By Jesse Wood
Jan. 23, 2014. The Mountain Home Music board met on Wednesday to discuss the future of the nonprofit music series that held its first concert 20 years ago at Our Daily Bread in downtown Boone to a small, yet enthusiastic crowd.
With the blessing of MHM founder Joe Shannon, who was diagnosed with cancer near the end of 2012, the board pledged to carry on what will be Shannon’s legacy by finding someone to manage the music series for hopefully another 20 years.
“We all felt like Mountain Home Music was Joe Shannon. There was no question about that,” MHM Chair Ada Webster said on Thursday. “We all had the feeling that we wanted it to continue, but we would only do that with Joe’s blessing.”
In December 2012, Shannon found out he had cancer. While initial chemo treatments caused the cancer to stop spreading for about six months, subsequent treatments haven’t been as effective, and he’s fading fast.
“The tumors are growing, and it looks like I am going to have to give up Mountain Home Music,” Shannon said on Thursday. “I am going to return to my family in Florida within two or three weeks.”
Shannon grew up in Jacksonville, Fla., and in 1977, he moved to Boone to teach in the public school system. By the time he arrived to the High Country, Shannon immediately sought out those who shared his affection for traditional music.
As would become the impetus for starting Mountain Home Music, Shannon realized that the High Country had so many talented, yet relatively unknown musicians without a venue to showcase their music – outside of a festival here and there, a street corner or a restaurant with a tip jar.
“When I started Mountain Home Music our purpose was to honor the music and musicians of the area,” Shannon said.
In the beginning, Shannon noted that it was difficult to find an audience, the people who would take the time and spend their hard-earned money to see a local act that – although very talented – was unknown to the general public.
“Crossing that threshold was hard to do, but I knew most of the local musicians back in 1994 and I knew how good they were … really world-class [musicians],” Shannon said.
(For example, the Mountain Home Music house band, the Mountain Home Bluegrass Boys, which along with Shannon, includes two-time national banjo champion and MerleFest Guitar Champion Steve Lewis and two-time national studio musician of the year David Johnson – not mention master musicians Scott Freeman and Josh Scott. And that’s the house band!)
Shannon believed if people just heard the musicians play, the music would sell itself. And it did. Over time, Mountain Home Music built a loyal following and eventually expanded the series to include a sprinkling of touring musicians throughout the state. An 2008 article in High Country Magazine noted that average attendance was about 200 people and some concerts would draw 300 to 400 people.
Looking forward, Shannon said he hopes the series stays “true to the mission” of honoring Appalachian culture and the music and musicians that it breeds.
“I just want it to stay true to the mission and keep it a friendly place where people can feel like, can come and have a good night of entertainment and also feel like they are a part of the experience,” Shannon said. “That’s something I’ve tried to do in my 20 years of Mountain Home Music.”
Webster, who along with being a board member for a number years, has known Joe since the beginning of Mountain Home Music. She described Shannon as someone who is soft-spoken, as humble as they come and, of course, “absolutely passionate” about Mountain Home Music.
Shannon has also been described as a quiet leader, one who is also passionate about education. Along with teaching in public schools, he was an educator at Appalachian State University. During his time at Appalachian State, he encountered a young lady who was going through a very difficult time in her life. She eventually graduated and moved on, but Shannon inspired her so that 20 years ago – unbeknownst to Shannon – she cross-stitched a poem that he wrote called the “Garden of Knowledge.”
During the last Mountain Home Music concert of 2013, Shannon saw the embroidered poem for the first time. It was also at that December concert that Shannon told the public of his health condition. It was shocking and saddening for all.
“We do want to continue Mountain Home Music. That’s his wish,” Webster said. “So we really want to do a good job for Joe.”