High Country Cultural Arts Calendar:
“The color of winter is in the imagination!”
By Keith Martin
There is a quote by Terri Guillemets that seems apropos for a cultural calendar encompassing performing arts events from December through April of each year: “The color of springtime is in the flowers, but the color of winter is in the imagination.”
With our High Country’s cultural treasures, there is no shortage of imagination—onstage or off—with the number of productions growing year after year, leaving locals, seasonal residents, and visitors with opportunities aplenty from which to choose.
Here is a selection of events that have been announced for “WinterSpring” (the period from now through mid-April), listed alphabetically by producing company, with dozens of productions on our college and university campuses listed separately. PLEASE NOTE that all the performances, dates, and times are subject to change; readers are strongly encouraged to check individual websites and/or the theatre box offices for the most current information. See you at the theatre!
On New Year’s Eve, the APPALACHIAN THEATRE OF THE HIGH COUNTRY (ATHC) is ringing in 2024 by screening films with a party atmosphere beginning at noon for family-friendly events and again at 10 p.m. for those over age 16. More info is available on their website. The Local Night @TheApp series is back again this year on Thursday nights from January to May. This unique and much-needed series showcases the talent of High Country musicians, most of whom are emerging artists making their debut performances at “The App.”
ATHC’s Mast Store Americana Music Series is an ongoing, year-round program of artists and events celebrating the genre unique to our country. On January 13, Grammy Award-winning American country music singer, songwriter, and producer Dan Tyminski returns to the Doc Watson Stage. Sam Bush takes the stage on March 3; the theatre says, “There is only one consensus pick of peers and predecessors, of the traditionalists, the rebels, and the next gen devotees. Music’s ultimate inside outsider. Or is it outside insider? There is only one Sam Bush.”
Terrance Simien & Zydeco Experience appear on February 22. For over 40 years, two-time Grammy award winning, eighth generation Louisiana Creole Simien has been shattering the myths, and often misinformation, about what his traditional Zydeco roots music is—and is not. It most certainly is American roots music, born of the black and mixed race French speaking Creoles of South Louisiana.
Also from Louisiana, Lake Charles to be specific, is comedian Jen Kober, who has energetically bounded onto the national stage bringing crowds to their feet with her original blend of stand-up, storytelling, and improvised rock-n-roll comedy. Her performance is scheduled for April 5.
And then there are the films, whose screenings return the 1938 Art Deco venue to its original roots. On February 23 and 24, Boone Docs, a two-day film festival, celebrates life in Appalachia by featuring short format documentaries about the region, or made by people who live in the area. For more info, go to AppTheatre.org.
The big news at the BARTER THEATRE in Abingdon, Virginia, is that their main performance venue, the Gilliam Stage, will be closed from January through April for major renovations, but the shows will go on beginning in February on the stage of the intimate Smith Theatre with the Appalachian Festival of Plays and Playwrights. This annual festival celebrates the richness of the Appalachian storytelling tradition by showcasing the stories of the region, both past and present, and the inspiration it provides the writers who live here.
Barter, the official “State Theatre of Virginia,” has announced 12 shows for calendar year 2024 with exact dates TBA. Their spring season includes Home by Samm-Art Williams, a story about a hardworking North Carolina farmer named Cephus Miles who has the whole world in his callused hands until he leaves his country life and answers the siren call of the city, a journey that leads him to discover his true home. Originally staged by the Negro Ensemble Company, this play is part of Barter’s Black Stories/Black Voices series.
Shakespeare’s As You Like It is one of his most famous comedies, where all the rules of conventional courtship are broken in an epic tale of love and disguise. Venture into the Forest of Arden with cousins Rosalind and Celia for a journey of self-discovery and zany mischief, where “all the world’s a stage” and anything can happen.
Ring of Fire – The Music of Johnny Cash reopens the Gilliam Stage with Richard Maltby, Jr. and William Meade’s fiery musical about “The Man in Black” himself, Johnny Cash. It follows the full story of Cash’s life from his early days in the cotton fields of Arkansas, the launch of his musical career in Memphis, his marriage to his beloved June Carter, and all the soul-stirring music he created along the way.
Grandma Gatewood Took a Walk is a new play by Catherine Bush about Emma Gatewood, a 67-year-old mother and grandmother, who told her children she was “going for a walk” but failed to mention that her walk would be over 2,000 miles and take her through 14 states, making her the first woman to solo through-hike the newly formed Appalachian Trail. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit Barter’s website at BarterTheatre.com.
BEANSTALK COMMUNITY THEATRE is producing Robert Harling’s Steel Magnolias, a comedy-drama about the bond among a group of Southern women in northwest Louisiana. The title suggests that the memorable “female characters are as delicate as magnolias but as tough as steel,” as we find out at Truvy’s in-home beauty parlor where a group of women regularly gather. Performances take place at the Appalachian Theatre from March 28 through 30. For info, visit BeanStalkNC.com and for tickets, go to AppTheatre.org.
