One thing was abundantly clear after a meeting Tuesday in Mount Airy to help plot the course for a program called the Blue Ridge Music Trail(s) of North Carolina:
“The Blue Ridge Music Trail is not a road — it’s a region,” program leader Angie Chandler told about 35 people from a five-county area who gathered in the Earle Theatre for a planning session.
The trails program seeks to better promote the traditional music heritage in 29 counties in western North Carolina, including Surry, through collaborative marketing efforts. Tuesday’s session was one of seven meetings scheduled in localities around the region.
“But at this point in time, it is not a physical road,” stressed Chandler, the executive director of the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area Partnership, which is working with the North Carolina Arts Council to launch the trail initiative.
If there is a common thread of pavement linking the 29 counties, the Blue Ridge Parkway probably fills the bill, Chandler said of the scenic highway that winds its way through Surry and other areas with a rich musical history.
Tuesday’s meeting in the Earle Theatre — which houses the local Old-Time Music Heritage Hall — included representatives of Surry, Stokes, Yadkin, Iredell and Rockingham counties. Local musicians were among those in attendance.
Much of their discussion surrounded the events and other activities now under way in the respective counties and how the promotion of them might be better accomplished through a joint arrangement. More than 160 music venues are now thriving in the region, according to information presented Tuesday.
Jessica Icenhour Roberts, director of tourism for the Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce, said the impression left on her from Tuesday’s gathering is that there is strength in numbers.
While individual counties might be doing a good job on their own, the idea behind the new Blue Ridge Music Trails network is providing a stronger framework for increasing tourism, Roberts said, along with opportunities for musicians.
“I think it’s really good,” said local musician Chester McMillian of Surry’s fabled Round Peak section that is widely known as a stronghold for the old-time genre.
“We just need to get everybody tuned in,” added McMillian, a guitar player with the groups The Zephyr Lightning Bolts and Back-Step.
Steve Martin, owner of a downtown store as well as a representative of the chamber who attended Tuesday’s meeting, said he was excited by the regional concept and its potential for Surry County.
“This music has been here for generations, and we’re not there yet,” Martin said of realizing the full potential.
Identifying more ways to let people know about the music is a key, he added, just as other attractions in this area are being enthusiastically promoted. “This is not just Mayberry, this is not just wine.”
Establishing a master list of musical events and venues is one of the goals of the trails initiative, along with a new guidebook and website to help visitors better access what’s offered in the various counties. The bulk of promotional activities is expected to be launched in the spring of 2014, Chandler said.
However, McMillian, the local musician, believes the effort needs to run deeper.
“We’re going to have to get it back into schools,” McMillian said of incorporating studies of traditional music into students’ education, mentioning that this is now practiced in Alleghany County.
“See, we’re old people here,” explained McMillian, 70, citing the dwindling ranks of practitioners of a musical craft dating to the early 1900s.
“And if we don’t teach the young people how to do it, it’s going to be gone.”
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or email@example.com.