Cultural Calendar

Home Page Cultural Calendar Photo: Paul Taylor Dance Company on AASF ’24 – Photo by Steven Pisano

Above: Wizard of Oz at Barter; Norm Lewis at AASF ’24 – Photo by Peter Marks

Cultural Calendar: For Cultural Tourists, the High Country is a Popular Summer Destination

By Keith Martin

According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, cultural tourism is defined as “movements of persons for essentially cultural motivations such as study tours, performing arts and cultural arts, travel to festivals and other cultural events, visits to sites and monuments, travel to study nature, folklore or art, and pilgrimages.” Many states expand this definition to encompass the participation of visitors in cultural activities whether those activities are the primary purpose of their travel or not.

There is no more welcoming a place for these cultural tourists than the High Country region.

From mid-June through mid-September, there are hundreds of performances, exhibits, and events on local stages, at museums, and in galleries—so many, in fact, that you have multiple choices almost each and every day. The following listings in this Cultural Calendar, and in the accompanying article on An Appalachian Summer Festival, provide an overview for your consideration along with websites for additional information. Be sure to tell them that CML sent you… and enjoy!

The APPALACHIAN THEATRE OF THE HIGH COUNTRY (ATHC) in the heart of downtown Boone has programmed over two dozen events each month of the summer season and here are just a few of the highlights. The newly created Mast Store Summer Series opens on June 28 with Bluffet: A Jimmy Buffett Tribute for all of you Parrot Head fans. The Drifters—current members of the original group, not a tribute bandappear not “Up on the Roof” or “Under the Boardwalk” but onstage on July 13. They are followed on August 9 by One Night in Memphis,the critically acclaimed tribute to legendary Sun Records recording artists Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis Presley, starring former cast members of the Broadway smash, “Million Dollar Quartet.” 

The second show on the series takes place on July 6 and is my pick for “best bet” of the summer. Ballets with a Twist makes their ATHC debut performance with the cleverly titled Cocktail Hour: The Show. “This electrifying floor show-to-stage-experience reinvents the excitement of classic entertainment through an original mix of choreography, music, and costume design. Watch as Champagne, Manhattan, Hot Toddy, and more spring to life in a series of sparkling vignettes.” Don’t miss this one.

Doc Watson Day on August 17 will feature Scythian with Brooks Forsyth. The group is named after Ukrainian nomads and plays roots music from Celtic, Eastern European and Appalachian traditions with “thunderous energy, technical prowess, and storytelling songwriting, beckoning crowds into a barn-dance, rock concert experience.” Movies are always on the bill for the 1938 theatre, but Mamma Mia & Mamma Mia 2 on June 29 and Gone with the Wind on July 21 are particularly noteworthy. Last, but not least, is the second annual Gatsby Gala on August 23, a full evening of entertainment and celebration of the venerable theatre. For a schedule of concerts, film screenings, and performances, or to purchase tickets, go to

Over in West Jefferson, the ASHE COUNTY ARTS COUNCIL is producing the 53rd Annual Ashe County Bluegrass & Old Time Fiddlers Convention on July 26 and 27 at Ashe County Park. The most anticipated event in any season, it was founded in 1969 “to honor the music of the mountains and the musicians who make it.” The convention kicks off on Friday night with two concerts featuring The Alum Ridge Boys & Ashlee and The Whitetop Mountain Band. On Saturday the convention offers both adult and youth competitions showcasing the best talent on instruments such as fiddle, guitar, banjo, dobro, and bass fiddle, with over $4,000 in prize money being awarded by judges Kyle Dean Smith, Kilby Spencer, and Ashlee Watkins with Dale Morris serving as emcee.

Fresh off their highly successful run of Fiddler on the Roof, the ASHE COUNTY LITTLE THEATRE is now in rehearsals for Pamela Parker’s comedy Second Samuel with the promotional tagline, “Everybody’s got secrets!” It was a simpler time in the late 1940s, especially in South Georgia and specifically in a sleepy little town called Second Samuel. Miss Gertrude passed away, and deep dark secrets were about to be revealed that turn the entire community upside down. Performance dates are August 22 – 25 in the Ashe Civic Center.

