“They picked the best kind of music,” says John Cockman, guitarist for the gospel group The Cockman Family. “It just fits.”
On June 15, Chimney Rock Park will host the first of two outdoor concerts, collectively titled Music on the Mountain, as part of its 100th-anniversary celebration. Staged on top of the mountain (at the base of Chimney Rock), the shows will provide concertgoers views of Hickory Nut Gorge and Lake Lure. Cockman says playing the Park show makes sense for a few reasons.
First, there’s the music.
“This is where the music came from. It spread from the mountain areas,” he says. Then there’s his family’s love of the park. “When the kids were little,” he says, “it was one of our favorite places to go.”
When John Cockman mentions “the kids,” he’s also talking about his five bandmates — fours sons and a daughter. And never mind that they’re no longer kids (their ages range between 21 and 29 years old) — when Cockman speaks of them, fatherly pride shows through. He points out that, while they’ve been putting out albums (their latest, When You Touched Me [Queen City Records], is their 12th), and playing concerts and festivals (over 130 last year), all of the kids have balanced college and jobs with the music — not to mention that daughter and lead vocalist Caroline just had a baby.
“Somehow or another, we do it,” Cockman says.
The Cockman Family — John Sr., John Jr., Billy, David, Ben and Caroline — have become a favorite at festivals like Fiddler’s Grove in Union Grove, from which they just returned.
For John Cockman, who met his wife when she was a pianist in his church, gospel has always been a part of life. He grew up listening to it and because of his love for singing and playing the guitar, his children have grown to love it too. On the first albums, Cockman says, David and Ben were too young to play, though they are named in the credits.
For their first 10 years as a band, the Cockmans stuck to traditional gospel tunes. But by the time the children began writing songs, they had developed their own style: All but two of the songs on When You Touched Me are Cockman Family originals. “[Gospel] is ingrained in their style,” Cockman says. “There’s some meat [to] those songs. They touch the heart.”
Their music has been convincing listeners, too. The Cockman Family has been nominated for awards by the Country Gospel Music Association, including Bluegrass Artists and Band of the Year. They are frequent performers at Dollywood and Opryland.
Despite those well-known venues, Cockman is excited about the unique gig in the shadow of Chimney Rock.
“Any time you are playing traditional mountain-style instruments, it’s going to blend into that setting,” he says.