Editor’s note: A prior version of this story stated that Music on the Mountaintop had record-breaking attendance this year. Freelance reporter Megan Northcote alerted High Country Press this morning that the attendance figures she received were inaccurate. The story has been corrected to reflect this.
By Megan Northcote
Aug. 27, 2012. Festival goers didn’t have to worry about drug arrests last weekend at the fifth annual Music on the Mountaintop, held for the second year at Grandfather Mountain Campgrounds in Foscoe.
In light of the 160 drug arrests at the Gnarnia Music Festival on Beech Mountain a couple weeks ago, local law enforcement turned out to ensure festival goers could enjoy pure, clean entertainment.
“This is a great family friendly atmosphere, it’s not what happened at Beech Mountain a couple weeks ago, it’s totally opposite,” Billy Herring, Music on the Mountaintop event liaison said. “We’re a community oriented event that people want to plan vacations.”
This year, despite Friday afternoon thunderstorms, an estimated 3,000 people jammed out at the first ever three-day music event from Friday, Aug. 24 to Sunday, Aug. 26, Chad Shearer, public relations coordinator for the event said. Surprisingly, last year, the festival lasted only two days, attracting about 6,000 fans.
Friday and Saturday night evening performances also made their debut at the festival this year, featuring festival hosts Railroad Earth, one of the nation’s biggest bluegrass and rock bands. On Sunday afternoon, in honor of Woodie Guthrie’s 100th birthday, Railroad Earth led the Super Jam closing performance along with Grammy award winning bluegrass king Sam Bush, and acoustic flat-picking guitarist Larry Keel.
“We have some of the largest, most accomplished artists in the world that love to keep coming back. They call us wanting to come back,” Herring said. “That’s a lot to be said because there’s a glut of festivals. I think they see that we work hard from the ground up. We’re not a corporate machine. We’re true to ourselves.”
Return festival goers agree the festival location, nestled in a valley surrounded by Grandfather Mountain, provides a scenic, more intimate atmosphere than bigger festivals in the area, such as Bonnaroo, Merle Fest, and Floyd Fest.
The festival keeps getting bigger, this year including VIP, Summit VIP and all-inclusive ticket options, music workshops, daily yoga classes, cabin rental options, and new onsite and offsite parking and shuttle options.
Yet, festival organizers know when to scale back. Instead of three main performance stages, this year only featured one, Herring said, citing cost of production and management as reasons for the downsize.
One stage at the High Country Fairgrounds in Boone is exactly how this festival began in 2008 when Jimmy Hunt, a former entrepreneurial student at Appalachian State University, recognized the need for a centralized musical event in Boone.
The first year was more of a local event, featuring local acoustic acts, but has quickly expanded to more eclectic acts such as the Holy Ghost Tent Revival and Dirty Dozen Brass band.
“In five years, I’ve seen it grow from a great local event to something that’s nationally recognized,” Herring said. “People think if you’re going to a festival in the mountains, it’s all going to be bluegrass music. I think it’s important to keep reaching out to new artists, and give young artists a chance to showcase some of their talents.”
One of these bands, first appearing at the festival this year is Monroeville, an all male, six member progressive bluegrass and acoustic country band, who burst onto the music scene in Aug. 2010.
When invited to open for this year’s Saturday festival, lead vocalist and mandolin player Matthew Munsey eagerly jumped at the opportunity the band to share their sound, which he described as “newgrass,” with a bigger audience.
“We come from a bluegrass background,” Munsey said. “Bluegrass has kind of had its share of closed minded traditionalists. And there’s nothing wrong with that because we appreciate and play that as well. But we also like to stretch beyond that. It’s nice to be able to experiment a little bit. People here [at Music on the Mountaintop] are very open for that, especially the younger audiences.
Saturday morning’s performance was “the best ever” for Monroeville, mainly because of the audience’s energy, Munsey said. The band was also highly impressed with their sound crew at the festival, which allowed them, for the first time, to use pick-ups in their performance to amplify their sound.
Monroeville also performed in the Superjam Sunday afternoon, entertaining the crowd by using the dobro guitar to imitate car noises.
By this November, Monroeville will release their first full-length album featuring 13 original songs written by the band.
But Music on the Mountaintop is not all about the music. As Hunt said, it’s just as much about supporting the community.
Appalachian Voices, a nonprofit in Boone committed to fighting mountaintop removal was selected the lucky recipient of a portion of the proceeds from the festival.
Keeping in line with the festival’s sustainability initiative, the Sustainable Energy Society, known better as the ASU Solar Club, returned as a vendor for the third year to dispose of all festival trash. For next year’s festival, the society aims to provide all festival vendors with their own recycling containers and hopefully harness solar panels to power the main music performance stage.
Photos by Megan Northcote
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