Traditional Music Festivals, Conventions and Concerts
North Carolina and southern Virginia have long been home to a variety of traditional music venues and groups. Fiddler’s conventions – competitions where musicians play and compete for awards in categories spanning a variety of traditional instruments, from the fiddle and banjo to the autoharp and hammer dulcimer – and bluegrass festivals, are a great way to see the region’s rich musical heritage on display. Often, the ticket prices won’t break your budget.
Here are 10 conventions, festivals and concert halls in the region that you may want to visit throughout 2019. For a comprehensive guide of traditional music events in the North Carolina mountains and foothills, see: blueridgemusicnc.com/find-music/all-events.
April 25 – 28
Wilkes County Community College, Wilkesboro, N.C.
Tickets $60 – $270
MerleFest, founded in 1988 in memory of Doc Watson’s son Eddy Merle Watson, is one of the best and largest music festivals in the United States, often exceeding 75,000 attendees. Spread across 13 stages, the “traditional plus” festival offers a mix of traditional and contemporary roots music. For more information, see: merlefest.org.
Old Fiddlers’ Convention
Aug. 5 – 10
Tickets $7 – $45 at the gate
This will be the 84th annual Old Fiddlers’ Convention. Started in 1935, it is the world’s oldest and largest fiddler convention. Over the six-day event, there are 23 different competitions that include old time fiddle, dobro, mandolin, blue grass fiddle, dulcimer, blue grass banjo, clawhammer banjo, autoharp, guitar, folk song, blue grass bands and many more. For more information, see: oldfiddlersconvention.com/info.htm.
Blue Ridge Music Center
13 concerts on Saturdays June 1-Aug. 31
Galax, Va. Milepost 213 on Blue Ridge Parkway Various ticket prices
Open daily May 24-Oct. 28, the Blue Ridge Music Center was established in 1997 to preserve and promote the historic music of Virginia and the Blue Ridge. The center, operated through a joint partnership between the National Park Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior, includes an outdoor amphitheater, an indoor interpretive center and The Roots of American Music Museum. On Saturdays from June 1-Aug. 31 there are concerts in the amphitheater at 7 p.m. For more information, see: blueridgemusiccenter.org/index.htm.
Surry Old Time Fiddlers Convention
April 5 – 6
Surry Community College, Dobson, N.C.
This annual event, a two-day celebration, features Surry County’s rich history of old time music. The Friday night square dance will feature Mountain Park Old Time Band and White Top Mountain Band. Also during the weekend there are individual instrument, dance, folk song and band contests. Saturday will also have fiddle, banjo and guitar workshops. For more information, see:
96th Ole Time Fiddler’s & Bluegrass Festival
May 24 – 26
Union Grove, N.C.
Tickets $5 – $20
This fiddler festival features a long tradition of preserving old time and bluegrass music – and passing that legacy onto future generations. The three-day program features instrument workshops for bluegrass fiddle, old time fiddle, bluegrass banjo, mandolin, guitar, bass fiddle and dulcimer. There are individual instrument competitions and band competitions for juniors and seniors. For more information, see fiddlersgrove.com.
48th LEAF Festival
May 9 – 12
Black Mountain, N.C.
Tickets $42 – $206
The LEAF Festival is the LEAF organization’s founding event. Multiple generations gather at Lake Eden each year for a dynamic experience of music, art and culture from around the globe. This year – called “Breaking Ground” – there will be 400+ performing artists representing nine different countries. All proceeds support cultural arts education programs in the region and globally.
For more information, see: theleaf.org/the-festival.
Blue Ridge & Beyond
March 21 – Dec. 14
Historic Earle Theatre in Mount Airy, N.C.
Various ticket prices
A production of the Surry Arts Council, these concerts feature multiple award winners. Groups this year include the Gibson Brothers, Whitetop Mountain Band, Darrell Harwood and more. For more information, see: surryarts.org/shows/blueridgebeyond.html.
Alleghany County Fiddler’s Convention
July 19 – 20
Each year the Alleghany County Fiddler’s Convention draws between 40 and 60 competitive bands and more than 200 individual contestants. There are 23 different competition categories ranging from autoharp, harmonica, dulcimer and more. For more information, see: alleghanyfiddlersconvention.com/index.html.
N.C. State Bluegrass Festival
Aug. 15 – 17
Tickets $40 – $95
This is the 45th annual N.C. State Bluegrass Festival at the Tom Johnson Camping Center. The performances each day run from noon to 10 p.m. For more information, see: adamsbluegrass.com/festivals-1/2017/8/17/43rd-annual-north-carolina-state-bluegrass-festival.
World of Bluegrass
Sept. 24 – 28
Ticket prices to be announced
With more than 100 artists on eight stages in downtown Raleigh, Wide Open Bluegrass features Grammy Award winners, top emerging acts and traditional blue grass groups. And the Bluegrass Ramble features over 200 performances, introducing new talent and material. For more information, see: worldofbluegrass.org.