Mountain Harmony: The Musical History of Unicoi County

The Appalachian Mountains have been a part of our country’s musical tradition since before we were a nation. The impact our beloved region has had on so many musicians and new musical genres cannot be overstated. If The Sound of Music was “americanized,” I’m pretty sure Maria would be twirling around on Beauty Spot proclaiming that these hills are alive with the sound of music!

The Sacred Sounds of History

The first recorded people to call the Appalachian Mountains home were the powerful Cherokee Indians. Music has long been a sacred part of their culture and tradition, and our mountain home has always been a key source of stories and inspiration. The Cherokee tribes who called this area home used a variety of instruments, including flutes, drums, and rattles, and much of their history, legends, and traditions have been preserved through song.

When Europeans arrived in the area, they introduced a new instrument of great interest to the tribes in the region—the fiddle. Now fiddle music is an integral part of many of the songs and musical work that one might enjoy from the Cherokee tribe.

As more immigrants moved into the area, they brought with them the musical traditions of their homelands in England, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, and more. All these traditions began to intermingle, creating a new sound that gained popularity across the country—bluegrass. This new music has had an impact on nearly every other modern musical genre in our nation and around the world. Many of those first pioneers who helped create the sound were natives of our region, and have gone on to inspire many new artists. Just minutes away from Unicoi County, at the Reece Museum on East Tennessee State University’s Johnson City campus, visitors can browse much of the music history and traditions that came out of this area. Here you’ll find many artifacts, original recordings, and stories about the region on display for interested music historians.

Festivals

Unicoi County hosts festivals throughout the year, and music is always a big part of these events and celebrations. Our community is just incapable of coming together with our friends and family without music becoming a central part of our experience. Here are just a few examples of the local events you can come to and join in the song!

Fiddlers & Fiddleheads Festival

When: April, yearly (was not held in 2020)
Where: Farmhouse Gallery and Gardens, Unicoi, TN

The Fiddler’s & Fiddleheads Festival is a one day festival that celebrates all the history and traditions of bluegrass music in Unicoi County. It’s free to attend and offers a ton of live music, jam sessions, cultural craft fair, and much more. This is a great event to add to your calendar and experience with friends and family. To learn more, visit the Unicoi website.

Unicoi County Apple Festival

When: October, yearly
Where: Erwin, TN

This fall festival attracts over 100,000 attendees to the region every year, and is growing all the time. Hundreds of arts and crafts vendors set up booths in downtown Erwin where they’re surrounded by amazing food courts and live music stages. This is also the time of year when our local foliage is usually in full color, so make sure to plan time to drive and hike our mountains when you come! The music here is made up of both local and national artists who love the mountains and want to come be part of a musical celebration of our country’s frontier spirit.

East Tennessee Guitar & Music Show

When: June, yearly (was not held in 2020)
Where: Unicoi County High School

Each year, local music authority Campbell’s Morrell Music hosts a two-day event that provides musicians and artists an opportunity to come see what’s new in musical instruments and equipment. The show gives vendors and attendees the opportunity to demo great stringed instruments and gear to help find the sound they are looking for. The show also hosts local and national musicians in a sponsored concert on the second night. If you are a musician or just a musical history enthusiast, this is a great place to collaborate and share stories with other like-minded people.

The Nolichucky Opry

When: Every Friday Night in July and August
Where: The Gathering Place, Downtown Erwin, TN

In summertime, you can hear the sounds of authentic bluegrass music floating through the air in downtown Erwin, TN.  This free concert is hosted for locals and visitors to celebrate the mountain music heritage of the region.  Bring your folding chairs and enjoy the music of local artists like; The Spivey Mountain Boys, Smokey Mountain Slideshow, The John Pafford Band, 700 South, and many more.  It’s a great time of food and fellowship for the whole family.

If you have music in your heart and want to come to one of the epicenters of so much of our modern music, you need to add Unicoi County to your bucket list. It’s a part of everything we do here, and you will find our community more than generous in sharing our traditions and legends with visitors. We look forward to having you come! Just bring your instruments and let’s add your voice to the mountain harmony.

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