More tang for your buck

You expect to encounter a certain amount of furtive tooth-picking at a barbecue joint. If you’re lucky, you may stumble upon some sizzling flat-picking too.

Sure, you can always blend your meat-and-music fix at one of the regional summer festivals that smartly combine these two Southern staples, as does the Blue Ridge BBQ Festival in Tryon. But there’s something sweeter about innocently heading out for a bite to eat and getting an earful of unasked-for “Little Maggie.”

Of course, nothing’s guaranteed.

Until recently, The Cajun Pig — a massive, log-hewn restaurant in Chimney Rock — featured local bluegrass bands as a major part of its extensive menu. But live music has been indefinitely suspended there until the 5,000-square-foot restaurant can be expanded further, according to co-owner Deb Turner. Next summer, she promises.

And Little Pigs BBQ in Enka used to sponsor the Whitewater Bluegrass Company, a group of local bluegrass “boys” (most of them are closer to the half-century mark) featuring Marc Pruett, a nationally known banjo player. Pruett picked up a 1998 Grammy for his work with Ricky Skaggs — so what was he doing at Little Pigs? Rumor has it he simply dislikes touring, preferring to stay home with his family.

Sadly, the whole Enka franchise is now defunct. But don’t despair. After all, it doesn’t do to go sniffing around for homegrown bluegrass like a butcher after a prize Berkshire. Better if it finds you.

Keeping a little off the beaten path helps. At Carolina Smokehouse, a non-chain barbecue restaurant in the relatively hard-to-get-to mountain town of Cashiers, I once caught an unexpectedly compelling family act — two young sisters and their cousin clogging their hearts out while the house band, Carolina Bluegrass from Pickens, S.C., took a break.

Carolina Bluegrass will again be the main attraction at Carolina Smokehouse this summer (starting in early June), playing most nights on the band’s outdoor stage.

Granted, there’s no getting around the fact that Cashiers (due to its nearness to Atlanta) exists primarily as a tourist town. Still, the restaurant didn’t need the post-O Brother buzz to start serving up free bluegrass along with its shredded-pork plates.

Quizzed about the upcoming live-music schedule there, a waitress dryly informed me: “Carolina Bluegrass has been playing here for 15 years.”

— Melanie McGee

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