Performances of the musical version of L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz continue through August 18 at the BARTER THEATRE with memorable music and lyrics by Harold Arlen and E.Y. (Yip) Harburg. The Gilliam Stage is also home to The Shawshank Redemption, an adaptation of the Stephen King novella by Owen O’Neill and Dave Johns with performances through August 17. This story of resilience made famous by the acclaimed film focuses on Andy Dufresne, a convicted murderer sentenced to life in the notorious Shawshank prison, who finds a way to keep himself and his hope alive by using his wits and forging friendships. Across Abingdon’s Main Street in Barter’s intimate Smith Theatre, Cry It Out runs until August 17. This Molly Smith Metzler play takes a comedic and honest look at the absurdities of a new mom being home with a baby, the power of female friendship, the dilemma of going back to work, and the effect class has on parenthood in America.

“Classic Theatre for Kids of All Ages”is the motto of the BARTER PLAYERS, who have two family-friendly shows on tap beginning with Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel continuing through July 6. Eric Lane Barnes’ musical is based on the book by Virginia Lee Burton. Running from July 9 – August 17 is Snow White, adapted by Catherine Bush and based on a tale from The Brothers Grimm. The title character is forced to flee her home when the wicked queen’s jealousy threatens her life. Lost in the woods, Snow White is soon befriended by seven dwarves who welcome her into their home where the love of a handsome hero and the courage of her newfound friends save the day.

BEANSTALK COMMUNITY THEATRE is producing the five-time Tony-winning tuner Matilda: The Musical from July 25 – 27 at the App Theatre in Boone. It is based on the 1988 children’s novel of the same name by Roald Dahl with clever music and lyrics by Tim Minchin and book by Dennis Kelly. The narrative centers on Matilda, a precocious five-year-old girl with the gift of telekinesis, who loves reading, overcomes obstacles caused by her family and school, and helps her teacher to reclaim her life. For more info, visit, and for tickets go to

EAST TENNESSEE STATE UNIVERSITY (ETSU) in Johnson City, TN, has two events scheduled in their beautiful Martin Center for the Arts. “Many critics agree, The Concert: A Tribute To ABBA is the most amazing and authentic ABBA tribute show in the world, dazzling all who see their fantastic performance while playing the most iconic hits from ABBA, including ‘Mamma Mia,’ ‘S.O.S,’ ‘Money, Money, Money,’ ‘The Winner Takes All,’ ‘Waterloo,’ ‘Gimme, Gimme, Gimme,’ and ‘Dancing Queen.’ Come dance, come sing, having the time of your life at the ultimate tribute celebration!” The performance is slated for August 17 at the ETSU Martin Center in the ETSU Foundation Grand Hall.

On September 18 – 19, the nine-time Tony Award®-winning Best Musical The Book of Mormon brings its irreverent humor to the ETSU Martin Center stage in the ETSU Foundation Grand Hall. The New York Times calls it “the best musical of this century.” The Washington Post says, “It is the kind of evening that restores your faith in musicals.” And Entertainment Weekly says, “Grade A: the funniest musical of all time.” Jimmy Fallon of The Tonight Show calls it “Genius. Brilliant. Phenomenal.” Contains explicit language. For more information, visit

It’s the 15th Anniversary of ENSEMBLE STAGE, which has been performing in Avery County’s Historic Banner Elk School since 2017. Beginning with “The War of the Worlds” in 2009 (the first of three occasions when their staged radio plays were broadcast on WATA), the company has produced over 100 shows while providing employment to approximately 360 actors, designers, and crew members. Their 2022 summer season was notable for a slate of productions that included a world premiere, an international premiere, and two regional premieres. Ensemble Stage proudly proclaims itself as “a leader in the artistic and economic development of Banner Elk.”

