Jackson County and Appalachian Fire

        Y’all, I played all weekend.  I’ll resume our regularly scheduled programming and the push pin mandolin tour with my next post. 

        Years ago when my son went to look at colleges, we took a trip to Cullowhee, N.C., the home of Western Carolina University.   He took one look and said, “Dad, this is where I want to go.  It’s like Harvey County with mountains.”

        Not only did he go to school there, but after he got his degree he settled in the area.  I have to agree with him; it is very pretty country.

        Every so often he’ll hear about an event and call.  “Dad, you need to come to Western this weekend.  They’re having  a bluegrass festival out at the Jackson County Recreation Park.”

        “Who all’s playing?”

        “Shilo.  Rumor has it Opie Poindexter is their mandolin player today.”

        “Wow.  I need to get there.  I haven’t seen Opie in years.  (Opie is a former Galax International Fiddler’s Convention mandolin champion.)  “Anyone else?”

        “Appalachian Fire.”

        “Cliff Searcy’s outfit?”


        I cupped the phone in my hand.  “Marfar!  You wanna go visit Tommy?”


        So off we went.

        Jackson Rec Park is in a valley nestled right in between a couple mountain ranges.  It was just the kind of festival I dig.  There was a big green lush lawn and the mountains cupped around the field like a natural amphitheatre.  They had a politically correct kid’s playground; the kind where all the edges are plastic and rubber to reduce the risk of head injuries.  (Docs always scout out a new place for such things.)  Some fellow walked a couple of beautiful liver and white Springer Spaniels who would become your life-long friend for a pat on the head.  

        The sun beat down at first, but there were a few tents for shade.  As soon as the sun dipped near the western shoulder of the mountain ridge it cooled down.  A breeze rustled through the stage mics; it sounds like the rumble of thunder for those of y’all not used to being around sound equipment.  Don’t forget to try the Cherokee Indian fry bread.  Indie woulda loved that.  Great stuff.

        I got out my mandolin.  A young middle aged man approached the stage.  He was a burly sort with a beard flecked with gray, a firm handshake and a ready smile.  He walked with the spring of a fellow who was an althlete.  He stuck out his hand, and we shook.

        “Nice mandolin,” he said.   “Looks like a Montana era Gibson.”  I lowered my sunglasses and he looked in my eyes.   “Son of a gun.  Tommy Bibey, it is you.”

        I grinned.  “Cliff Searcy, I presume?”

        “Yes sir.”

        “So pleased to meet you.”

        We chatted for a moment, but Appalachian Fire was up next, so I let them get to their warm-up.  They were a fun band.  It was all Fedora hats and baseball caps, New York State fiddling, and wild Hawaiian shirts.  They had a fine girl singer, Ranee Stepp, and I loved her version of ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘Blue Moon of Kentucky.’  When  bunch of middle aged guys from across the demographic board can make such fine music with a young lady who is barely more than a kid, I know this kind of music will not be lost.  I like to see the young people in it.  Music is the  tie that binds.

        All in all it was a fine festival.  Opie is a great mando player, and I always learn from him.  FlintHill was there, and Michael Burgess is one of my favorite songwriters.  He has placed tunes with bands like Lonesome River and the Darin and Brooke Aldridge Quintet.  Their banjo man is one of the best you’ll hear, and the guitar man is a pretty dang hot picker too.

        For me, bluegrass music is all about the people.  A genuine tough guy ex-football coach with a soft spot for English Lit, kids, and folks in Nursing homes is the kind of human being I continue to find in my bluegrass journey.  We plan to do a few charity gigs together.  Someday I’ll visit his class and tell ’em when I was a boy we always paid mind to Coach, and they better too, or some day they’d regret it.  I don’t think I’ve seen the last of Cliff Searcy and Appalachian Fire too, ’cause they are true bluegrass.

Dr. B

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10 Comments on “Jackson County and Appalachian Fire”

  1. mandogrin Says:

    Dr. B

    You are so right about the folks you meet around this wonderful music. Talent galore and folks who are so genuine about the music they play. So many are like you with pressure-filled day jobs. Just the thought of escaping for a few hours surrounded by beautiful landscape and people like those that stand around the church parking lot til it’s plumb empty…can make a feller drive several miles. Love to hear you weigh in sometime on how supporting live music is a better investment of a person’s time than veging around the house on weekends…

    I’m putting Shilo, FlintHill, and Appalachian Fire on my “must see” list … who knows, I might run into a country doctor who can wear out a Gibson mandolin.

    You know what they say about Fact and Fiction.

    • drtombibey Says:


      I agree with you on every count. The fact about the bluegrass crowd is you couldn’t make it up; they really are those kind of folks.

      How in the world anyone could stay home and watch T.V. re-runs when a beautiful place like the Jackson Rec Park with all that great music played by such fine people awaits just miles away is beyond me.

      I feel sorry for them and hope they don’t go all the way to the end and miss out on it.

      Dr. B

  2. Billy Says:

    Sometimes I wish you would post a photo of the people you describe. In part to prove to me that were there. But then I change my mind. The visions you put in my mind dance. A photo would squelch my dreams.

    • drtombibey Says:


      I have taken my camera to every show I’ve ever gone to.

      The same thing hapens every time. I get so busy having fun I forget to take any photos. When I get home I always tell my wife, “one of these days I’m gonna take some pictures.”

      At this one I forgot to get my camera out of the car, but it sure was a large time.

      Dr. B

  3. Dr B.
    I live in a city with almost 2 million other souls, yet festivals like yours are few and far between. I make a point of going to music festivals, especially the annual multicultural festival where I get to hear music from all over this wonderful world. If I ever come to the south I’ll definitely go to a blue grass festival.

    • drtombibey Says:

      Ms. Sharon,

      I think some of this comes from the fact in the past rural folks had to come up with their own entertainment.

      The two big ones in the U.S. are Merlefest here in N.C. and Telluride in Colorado, but there are scores of smaller ones I love just as much.

      If you guys come over you’d want to time it around some of the festivals and we’d serve as your guide. (we have for others before) Also Ted Lehmann on my blogroll lists extensive reviews of a variety of festivals.

      They are a bunch of fun, and a way of life for my family.

      Dr. B

  4. lil red haired girl Says:

    Doc. I am a “Bibey Believer”. I love how, even though it is a part of the Carolina skyline, the descriptions so easily written of from your recollection give this all a Cold Mountain kind of feeling. Someone’s previous comment said they almost wish you’d post the people described, but I agree. It, and they are better left to the imagination. Knowing some of the parties and the areas you speak of is always warming, but Your writing makes me feel as if I were right there in the midst of it all. Thank you for your invitations to join you on your journey as it continues.
    In solemn Admiration …

    • drtombibey Says:

      Lil red haired girl,

      All my Harvey County bluegrass friends live a life of grace and dignity. It is a ‘Lake Woebegone’ kind of place.

      I am proud to count you as one of my friends. I wish the world at large could live that way. Maybe we’ll not see it till eternity, but with our music we can all hold to a dream that everyone might get there some day.

      Dr. B

  5. As always, Dr. B, I love reading about your festival shenanigans. You’ve got one big heart, and it’s always fun to see you bring in a new person to your circle of friends and bluegrass comrades. Sounds like the perfect evening – good food, bit of a breeze, music to dance to and friends to dance with and listen to.

    • drtombibey Says:


      You have me figured out about right. I have always said I have the brain of a grown up Doctor, but the heart of an overgrown child.

      Stay tuned for a couple posts on the proposed Northeast tour. I cover some about Chicago in the second one.

      Dr. B

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