For the first time in four years, the mountain music of Shindig on the Green moves back to its original home, in the shadows of the county building and City Hall. Now called Pack Square Park, it's always been home to the beloved summer music series. Fans and musicians alike are happy to be back to the spot they say is best.
"I've got one word to say about the new location. Shindig. We'll be back," says bass player Boyd Black, the most senior member of the Stoney Creek Boys Band, the host band. You can count on them being at every Shindig. The original crew, formed 38 years ago, includes guitarist Leonard Hollifield, a prominent Nashville studio musician and former member of the gospel Kingsmen, and banjo player George Banks. Arvil Freeman, master and teacher of mountain fiddling, is the new addition, having joined the band about a dozen years ago.
Along with the Stoney Creek Boys, Shindig features other staples of Appalachian culture: clogging and mountain dancers, bluegrass and old-time string bands, singers and storytellers.
The Bascom Lamar Lunsford stage, which faces west and is right in front of City Hall and the Buncombe County building, hosts the main entertainment.
"There's just a feeling in this new location that is hard to describe," says Shindig director Brooke Buckner. "The beauty is … at times it just has this candlelight feel and glow that seems to just make everyone who is there feel good."
Here you'll find impromptu circles of folks that might include generations of musicians from Madison or Haywood County who only come to Asheville for Shindig, playing next to a newcomer who moved here because they love the old-time music. Dancers twirl on the edge, and listeners stand not too far back, leaning in just enough to feel like they are hearing in surround sound.
"There are issues to be worked out this first year at the new venue," says Bob Gregory, a banjo player and current member of the Folk Heritage Committee, the organizer of Shindig. Gregory concentrates on the jam sessions that attract musicians who are looking for their own playing time, enjoying their own kind of mountain heritage celebration.
"We had a problem with the jams at our temporary location (at Martin Luther King Park)," said Gregory. "The jam sessions were out in the softball field, and you couldn't jam as easily because the sound bounced everywhere. We're hoping the new venue will make the jam sessions more isolated again." Gregory explained that jam musicians are not listening to the group on stage. "We all want to do our own thing in our own little circles. The stage is for those who like to sit out front and watch. The jams are for those who like to join in somewhere."
Buckner believes the "jam folks" will be satisfied. "The jam sessions will be right behind the stage, also in front of the city and county buildings. They'll also have huge trees. For them, it's going to be almost like before, except better. They'll have a park that is far prettier to look out over."
Shindig attendees are also excited about Shindig's 44th year and new spot. People like 17-year-old Clarissa Roberts, who is a third-generation volunteer at the event. She began when she was around 5 or 6. "My Uncle Dick (Roberts) was from Weaverville, born and raised. He didn't play any instruments. He first started volunteering backstage and working with the set up. He always like doing the behind the scenes work."
Her mother, Kathy Roberts, began helping with Shindig merchandising and sales after her stint with the North Buncombe High School Clogging Team, and Clarissa didn't really have much choice. She grew up around Shindig, and has finally joined the musical ranks. In fact, she is currently taking fiddle lessons from Stoney Creek Boy Arvil Freeman.
"He (Arvil) teaches to play by ear, which is really cool, but sometimes challenging. He made me play on stage last year, the first time I played on stage at Shindig. He made sure that we practiced together the day before and he was the first person I saw when I came off, with words of encouragement. He is an awesome teacher."
It sounds like the park is going to be the big hit for Shindig's homecoming as Buckner and other Folk Heritage committee members expect.
[Tracy D. Hyorth is a freelance writer and can be reached at email@example.com.]
who: Long-standing house band The Stoney Creek Boys, bluegrass and old-time String Bands, Big Circle Mountain Dancers, Clog Dancers, Smooth Dancers, Ballad Singers, Storytellers
what: 44th Season of Shindig on the Green
where: Roger McGuire Green at Pack Square Park
when: Saturdays (Along About Sundown (7-10 p.m.) July 3, 10, 17, 21, and August 14, 21, 28, Sept. 4. Free. http://www.folkheritage.org/shindigonthegreen.htm)