Updated: March 01, 2011

The first musical venues in Appalachia were the gathering places most often associated with close-knit, isolated rural communities: churches, Saturday night square dances in homes and barns, and county fairs.

The first musical venues in Appalachia were the gathering places most often associated with close-knit, isolated rural communities: churches, Saturday night square dances in homes and barns, and county fairs. While churches remain popular centers for musical activity, the other sites for music making are less common than such contemporary musical venues as informal music jams in homes and stores, open mike nights at restaurants and clubs, and festivals.

Traditional venue settings have also been integrated in- to some modern tourist attractions. At theme parks such as Dollywood, in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, traditional Appalachian and commercial country music are incorporated into multidimensional acts featuring costumes, comedy, dancing, and animals to create a circuslike atmosphere designed to appeal to visiting tourists more interested in entertainment than in authentic Appalachian culture. On the other hand, various cultural institutions in the region are committed to show- casing traditional Appalachian music in more representative settings. At the Museum of Appalachia in Norris, Tennessee, for example, gospel groups often perform in the sanctuary of a one-room, restored mountain church. However, both types of venues emphasize a connection to Appalachia.

One trend in venues has involved the restoration of movie theaters built during the 1920s and 1930s, highlighting their original, ornate furnishings. These theaters, rescued from disuse and dilapidation, are attractive musical performance halls, drawing suburban audiences to urban centers. Examples of such auditoriums—all restored in the 1980s and 1990s—are the Paramount Center, in Bristol, Tennessee; the Palace Theatre, in Maryville, Tennessee; the Tennessee Theatre, in Knoxville; and the Alabama Theatre for the Performing Arts, in Birmingham. Promoting such older musics as the blues and bluegrass as well as more con- temporary musical genres, these venues seat from several hundred to more than a thousand people.

Another musical venue from Appalachia’s past, the barn, is currently being revived in the region. Performance halls fashioned out of or in the style of barns, popular from the 1930s to the 1950s, are found in several locations in Appalachia, including the Carter Family Fold in Hiltons, Virginia (home of the Carter Family), and Everett’s Music Barn in Suwanee, Georgia. Both of these establishments schedule festivals featuring both national performers and local talent on the bill. Another Appalachian venue is the community center—usually a former schoolhouse operated by a nonprofit organization that offers a place for regularly scheduled jam sessions and stage performances. Community centers in the region include the Bradbury Community Club in Roane County, Tennessee; Anderson House in Blountville, Tennessee; and the Stecoah Valley Center in Graham County, North Carolina.

The heritage trail—a system of marked roadways with accompanying literature for self-guided tours—is a relatively new type of venue in Appalachia, a concept that acknowledges both the benefits of tourism and the need to preserve regional cultural heritage. The Blue Ridge Heritage Trail Project—a joint effort of state and federal arts-supporting agencies—is being established to link the Blue Ridge Parkway to marked roadways, enabling visitors to experience cultural traditions (including local music scenes) in the Blue Ridge. Meanwhile, North Carolina and Tennessee are working together to develop heritage trails that will showcase Cherokee culture, especially the tribe’s traditional music. The heritage trail concept is also being developed enthusiastically in other places. The Cradle of Country Music Tour, which started as a self-guided walking tour in Knoxville, Tennessee, will eventually be linked to a heritage trail connecting Knoxville and Bristol, Tennessee/ Virginia. When completed, these combined heritage trails will mark music-related attractions in and between the two cities. The heritage trail concept is also represented in eastern Kentucky along U.S. Highway 23. Known as the Country Music Highway, this heritage trail recognizes musicians from eastern Kentucky who have gone on to Nashville and country music stardom. Along the Country Music Highway in Prestonburg is the Mountain Arts Center, a new one-thousand-seat auditorium that features national and regional performers.

Other musical genres and styles in the region, often incorporating traditional elements in their musical admixtures, are showcased at concert halls, opera houses, stadiums, campus grounds, campgrounds and festival sites, coffeehouses, nightclubs, university auditoriums, libraries, and bookshops.

Cite this Entry

MLA Style

"Venues," Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 2018, Encyclopedia of Appalachia. 23 Sep 2018 <>

APA Style

"Venues." (2018) In Encyclopedia of Appalachia, Retrieved September 23, 2018, from Encyclopedia of Appalachia:

The Tennessee Theater