I moved to North Carolina for the music, no lie. More specifically as a working musician, I thought I was moving to Asheville for the music. Instead, I moved to Asheboro. There is a big difference between Asheville and Asheboro. No worries, I figured I’d stay in the Piedmont long enough to find my way around and then head west towards the “real” music of the mountains. Imagine my surprise within the first few weeks local historian Mac Whatley pointed out Charlie Poole’s childhood home in Randolph County and we had to cross the bridge in Randleman, NC, that overlooked Omie Wise’s murder site to get there…
It was these moments that made me realize the Piedmont was just as rich in music history and culture as the rest of North Carolina, if not more. As a music instructor, I’m constantly shocked to hear new stories about local musicians. I drive to work at GTCC on Penny Road, named after George T. Penny, a landlord disliked enough to have songs written about him that later inspired Bob Dylan. Tal Farlow, a world renowned jazz guitar player and sign painter was a Greensboro resident that still has connections to the area. Of course we also get to lay some claim to Emmylou Harris who used to play in coffee shops on Tate Street during her years at UNCG. These stories go on and on.
The history of Piedmont folk music is rich, but the present and future are just as exciting. While not on the playlist, consider Mariachi Mexico 2000, a Greensboro based mariachi band that intersperses bluegrass standards with mariachi. Immigration patterns bring us rapidly growing LatinX, Indian and Hmong communities. The rap scene in the Piedmont is exciting, vibrant and growing as well. While this playlist may seem to stray from the idea of “folk” I would make the argument that there’s nothing more “folk” than paying attention to the music happening in the Piedmont.
I think I abandoned the idea of leaving the Piedmont when the National Folk Festival came to Greensboro. I think I realized at that point that musically, it was going to be impossible to beat the variety and quality of music I was finding locally. Hopefully, this playlist represents some of that variety and quality you’ll find. Almost all of the selections can be traced to within an hour of the Piedmont, and I highly suggest a little exploring on your own if you get a chance. As I tell students, you may not like all of the selections but hopefully you’ll appreciate them.
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