Ever since musicphile Jason Caughman, owner of Pisgah Brewing Company, first set up shop in Black Mountain five years ago, he has been itching to transform the empty, four-acre field behind his brewery into something special. Something like — oh, I don't know — a 2,500-capacity outdoor venue?
"I'm a daydreamer, I guess," says Caughman, sipping on a pint of one of his award-winning beers. "There's always more things to do, more projects."
So a few months ago, he up and built it. And, man, have they started coming.
Modeled after the Mishawaka Amphitheatre in Fort Collins, Colo. — a historic music club in the Poudre Canyon that Caughman has visited a few times — the new Pisgah venue is a beautiful site, tucked in by a gurgling stream and thick clusters of oak and maple trees, set against the backdrop of the Seven Sisters mountain range.
"It's an ideal setting," says local music librarian and blogger Don Talley, who runs blackmountainmusicscene.com. "You have enough trees so you can get into the shade and still see the stage. There's a lot of open area for families to bring their children. And you're able to be at the venue and see the mountains all around you. Just a perfect festival setting."
Even the stage itself is a gorgeous piece of craftsmanship. The main roof supports are raw, ten-foot-high tree trunks — one hickory and two locust — the bark stripped down to reveal the naked, yellow wood.
Better yet, the entire thing is almost 100-percent local: nearly every piece of wood was felled nearby and milled at Paul's Woodworking, a company just a few doors down from the brewery, and it was hand-built almost entirely by folks from the brewery (Caughman included).
While Pisgah patrons have been enjoying the field for a while — sipping beers in the grass, throwing horseshoes, maybe listening to the occasional bluegrass band playing on a make-shift platform made of palettes — the new covered stage gives the site a whole new purpose. June saw the venue host its first ever event, the Celtic Highlands Festival, quickly followed a month later by the rocking Southern Revival BBQ and Beer Festival. And August featured George Porter Jr. of The Meters fame, a show that Caughman would have had a tough time booking on the small indoor stage inside the brewery's tasting room.
"There's nowhere else I know of in the Southeast that has the facility that Pisgah has now," Don Talley says. He describes the new venue as another boost to Black Mountain's already historic reputation as a great place to see live music. "So I think we're going to see people coming from a much wider radius to Black Mountain because of Pisgah."
That's sure to be the case with this Saturday's Del Yeah! fest. A bluegrass lover's and roots music fan's dream, the all-day event will feature the legendary Del McCoury and a bunch of his favorite, hand-picked acts from around the country.
Friends include the bluegrass-jamming Emmitt-Nershi Band — from Leftover Salmon and String Cheese Incident, respectively — not to mention Charlotte's gritty, up-and-coming back porch rockers The New Familiars.
To Don Talley, the fact that McCoury even tapped the brewery just goes to show how hot the new outdoor venue is becoming, with both bands and fans alike.
"It's already proved itself to be a prime facility," says Talley. "I mean, Del Yeah! could have gone anywhere in the Southeast, but the fact that they chose Pisgah says a lot about it being on the national radar now as a destination."
For Caughman, all this is just the beginning. Next year he plans on really hitting it hard. He's already talking about building both permanent bathrooms and a professional sound booth a few hundred feet from the stage. And sooner than later — to accommodate the even larger events he foresees in the future — he wants to create a second entrance that would open up to I-70 and use the overgrown, seven-acre field behind the stage for parking.
And it's hardly a pipe dream. Already he's busy wooing big name acts like Steel Pulse and Soulive, and he's even in talks with Daptone Records about putting together a soul review showcase. It would seem Caughman’s got the drive and the passion to bring it all to life.
"People enjoy being able to come to the source," Caughman says about his brewery, "and we just want to make it as fun as possible for them."
Well, we think we speak for the rest of WNC when we say: Keep dreaming, Caughman, keep dreaming.
— Miles Britton is an Asheville-based freelance writer.
who: Del McCoury Band, Emmitt-Nershi Band, The New Familiars and more
what: Del Yeah Festival
where: Pisgah Brewing’s outdoor stage, 150 Eastside Drive, Black Mountain
when: Saturday, Sept. 4 (3 p.m. $20 advance/$25 doors. delmccouryband.com/delyeah)