They just concluded their 2024 season opener, Moon Over the Brewery, and are following that up with Robin Hood, “a show for kids,” by Kathryn Schultz Miller with performances on June 29, July 13, 27, and August 10. Mindgame, a psychological thriller by Anthony Horowitz, performs July 19 – 28, Distant Music, a witty drama by James McLindon runs August 16 – 25, and The Love List, “an unpredictable comedy” by Norm Foster takes the stage from September 13 – 22.

Also in Banner Elk, the Symphony on the Mountains returns to the LEES-McRAE FORUM for the fifth time with a fully professional orchestra of more than 60musicians conducted by maestra Cornelia Laemmli Orth, in concert on July 1. Vocal artists and tribute groups follow with the single-named artist Kara performing Believe – A Tribute to Cher on July 8, with The Modern Gentlemen performing the hits of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons one week later. The Ultimate Eagles Experience is being offered by the group 7 Bridges on July 22 with the music of Motown showcased on July 29 by The Sounds of Soul. The season closes on August 5 with a return engagement “back by popular demand” when cabaret artist Jenene Caramielo performs songs from Broadway to the Big Screen.

In 2019, LEES-McRAE SUMMER THEATRE marked the world premiere of a marvelous new work, From the Mountain Top: The Edgar Tufts Story; they are reviving the production this season from July 16 – 23 to launch L-MC’s 150th Anniversary. Set in the late 19th century, this original musical tells the real-life tale of Reverend Tufts, a young preacher who arrived in the High Country from Union Theological Seminary in Virginia and founded Lees-McRae College in 1889. The music and lyrics were created by the father-son duo of Tommy Oaks and John Thomas Oaks, with a book written and directed by Summer Theatre founder and local theatre legend Dr. Janet Barton Speer.

Their season begins, however, on July 26 with the second annual High Country Talent Jamboree! The success of last year’s debut of this variety show, directed and choreographed by “Doc” Speer, will again highlight some of the many special aspects of life in the North Carolina mountains, featuring the best music, dancing, comedy, and patriotic songs of Southern Appalachia.

HORN IN THE WEST, the nation’s third oldest outdoor drama, opens their 72nd season of Kermit Hunter’s historical play on June 21 under a full moon and new stage direction from Horn veteran, Jeremy Homesley. This Revolutionary War drama brings to life the famous frontiersman Daniel Boone and the hardy mountain settlers of this region in their struggle to preserve their freedom during the turbulent years before and during the war for independence. The show runs Tuesdays through Saturdays through August 10. While there, be sure to allow time to visit the Hickory Ridge History Museum. 

The Daniel Boone Amphitheater is also the location of the family theatre production of Mutz-Mag, an original play by Boone native Clarinda Ross. Now in its third season, the play is based on the Appalachian folktale as told by the author’s mother, noted storyteller Charlotte Ross, and Dr. Cratis Williams, who was known locally at “Mr. Appalachia.” Mutz-Mag is a comic tale of a plucky girl who uses her smarts and trusty Case Knife to keep one step ahead of a Witch, a Giant, and her ne’er-do-well stepsisters. This kind and smart youngster makes her own happy ending with nary a prince in sight. Performance dates and times are still being determined as of press time.

TWEETSIE RAILROAD is North Carolina’s first theme park, opening on the Fourth of July in 1957. Known primarily as a Wild West adventure park with amusement rides and a petting zoo, Tweetsie features stunning three-mile long train rides aboard a historic, coal-fired, narrow gauge steam locomotive. From a performing arts perspective, Tweetsie is a major employer of professional talent and produces 21 performances of a half-dozen live entertainment and stage shows each day. A sampling of offerings includes the Can-Can Dancers, Country Clogging Jamboree, Hopper and Porter’s Musical Celebration, and The Magic Show. The 2024 season runs through October 27 with varying dates and schedules.

