By Tzar Wilkerson
Mountain Home Music was created by Joe Shannon in 1994 as a way to celebrate the talents of the many skilled musicians he’d come into contact with over the years and to expose audiences to Appalachian music and culture. Over the course of its 26 year history, the organization has gone through several name changes, produced over 250 concerts, hosted over 800 Appalachian performers and, in 2002, was awarded non-profit status.
Mountain Home Music operated under the leadership of founder Joe Shannon until his cancer diagnosis in 2012. “When Joe Shannon found out his cancer was terminal, he asked the board if they would keep MHM going, and they all agreed to do it,” said MHM’s current director, Rodney Sutton.
Since his passing in 2014, Mountain Home Music has continued to uphold Joe’s intentions for the organization. According to Sutton, “In the description of his goal for MHM was to present artists to an attentive, listening and paying audience. He created kind of a coffeehouse atmosphere where people would be listening instead of talking, so that’s a big emphasis that we place on the concerts – putting it in more of a formal setting. Because some of these bands that we’re asking people to pay $20 to see, you may see the same bands at some eating establishment, but you can’t really hear how talented their are, their craftsmanship with their songwriting or their instrumentation because it’s in a situation where people aren’t listening. That’s something Joe always wanted to do was to elevate the status of traditional musicians in the area. I feel like we’ve done a pretty good job of keeping that going over the years.”
If you have an interest in appreciating the skilled musicians of Appalachia in a listener-friendly environment, the 4th of July show at the Blowing Rock School Auditorium will feature the Mountain Home Bluegreass Boys and the King Street Brass Band. The affectionately named Grass and Brass show is a July 4th tradition at JSMHM. Joe Shannon once described the combination’s unique appeal, “When they team up, it’s magic, kind of like Dixieland, but it’s Bluegrass Dixieland with an Appalachian heart.”
Rodney Sutton explained how MHM receives funding and support for its many performances: “You can become a sponsor or a member. Our memberships offer an invitation to our Members and Musicians Meet and Mingle picnic that we hold each year in August – invitation only, just to members. We have probably 600-700 people on our mailing list, about 70-80 members and somewhere around 20-25 sponsors. The real reason MHM has survived is because of its sponsorships. Individuals or businesses will sponsor 5 concerts or a whole season. A lot of them are smaller (sponsorships), but it all adds up. We get some support from the North Carolina Arts Council’s Grassroots Arts Program Grants. The Boone Tourism Development Authority contributes a small grant every year. We reach out to the non-profit organizations that offer some support. A combination of all these things keeps us afloat. Our ticket sales are a very fluid (income). We’ll have anywhere from 60-70 people – every once and a while, we’ll have a couple hundred people at our concerts.”
Another more stable source of income for the MHM is in their matinee performances. Sutton explained the success of the matinees, “One of the successful programs we put on is to offer some matinees. This is the fourth year we’ve offered matinees. All of them are in Boone at the Harvest House. I came up with this concept of making them non-ticketed, pay as you exit concerts. Basically, anybody can come and we hope people will enjoy the show enough that they’ll give the suggested $10 donation. It’s been very successful. July 11th is our next matinee. Sutton, a renowned flatfooting master, will be performing at the July 11 matinee, along with seventh-generation ballad singer, storyteller and claw-hammer banjo player Sheila Kay Adams, and the talented old-time banjo player Travis Stuart.
Under the guidance of Joe Shannon’s desire to bring Appalachia’s greatest performers and audiences together, MHM’s future seems bright. “This is the 26th season. No end date in sight,” said Sutton.