Mountain music, moonshine of North Carolina

Visitors can sample succulent southern hospitality at the Whole Hog Barbecue Championship in...

Visitors can sample succulent southern hospitality at the Whole Hog Barbecue Championship in Raleigh, N.C. JANIE ROBINSON PHOTO

JANIE ROBINSON, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:57 AM ET

APPALACHIAN MOUNTAINS, N.C. -- Canadians love North Carolina's great golf courses, beautiful beaches, secluded Outer Banks islands and surfing shoreline (one breezy site is even named the "Canadian Hole" after the hoardes of Canadian windsurfers who headed there in the 1980s). But head for the hills and you'll discover this sunny state's traditional roots, where mountain music and moonshine still flow in the heart of the legendary Appalachian Mountains.

BEAUTIFUL BLUE RIDGE

Pick up a copy of the new travel guidebook, Blue Ridge Music Trails of North Carolina and tune in the car radio to one of the many stations playing "real good" mountain music as you head down beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway.

America's famous scenic byway winds its way along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains into the heart of western North Carolina's legendary music and mountain culture -- the melodies of early British Isles settlers blending with the African banjo and work songs of the slaves, then a German note added to the iconic Appalachian dulcimer mix of the mountain music legacy that has influenced American music for more than two centuries.

The eclectic mountain city of Asheville is a must-stop off the pretty parkway in the Southern Appalachians. There's toe-tappin' music everywhere, from bluegrass buskers on street corners to old-time jam sessions in busy bars like Jack of the Woods, where you can sample some of the incredible variety of locals brews on tap (Asheville maintains its "Beer City USA" reign for the fourth year). The Mountain Dance and Folk Festival held in August is the oldest of its kind in the country.

Asheville is also home to America's largest home -- a 250-room mansion built by George W. Vanderbilt on his bucolic 3,200-hectare Biltmore Estate. Tour the popular tourist attraction with the most visited winery in the United States, and treat yourself to a pampered stay at Inn on Biltmore Estate.

STEPPIN' OUT

Heading north along the Blue Ridge Parkway, watch for the big red packing-house at Milepost 328.3 for a foot-stompin' good time at The Historic Orchard at Altapass with spectacular views, authentic Appalachian music and dancing, fresh heritage apples and a great gift shop selling chilled apple cider.

"We bring together 'from heres' and 'not-from-heres' through live local music, mountain dancing, storytelling hayrides and other cultural events celebrating the values of the region and helping to preserve our mountain culture," says Bill Carson as we stroll through his historic orchard stretching along the Parkway.

"We have 150 performances a year by more than 60 groups of local musicians in our six month season, all of it free."

The friendly farmer will even give you a quick clogging lesson so you can join the locals out on the dance floor.

"Only three things you need to know about dancing. One: Make your feet hit the floor on the beat. Two: Smile. Three: Remember they only watch the good dancers."

NASCAR's RACY PAST

Turns out some early settlers weren't just making music here in the Blue Ridge. Moonshiners brought their stills to the secluded mountains, making "moonshining" a legendary way of life for many in backwoods Appalachia starting in the 1800s. Mountain music, true stories, tall tales, TV shows, Hollywood movies and even NASCAR's (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing) roots are steeped in moonshine history.

NASCAR's racy past is said to date back to Prohibition, when bootleggers souped-up their cars to escape federal tax agents on the winding mountain roads.

As a moonshine runner chased by "revenuers," NASCAR's Junior Johnson is almost as famous for running moonshine as he is for racing.

The Johnsons were moonshiners before, during and after Prohibition, and the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte features a full-size authentic moonshine still built by the famous racer himself, and identical to the stills used by Johnson and his family in years past.

"'White lightning" has gone from bootlegging to bragging these days, with a boom in craft distillers making "boutique moonshine" and bars serving popular drinks like Moonshine Margaritas. Piedmont Distillers are the makers of North Carolina's first legal moonshine with their Midnight Moon line of 'shine is inspired by Junior Johnson's legendary recipe. The distillery in Madison is open for tours the last Friday of every month.

BACK TO MAYBERRY

It's hard to imagine any moonshine shenanigans in Sheriff Andy Taylor's town of Mayberry. In fact, it still feels like you've strolled back through simpler times in Andy Griffith's hometown, Mount Airy -- the inspiration for America's favourite small town, Mayberry.

Most of us remember the North Carolina native as the music-loving sheriff in The Andy Griffith Show and later as defence attorney Ben Matlock, but the TV legend was also a Grammy Award-winning singer -- Griffith's bluegrass-tinged gospel album winning Best Southern, Country or Bluegrass Gospel Album in 1997.

Griffith grew up surrounded by mountain music in Mount Airy, where bluegrass and old-time music jam sessions at Historic Earle Theatre, a 1930s-era vintage movie theatre, are still popular and famous today. The weekly Saturday-morning radio program Merry-Go-Round broadcasts live from the Earle Theatre, presenting the best of live traditional mountain music since 1948 -- Appalachia's longest running live radio program.

BANJO AND BARBECUE

Mountain music has a home in Raleigh these days, too, and the capital city's namesake is even getting in on the act with a banjo slung over the shoulder of the statue of Sir Walter Raleigh.

The International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) hosted its annual World of Bluegrass gathering in Raleigh for the first time this year, bringing world-class artists, fans and industry professionals from around the world for the kick-up-your-heels five day festival. Throw North Carolina's Whole Hog Barbecue Championship into the musical mix and it's a taste of southern charm you won't want to miss when IBMA's World of Bluegrass returns to Raleigh, North Carolina Sept. 30-Oct. 4, 2014, and Sept. 29-Oct. 3, 2015.

There is lots happening in "The City of Oaks" and you can hop on the R-LINE bus for a free ride through downtown, stopping off at the great shops, restaurants and attractions. Poole's Downtown Diner is a must and so are the croissants at Joule Coffee. Raleigh Denim makes legendary jeans, and designer Holly Aiken's colourful vinyl bags are becoming famous, flying off the shelves at Stitch.

Greater Raleigh is often dubbed the "Smithsonian of the South" for more than 40 free attractions, including several amazing museums downtown. Rent a bike at Oak City Cycling Project for an artsy ride through the country's largest Museum Park at North Carolina Museum of Art. The popular art museum goes "auto show" with its special exhibition Porsche By Design featuring 22 automobiles and exploring the history of the Porsche lineage from the 1930s to the present day, on now to Jan. 20, 2014.

ONLY IN NORTH CAROLINA

1. Celebrate "Christmas at Biltmore" through Jan. 1. George Vanderbilt introduced his new home to family and friends on Christmas Eve 1895 with a wonderful holiday celebration that continues today at America's largest home. See biltmore.com.

2. North Carolina has turned out an impressive list of musical icons including James Taylor (of Chapel Hill) and renowned banjo player Earl Scruggs. Discover the roots of this music legend when the Earl Scruggs Center: Music & Stories from the American South opens in January in his hometown of Shelby. See earlscruggscenter.org.

3. Turns out North Carolina was the perfect location for The Hunger Games and movie fans can follow in the footsteps of their favourite tributes at visitnc.com.

NEED TO KNOW

For more on North Carolina Tourism, go to visitnc.com.


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