No fewer than eight offerings are on the winter season schedule at the CITY OF MORGANTON MUNICIPAL AUDITORIUM (CoMMA) beginning on January 19 with Landau Eugene Murphy Jr., who first burst onto the national conscience as the Sinatra-and-Soul singing season six winner of NBC TV’s “America’s Got Talent” with his incredible voice, undeniable charisma and unparalleled showmanship.
The national tour of the Broadway musical Annie stops at CoMMA for one night only on January 30, bringing with it Little Orphan Annie in a celebration of family, optimism, and the American spirit, which remains the ultimate cure for all the hard knocks life throws your way.
On February 16, Push Physical Theatre’s Generic Male is a masculinity satire by two well-meaning fools—arguing, dancing, and clinging to the status-quo characteristics of men. Hilarious hijinks ensue as they examine assumptions that go unquestioned until they are spoken aloud. It’s about fathers and sons, war and death, and… James Bond.
Johnny Cash: The Official Concert Experience follows on February 25 with songs and stories from the “Man in Black” to the stage in a way that audiences haven’t seen or heard before. With video of Johnny from episodes of The Johnny Cash TV Show projected on a screen above the stage, a live band and singers will accompany him in perfect sync.
March 12 marks the return of The Peking Acrobats to CoMMA, performing daring maneuvers atop a precarious pagoda of chairs and displaying their technical prowess at such arts as trick-cycling, precision tumbling, juggling, somersaulting, and gymnastics. They push the limits of human ability, defying gravity with amazing displays of contortion, flexibility, and control.
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, the world’s foremost all-male comic ballet company, brings its internationally beloved troupe of dancers to CoMMA as part of its landmark 50th anniversary season featuring gems from across the company’s groundbreaking repertoire. The performance is scheduled for April 9.
Morganton’s Alfreda Gerald returns to her hometown on April 19 as an international singing powerhouse who has performed with Cher, Celine Dion, Sir Elton John, Whitney Houston, Yanni, Warren Haynes, and many others. Alfreda Sings Aretha! combines Alfreda’s soaring vocals with three female backup singers, a four-piece rhythm section and three-piece horn section.
Finally, North Carolina native and spoken word artist Dasan Ahanu is a self-described introvert with a very public profession as a cultural organizer, performing artist, and scholar. His work focuses on critical writing, creative writing, hip-hop, and popular culture. Dasan appears on April 30. Additional information and tickets are available at commaonline.org or by phone at 800-939-SHOW (7469).
MERLEFEST 2024 has announced the line-up for their 36th annual event taking place April 25 through 28 on the campus of Wilkes Community College. Leading the breadth of can’t-miss performances this year are Grammy-winning rogue-folk ensemble Old Crow Medicine Show (celebrating both their 25th anniversary and nearly 25 years since their MerleFest debut in 2000), Red Dirt stalwarts Turnpike Troubadours, decorated blues-rock duo The Teskey Brothers, and recently reunited bluegrass sensation Nickel Creek. MerleFest favorites Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, The Earls of Leicester, and more are also set to appear with additional artists to be announced in the coming weeks. Committed to illuminating the profound impact of its founding legend, Doc Watson, MerleFest continues to deliver one-of-a-kind programming that pays equal homage to pioneers of the folk movement alongside fresh and burgeoning voices. Drawing over 75,000 patrons to the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains each spring, MerleFest’s well-attested “traditional plus” experience maintains its title as one of the most iconic musical pilgrimages of its time. For artist performance dates and tickets, as well as information about patio seating, reserved seating, camping, parking, and more, please visit merlefest.org.
Alleghany Community Theatre | www.alleghanycommunitytheatre.org
Appalachian State University Department of Theatre and Dance | www.theatreanddance.appstate.edu
Appalachian Theatre of the High Country | www.apptheatre.org
Ashe Civic Center | www.ashecivic.com
Ashe County Little Theatre | www.ashecountylittletheatre.org
Barter Theatre | www.BarterTheatre.com
Beanstalk Community Theatre | BeanStalkNC.com
Blue Ridge Community Theatre | www.blueridgecommunitytheatrenc.com
City of Morganton Municipal Auditorium | www.commaonline.org
Ensemble Stage | www.ensemblestage.com
Hayes School of Music| www.music.appstate.edu
In/Visible Theatre | www.invisibletheatrenc.org.
Jones House Cultural & Community Center | www.joneshouse.org
Lees-McRae College Performing Arts | lmc.edu/pashows | Instagram @lmctheatre
Parkway Playhouse | www.parkwayplayhouse.com
Schaefer Center Presents | www.theschaefercenter.org
Wilkes Playmakers | www.wilkesplaymakers.com