AshevilleHendersonvilleNews Stories

Rhythm & Brews aims to reach wider audience


Empire Strikes Brass marches and plays, as a bonus after its Rhythm & Brews gig last month.
Photo by Pete Zamplas.

International Bluegrass Music Awards (IBMA)-winning Mountain Heart made The Bluegrass Situation’s Most Anticipated Records of 2015, with the label as the “best bluegrass-rock-country-soul-gospel-anything goes hybrid band.”

Mountain Heart, which started in 1999, has excited audiences throughout this millennium with live shows and its cutting-edge acoustic style and superb musicianship. The band has played on the Grand Ole Opry more than 130 times, and shared the stage with Lynyrd Skynyrd, Brad Pailsey, Alison Krauss, Merle Haggard and John Fogerty.

Rhythm & Brews is on the third Thursday from May through September. The show starts at 5 p.m. with an opening act; the headliner plays 7-9 p.m. The outdoor site is the Azalea Parking Lot along King Street, between Third and Fourth avenues. Upcoming dates are July 16, Aug. 20 and Sept. 17.


Mountain Heart headlines Rhythm & Brews on July 16.

Rhythm & Brews is in its third year, making a splash after its inaugural season by earning N.C. Main Street honors as Best Downtown Special Event statewide. The music-beer-food series keeps building crowds according to regulars. Last month, hundreds attended. Ages spanned several generations.

Greg Rogers, 16, a rising Hendersonville High School junior and football middle linebacker, said he spotted several friends also attending. Sam Wilkins, HHS 2012 grad and basketball star starting his UNC-Charlotte junior year, called the festivities “cool.”

Tom Marshall, 58, HHS Class of ’75, admires the increased social activities for today’s youth compared to days of cruising Main Street and hanging out at burger places.

Serving beer is a factor in drawing a younger crowd, along with more modern music, many agreed. They heard funk June 18 from both headliner The Fritz, and Asheville-based Empire Strikes Brass (ESB), which after its gig played extra while marching up sidewalk along Third Avenue.

“Hendersonville is hungry for more music events like this,” ESB keyboardist Sean Donnelly said. He noted the crowd was much bigger than when Fritz and ESB played in the series last summer.

Despite emphasis on beer, several said they felt a very family-friendly atmosphere. They liked the food vendor options, too. Jeff Pieper called the scene “fantastic,” while watching his two-and-half-year-old granddaughter Hayley Jones cool off by scampering through Pardee Hospital/UNC Health’s mist tunnel.

Police provided security and described the scene as festive yet orderly. Lt. Mike Vesely said “It’s a younger crowd, and no signs of drugs.” Sgt. Brandon McGaha observed that “no one seemed drunk.” He said as musical genres change with each monthly installment, the series draws regulars but also new faces.

Sue Fair of Mill Spring is among those who went after work. “Awesome” is her description of the event. Others dined in town, then checked out the music. “This is very successful with great crowds and community support,” said Charlie Tucker. He is on the event board advising the city’s Downtown Economic Development Director Lew Holloway. Tucker booked talent for the Flat Rock Music Festival, when it thrived a decade ago.

Next month, on Aug. 20,  Big Muddy plays blues, country, soul and Southern rock with “Flora-Bama” zest. Band members have played with Doc Watson, Delbert McClinton, The David Grisman Quintet and blues great Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown. King-Sized Boogiemen opens.

Then on Sept. 17, singer-songwriter Americana blends are the focus with Aaron Burdett of Saluda. He mixes folk-rock, bluegrass, and blues into a distinctive sound. Burdett is known for crisp chord changes, rolling cross-picking rhythms, a smooth voice and thoughtful lyrics describing places and characters.

In the finale, Sept. 17, Eric Congdon sings and plays finger-picking guitar in musical styles from blues to rock to country. He admires finger picker Chet Atkins.

Congdon was also part of new series Monday Night Live! The four weekly segments spanned folk, bluesy rock, Latin then R&B-rock in an attempt to draw a wider-aged crowd than usual, noted organizer Michael Arrowood. He is Henderson County Tourism Development Authority event coordinator.

It was in June, as a prelude to the usual Street Dance public square dancing on Monday nights and also 7-9 p.m. by the Visitor’s Center at 201 S. Main St. Appalachian Fire plays July 20 and Aug. 3, and Southern Connection Cloggers perform. Bobby & Blue Ridge Tradition is the band July 27, and for the finale Aug. 10.

Meanwhile on Fridays, Music on Main’s next edition of beach music and soft early pop-rock is Deano & The Dreamers on July 17 then WestSound on July 24. Tuxedo Junction, among local favorites for mid-aged and elder Baby Boomers who flock to this event, does the finale Aug. 14. This non-alcohol series is also 7-9 p.m., by the Visitor’s Center. The seating area opens at 5:30 p.m.

Classic car shows on Main are an added attraction, in gear by 6 p.m. They rotate Fridays between various cars and strictly Corvettes, which are next on July 24.

For more about special events this year, check

Share this story
Show More

Related Articles