A Few Notes on Upcountry Music
From Bluegrass to Blues to Gospel to Rock & Roll
When you visit you may want to head to one of the many venues in the area, check out a record store (yes, we still have those) or dig deeper with a trip to a museum.
One way to get a feel for our musical heritage is to take a walking tour of the Music Trail in Spartanburg. This phone audio tour of 12 stops in downtown Spartanburg opened in 2011 and runs six blocks. It features those who made a national or international impact in the world of music and have roots in the area. Visitors to the Trail can see photos of the musical artists and call a toll-free phone number to hear their music and their life stories.After the tour, you just step away from a museum, if you are wanting more history, or from several local watering holes where you will find live entertainment.
This part of the country is home to the Piedmont Blues. Josh White, Rev. Gary Davis and Pink Anderson are copied by and were influential to musicians all over the world. The rock group Pink Floyd was named by their bass player Syd Barrett, a blues lover, by combining the names of Pink Anderson and Georgia bluesman Floyd Council.
What would the 1970’s be without the Marshall Tucker Band? For more than 300 nights a year in the ’70s, arena and amphitheater audiences heard, “From Spartanburg, South Carolina, the Marshall Tucker Band!” And there probably would not have been those sweet harmonies in Marshall Tucker’s songs if it wasn’t the 1835 book, The Southern Harmony, and Musical Companion by “Singing Billy” Walker. With his novice-friendly shape note system (think fa-sol-la-mi) that allowed choirs to learn to harmonize in church without reading music, Walker changed how people sang together. He also combined a popular poem of the time with a traditional melody to create the hymn “Amazing Grace.”
Today’s artists Aaron Tippin, Marshall Chapman, David Ball and Edwin McCain hail from the Upcountry. If you head to Greenville during Euphoria, a multi-day music, and food fest, you’ll have the opportunity to hear Edwin McCain perform throughout the weekend.
And we’re producing new artists all the time. The Y.A.M. (Young Appalachian Musicians) program is run in Greenville, Oconee and Pickens Counties for children to learn traditional string instruments like fiddle, banjo, mandolin and guitar. Several local schools have strong music programs, such as Limestone College (est. 1845) and Furman University, which produced Keith Lockhart, the conductor of the Boston Pops since 1995. Converse College’s Petrie School of Music has been teaching students music for over 100 years. Anderson, Greenville and Spartanburg have professional orchestras that provide world-class entertainment with international performers.
So just about anywhere you go in the Upcountry, you are bound to run into someone playing some style of music. Some of the more unique opportunities to hear music in the area are: Hagood Mill Historic Site has free music on the first and third Saturdays every month; Oolenoy Community Center hosts one of the largest bluegrass jams in the area every Friday night; Smiley’s Acoustic Cafe, the Handlebar and The Bohemian in Greenville feature regional and national acts in unique settings; Blues Boulevard and Ground Zero in Spartanburg offer opposite ends of the spectrum – from jazz to punk, and The Showroom always has an eclectic mix; Capri on Main in Gaffney is an old movie theater that now hosts live music.
When you visit the Upcountry, plan to hear some live music. Classical, blues, punk, folk and more await you. You may just stumble across a local musician who’ll influence the rest of the world. At the very least you’ll have a good time.