There’s nothing that says education and entertainment can’t go hand in hand. For the past 12 years, the Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center in Townsend has made that synergy an ongoing part of its mission by offering an array of events and offerings that not only reflects the character of the community, but also allows both locals and visitors to enjoy an ongoing array of quality concerts.
The Heritage Center began offering live music in 2006, and it now provides a series of spring, summer and fall performances in its outdoor amphitheater beginning in early May through the end of the year.
Logan Hull, director of special events and rentals, has overseen these events for the past two years. Now in her third season at the Heritage Center, she said the Sunset Series focuses on music that finds a natural fit with the history and culture of the Smoky Mountains and its surrounding environs.
“These concerts offer a musical mix that encompasses roots, folk, Appalachian and bluegrass music, sounds that are all indigenous to East Tennessee,” Hull said. “Sharing the music is part of our mission.”
The initial offering in this year’s spring concert series will be presented by a duo that calls itself Acoustic Eidolon. Consisting of Joe Scott on double neck guitjo (an instrument that combines guitar and banjo) and Hannah Alkire, a classically trained cellist, the couple creates a sound that weaves a folk tapestry with the gentle sounds of classical music.
“It’s a unique blend,” Hull said. “Acoustic Eidolon are not only wonderful songwriters, but also great storytellers, and their performances are soul soothing in a very special way. Joe is not only the best guitjo player in the world — he may be the only guitjo player in the world.”
Hull said that she is especially delighted to find that audiences come to the Heritage Center shows from beyond Blount County. Many people make the drive from Nashville, Chattanooga and Johnson City, she said. Hull said she also is pleased with the high caliber of artists that the center’s been able to present in recent years.
“It’s exciting to see,” she said. “We’re attracting an increasing number of national touring acts.”
Hull said the talent is chosen in a variety of ways — through views on YouTube, mentions on Facebook and from audience suggestions and recommendations.
“Naturally, we’re always interested in bluegrass bands because they’re so much a part of the heritage,” she said. “But we also like performers who can share stories with their songs.”
While Hull noted that concerts are free to members of the Heritage Society and $10 for nonmembers, she said this year the center also has instituted a new policy that provides reserved seating for an additional $5.
“In the past, people would bring their lawn chairs hours — or even days — ahead of time and set them up in front of the amphitheater seating,” she said. “Now, for a nominal charge, they don’t have to worry about securing great seats because we can do it for them.”
In addition to the seasonal Sunset Series, two special musical events are planned for 2019 under the aegis of “Great Evenings at the Heritage Center.” Phil Dirt and the Dozers recreate the songs and sounds of the Beach Boys, the Four Seasons, the Eagles and other classic groups with a performance on Friday, May 31. On Friday, Sept. 13, the center presents the WannaBeatles, a celebration of Beatles music that allows for audience involvement.
Hull credited a number of sponsors for giving their support for this year’s array of offerings — among them, Aubrey’s for the Spring Series, Boyd’s Jig and Reel for the Summer Series and CBBC for the Fall Series. In addition, Great Evenings will be sponsored by First Century Bank, Talley Ho Inn and Jim and Barbara Leach.
She also said audiences can enjoy a variety of food choices for a nominal cost as well. Meatball Madness and More and Smokin’ Joe’s Bar-B-Que are two of the vendors that will be on hand.