Mountain Magic: The Arts are Alive in Blount County
Enjoy the best of Appalachian culture, cuisine and the arts in Blount County, Tennessee.
Looking for a cold craft brew and an evening of lively Americana music? Prefer a quiet farm-to-table dinner with a mountain view? Bluegrass? Ballet?
However your tastes run, you’ll enjoy Blount County’s take on the pleasures of Appalachian life. East Tennessee, particularly Blount County, embodies the high spirits of its colorful past, rooted in the majesty — and challenges — of the mountains. The result is a warm, welcoming culture reflecting a deep appreciation of the area’s natural beauty and the diverse people that have shaped its communities.
Dive right into the music, art and entertainment that make this such a lively area. You’ll find all kinds of indoor and outdoor concerts at The Shed Smokehouse and Juke Joint in Maryville, where big-name musical acts appear all summer. In addition, the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center in Townsend has preserved the rich history and culture of the area’s Native Americans and settlers over the centuries. Visitors can explore an authentic Appalachian village and learn about local history in several permanent exhibits. The center also offers a concert series from July through September.
More riches abound at the Clayton Center for the Arts in Maryville. This successful collaboration between the cities of Alcoa and Maryville and Maryville College punches above its weight with a calendar of eight to 10 shows a year, plus various exhibits. Performances might include the Appalachian Ballet Company, a country music star, a jazz guitarist or a MOMIXstyle dance performance.
“We strive to offer more diversity in our programming than is typically found in communities this size,” says Blake Smith, general manager at the Clayton Center. “We try to provide audiences the opportunity to avoid traveling to larger cities for this kind of programming.”
One young musician in the area is doing his best to preserve and evolve traditional music born in Appalachia.
Thirteen-year-old Wyatt Ellis is fast building a reputation as one of the country’s most-formidable young mandolin virtuosos. Invited to play with such bluegrass icons as Ron Block and Buddy Greene, he is releasing his first album, for which he co-wrote many of the tunes. Inspired by Bill Monroe, Wyatt honed his skill during the pandemic, and today is a young man on a mission.
“A big motivation for me now is working really hard on stuff nobody else has done — really, really hard stuff,” he says. “I’m always pushing it forward, but not too much. I like traditional bluegrass, but it needs to move somewhere.”
If you’re planning a fun musical evening or an after-lunch hike in the woods, you’ll need — and the region’s food and drink won’t disappoint.
The famed Blackberry Farm maintains its own brewery, which produces unforgettable ales and beers with unforgettable names like Fate of Ophelia and What You Don’t Understand. And you can also wet your whistle and indulge your yen for live music, at Smoky Mountain Brewery, with locations in Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, Maryville and Knoxville.
Food is increasingly a Blount County hallmark. Foodies flock to Dancing Bear Lodge for its emphasis on Appalachian food. And The Walnut Kitchen attracts a loyal following for its “farm-forward” cuisine. Another don’t-miss place to find great food: in Townsend, Apple Valley Mountain Village, for legendary fried pies served with a bit of shopping. Maryville Corner Market also offers sandwiches, salads and soups with “clean” ingredients, and Bigfoot Popcorn promises you can enjoy delicious varieties of popcorn while searching for Bigfoot clues.
Small Town BBQ is just that — and proud of it. Located in Friendsville, the 30-seat restaurant grew from a successful food truck and now draws diners from around the country for its barbecue and other specialties, including hot chicken.
“Our social media game is pretty good, so now we get a lot of traffic,” says owner James DeLong. “It’s kind of funny because we are close to Blackberry Farm, so we get a lot of high-end type people sitting here eating off paper plates, saying, ‘This is what we came to Tennessee to see.'”
Want to know more?
If you’d like to learn more about the Blount County, TN, area, check out the latest edition of Livability: Blount County, Tennessee.