CDs and meet and talk to people for a while, but we might have to cut it off, so he can take a break before the second show.”
Matching Kyle Petty’s energy, the Town of Boone is also excited for the event.
“We had some of these concerts already scheduled, and then they have been canceled mostly due to Omicron messing up people’s travel plans,” Holder said. “Boone has an indoor mask mandate, and the Jones House is a Town of Boone building, so masks will be required of everyone here at the concerts, but we just want to be able to present live music again. We’re happy to be hosting him, and every interaction we have had with him has been great, and we’re just happy to have him up here.”
The Town of Boone is also looking forward to the other upcoming shows in the Indoor Concert Series.
“We have a bluegrass group, The Kody Norris Show, coming in March, and then an old-time early bluegrass, classic country group, Foghorn Stringband, that is based on the west coast who has been here before. They’re coming through our area, and we were able to get a date on their tour. That’s also in March, and we’re super excited for those as well,” Holder said. “We understand that things are not normal now, but we still want to present live music. There’s artists out there that still want to do it, and people who still want to see it.”
Indoor concerts at the Jones House are $20 per person, and advanced reservation and payment is required. To reserve your spot in advance, call 828-268-6280. Doors open 30 minutes prior to the show, and limited parking is available in the Jones House lot for concert attendees.