For all the influx of pickers moving to Greater Asheville, it’s still possible to find area bands made up of bona fide natives. Like one of this year’s “Bluegrass Ramble” bands, Carolina Blue, whose official home base is Pisgah Forest between Asheville and Brevard.
Carolina Blue’s core is mandolinist Tim Jones and guitarist Bobby Powell. They’ve been in bands together for close to two decades, after starting out playing gospel the radio.
“Tim’s from Brevard and I’m from Rosman, about 10 miles up the road,” said Powell. “We met doing gospel. Two blocks down from here is a local radio station, WSQL, that does live preaching and gospel. Tim’s family had a band, I joined and that’s how it all started.”
As he spoke, Powell was standing with his bandmates on the Courthouse Square in downtown Brevard, where Carolina Blue has had a steady Tuesday-evening gig pretty much every week since 2003. The town closes off the street, and good-sized crowds show up to listen.
It was midday Sunday and Carolina Blue had just come from a church gig (sure enough, they still play gospel), but they weren’t done playing for that day. The quintet saddled up their instruments to pick a few tunes for whoever happened by.
One woman listened intently to “The Ballad of Flem Galloway,” a song on Carolina Blue’s new album “Goin’ Home Today,” and asked afterward if the band had a Youtube channel.
It’s a big deal in bluegrass to be able to say you’re from North Carolina.
Bobby Powell, guitarist in Carolina Blue
“Yes we do,” Powell said. “Facebook, too, check us out: Carolina Blue!”
“I’ll do it,” she said. “That was great.”
After starting out on radio, Jones and Powell earned their live-performance stripes with True Bluegrass, a band led by local legend Roy Chapman. And while they’ve done some touring and seen plenty of green pastures elsewhere, relocating elsewhere is not going to happen.
“Moving would be out of the question for me,” said Jones. “I’m fifth-generation native, living in the same place my family’s always been.”
“We’re happy living where we always have, and there’s so much history here,” said Powell. “Bill Monroe was from Kentucky but started his career around here on the radio. And Snuffy Jenkins, Earl Scruggs, this area’s always been a hotbed. It’s a big deal in bluegrass to be able to say you’re from North Carolina. A promoter once told me, ‘You don’t have to say you’re traditional bluegrass, just that you’re North Carolina bluegrass.’ That works.”
What: Carolina Blue
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday at Kings and 2 p.m. Thursday on the Convention Center Workshop Stage