The rules are pretty simple at Mrs. Hyatt’s Oprahouse:
And no electric instruments.
Nelia Hyatt is the matriarch who presides over a weekly bluegrass jam session at her Brevard Road “oprahouse,” which is really a garage-turned-music-hall. Every Thursday night about sunset, seasoned mountain musicians, those still learning to play and folks who just like to listen turn out to keep alive a tradition that’s threatened by encroaching development.
Hyatt and her husband, Wayne, started inviting friends over to play music in the 1950s. The gatherings got so popular that the Hyatts built the little structure behind their home and started hosting public jams in the mid-1970s. Wayne died in 1984, but Nelia has kept the weekly gatherings going.
Any given week, you’re likely to run into a number of regulars, some new players, a few cloggers and the occasional international visitor. (The Hyatt house is known around the world, as the photos and newspaper clippings covering the walls will attest. Just recently, the London Times newspaper sent a correspondent to write a report.) A few children clog, and every now and then, a couple will waltz a little. There’s pound cake and coffee on a table along one wall for a hungry body, with donations much-appreciated. Guitar, banjo and mandolin cases line another wall.
Despite the longstanding tradition, in recent years, some have worried about whether the music will continue at the Hyatt home. Two big car dealerships have gone up in recent years on either side of the Hyatt property, which is just down the road from the WNC Farmers Market.
Nelia’s granddaughter, Karen Cogdill, says she’d like nothing more than to keep the bluegrass jams going at the current location. But informal talks over the past several months have focused on the possibility of the Farmers Market becoming home to the Hyatt bluegrass jams. Mike Ferguson, the market’s manager, says that several people have talked over two ideas—either physically moving the Oprahouse to the Farmer’s Market property, or having the market build a facility for music. Ferguson notes that the market already hosts a bluegrass jam of its own every Saturday afternoon.
The market has also hosted JamFest the past few years to celebrate Nelia’s birthday and support the preservation of her music site. Cogdill organizes the event with the help of John Roeten, a country-music DJ on WWNC-570.
To date, there’s no official proposal to relocate the Hyatt sessions, Ferguson says, and any plan to do so would have to be approved by the state, which owns the Farmers Market.
The music, meanwhile, goes on.