The JOHN A. WALKER CENTER at Wilkes Community College is presenting local favorite Presley Barker on August 24 as part of their Lakey Ballroom Series. A singer/songwriter from the rural Wilkes County community of Traphill, Barker has been singing and playing guitar since the age of seven. He appeared on the “NBC Today Show” with Al Roker, and “Little Big Shots” with Steve Harvey and was invited by Country Music Hall of Fame member Ricky Skaggs to play the Grand Ole Opry. At age 10, he released his first solo album, aptly titled “JUST-TEN,” and worked with Dolly Parton’s producer to release two new country singles “Middle of Somewhere” and Time Machine.” Most recently, Presley was seen on season 19 of “American Idol.”

The WILKES PLAYMAKERS are partnering with Blue Moon Productions on Tom Dooley: A Wilkes County Legend from July 11-14 and 18-21 at Benton Hall Community Arts Center in North Wilkesboro. Longtime residents will remember the outdoor drama that played for many years at Fort Hamby’s Forest Edge Amphitheater before closing due to the pandemic. Local playwright Karen Wheeling Reynolds recounts the infamous Civil War era tale of the murder of Laura Foster and the subsequent hanging of Tom Dooley. This “gripping saga of love and betrayal” took place in the nearby Elk Creek/Darby community of southwest Wilkes County. From September 13 – 15 and 20 – 22, the Playmakers will produce Robert Harling’s Steel Magnolias, a heart-warming portrait of friendship and love between southern women who bond together in a beauty shop.

An Appalachian Summer Festival 202440th Anniversary Season Offers 21 Unique Events through July 27

Congratulations are in order to An Appalachian Summer Festival (AASF) on the occasion of their 40th anniversary season. This month long whirlwind of “music, dance, theatre, visual arts, and film programming” takes place at numerous venues on the campus of Appalachian State University in Boone, NC. The annual arts celebration is a welcome gift to High Country residents and the tens of thousands of visitors to our region each summer.

The festival began in 1984 as a small chamber music series, and retains strong roots in classical music, combined with a variety of other programming geared to almost every artistic taste and preference. The festival has been named one of the “Top Twenty Events in the Southeast” by the Southeast Tourism Society.

2024 marks the inaugural season of Elizabeth Auer, the new Director of Arts Engagement and Cultural Resources, and AASF promises “something for everyone… from alt-rock, bluegrass and blues, to soul, Broadway, classical and more.” With tickets ranging from $10 to $125, and with several free events, here is the complete line-up, in chronological order:

The festival opens on Saturday, June 29 with An Evening with Natalie Merchant: Keep Your Courage Tour, featuring the Western Piedmont Symphony. This tour celebrates the ’90s alternative-rock superstar’s ninth studio album, “Keep Your Courage,” her first album of songs in nearly a decade. Sunday, June 30 features the Eastern Music Festival Orchestra with special guest Béla Fleck. The orchestra, under the baton of Gerard Schwarz, collaborates with the 16-time Grammy-winning banjo master to showcase his unique interpretation of Gershwin’s iconic “Rhapsody in Blue,” composed one hundred years ago.

The Artist Showcase Series takes place at 2 p.m. on Tuesdays throughout July in the Turchin Center for the Visual Arts (TCVA) Lecture Hall offering behind-the-scenes discussions with artists from the music, dance, and visual arts worlds that center around a common theme of legacy and longevity. The Series begins on July 2 with a TCVA Exhibition Overview and continues on July 9 with On Legacy, with Canadian Brass members Chuck Daellenbach and Joe Burgstaller. The July 16 event features the TCVA Faculty Biennial Exhibition and the Series concludes on July 23 with On Longevity, with Paul Taylor Dance Company.

At 7 p.m. on Tuesday, July 2, 9 and 16, the Helene and Stephen Weicholz Global Film Series at the Schaefer Center focuses on three award-winning international films that explore the many paths to happiness, whether through love, the pleasure of the senses, or the simplicity of daily tasks. “Fallen Leaves” takes place in modern-day Helsinki, “The Taste of Things” is set in France and “Perfect Days” in contemporary Tokyo. All films have English subtitles.

Chanticleer: Sing Joyfully takes to the stage of Rosen Concert Hall on Wednesday, July 3. This multiple Grammy Award-winning all-male vocal ensemble is named after the clear-singing rooster in Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales,” and performs a jubilant program that includes Renaissance motets, classic arrangements of familiar folk songs, jazz standards, and contemporary arrangements of popular tunes.

The Summer Exhibition Celebration is scheduled on Friday, July 5 in the TCVA, with the 13th Annual Rosen-Schaffel Competition for Young and Emerging Artists on Saturday, July 6 in Rosen Concert Hall. Both events are free of charge. 

The internationally crowd-pleasing Canadian Brass fills the Schaefer Center on Wednesday, July 10 with “All You Need Is Love,” as performed by “the world’s most famous and popular brass group.” The Americana Music Association Lifetime Achievement Award-winning Buddy Guy appears on Friday, July 12 as part of his Damn Right Farewell Tour. At age 87, Guy is a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee, a pioneer of Chicago’s fabled West Side sound and ranked 23rd on Rolling Stone Magazine’s “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.”

Another free event takes place on Saturday, July 13 with the 38th Annual Rosen Outdoor Sculpture Walk and Competition, a fascinating outdoor tour of the 10 contemporary American sculptures selected as finalists for this year’s annual competition.

In his one-man show, stage and screen star Norm Lewis will present a revue of songs hand-picked from his impressive resumé of the who’s-who among Broadway’s leading men. See below for his exclusive interview with CML.

The Bell-Denk-Isserlis Trio has been hailed as a “dream team of performers” (Strings Magazine), with world-renowned violinist Joshua Bell, cellist Steven Isserlis and pianist Jeremy Denk offering an unparalleled evening of chamber music by Fauré, Debussy and Mendelssohn on Thursday, July 18 in the Schaefer Center. That concert is followed on Saturday, July 20 by St. Paul & The Broken Bones, an eight-piece soul ensemble that burst onto the scene with their debut “Half the City,” establishing a swampy Southern-fried sound with tight horn lines that became their calling card.

On Sunday, July 21, acclaimed pianists Simone Dinnerstein and Awadagin Pratt come together to perform a program showcasing a selection of timeless works for two pianos wherein audience members will “experience a diverse range of emotions and styles in this captivating program.” Paul Taylor Dance Company, one of the world’s most famous contemporary dance ensembles, has been innovating and transforming modern dance since 1954. Currently under the artistic leadership of Michael Novak, the company performs a program of Taylor’s energetic “Syzygy,” his awe-inspiring “Airs,” and the choreographer’s masterpiece, “Esplanade,” inspired by the sight of a girl running to catch a bus. They will appear on Wednesday, July 24.

The 2024 AASF concludes on Saturday, July 27 in Kidd Brewer Stadium with Brad Paisley: Son of the Mountains World Tour. Paisley is one of country music’s most talented and decorated male singer-songwriters, winning three Grammys, two American Music Awards, 15 Academy of Country Music Awards, and 14 Country Music Association Awards, including an Entertainer of the Year honor. A member of the Grand Ole Opry since 2001, the Glen Dale, West Virginia, native has written 21 of his 25 No. 1 hits, his past works amassing nearly five billion streams.

For additional details or to purchase tickets online, visit, call (828) 262-4046, or stop by the Schaefer Center for the Performing Arts box office, 733 Rivers Street in Boone.

Alleghany Community Theatre |

Appalachian State University Department of Theatre and Dance  |                      

Appalachian Theatre of the High Country |

Ashe Civic Center |

Ashe County Little Theatre |

Barter Theatre |

Beanstalk Community Theatre |

Blue Ridge Community Theatre |

City of Morganton Municipal Auditorium |

Ensemble Stage |

Hayes School of Music|

In/Visible Theatre |

Jones House Cultural & Community Center |

Lees-McRae College Performing Arts | | Instagram @lmctheatre

Parkway Playhouse |

Schaefer Center Presents |

Wilkes Playmakers |

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