Joe Shannon, Founder & Executive Director — 1994 - 2014
Joe Shannon moved to Boone in 1977 and as soon as he arrived he started looking for folks who shared his love for traditional music. He found many: Cecil Gurganus, a neighbor who played fiddle, Steve Lewis, who played guitar and banjo, Mary Greene, who played just about everything and also loved to sing old ballads and hymns. And he met many more great musicians.
Mostly they would play at somebody's house, or barn, or church. There also were occasional festivals and weddings where some combination of local musicians would gather. Fortunate to be invited to many places, over the years Joe met a wide variety of traditional performer, musicians, dancers, storytellers and poets.
Joe met so many incredible performers, but except for the one or two big fiddle festivals each year, there was no ongoing event or place where locals and visitors to the High Country could experience this talent. It was his belief that once folks saw or heard these local and relatively unknown performers, they would respect their talent and also feel an authentic connection to Appalachian culture.
He decided to test his belief. On February 4, 1994 Music in the Mountains was started. The first concert featured Steve Lewis, Rachel Nelson, Becca Eggers-Gryder, and Joe Shannon. The location was Our Daily Bread, a small delicatessen in downtown Boone. Crowds were small at first, but soon started to grow and after several months we outgrew Our Daily Bread. Summer and fall programs in 1994 were moved to the Student Union on the ASU campus. "Community folks" were hesitant to venture to the ASU Student Union, so in 1995 concerts were moved to the Boone United Methodist Church.
Because Boone United Methodist Church (and other churches) often have weddings on Saturday evenings, it was necessary to move around some more. In subsequent years, other locations have included the Broyhill Inn & Conference Center, the Wesley Foundation, Watauga High School Auditorium, Appalachian Brian Estates, the First Baptist Church, and Grace Lutheran Church.
Name changes came too. In 1996, Joe discovered that Music in the Mountains was a registered name by another organization, so he changed the name to Old Time Music in the Mountains. After another year, Joe decided that name was too long so, in 1997 he changed the name to Mountain Home Music (MHM).
MHM has continued to use different venues in the community, but settled into St. Luke's Episcopal Church, Grace Lutheran Church, Baptist Churches in Boone and Blowing Rock, and the Blowing Rock School Auditorium.
The purpose of Mountain Home Music continues to be true to Joe’s original reason for starting it - to honor the musicians, dancers, storytellers, and poets of the Appalachian region. In the Winter of 2001, Joe thought of another way to say this: "Mountain Home Music presents world-class Appalachian performers that you've probably never heard of."
As of 2013, Mountain Home Music has produced over two hundred and fifty concerts, thirty-seven of which aired on regional educational television and forty-five aired on public radio. And over eight hundred different performers from the Appalachian region have appeared on the Mountain Home Music stage. We hope to re-establish airing MHM on educational TV in the near future.
Becoming a Non-Profit
In September, 2002, a group of interested individuals got together with Joe to discuss converting Mountain Home Music into a non-profit organization so grants could be applied for and memberships could be solicited. Since Mountain Home Music had not made a profit in eight years of existence, that seemed a reasonable approach.
A mission statement was developed: The mission of Mountain Home Music is to celebrate diverse styles of Appalachian performing arts. Mountain Home Music strives to educate and build community through the arts, providing accessible cross-generational experiences.
In November, 2002, the Articles of Incorporation were written for non-profit status. Mountain Home Music applied to the state of North Carolina to convert the corporation to non-profit and was approved in December, 2002. Mountain Home Music was awarded their 501(c)3 non-profit status on June 5, 2003. The Helen M. Clabough Charitable Foundation awarded a grant for $8,617 to Mountain Home Music, Inc. to purchase sound and recording equipment.
The sound and recording equipment that this grant enabled Mountain Home Music to purchase has not only improved the sound quality for every concert, but it has also enabled capturing the audio sound track from every show. This will preserve every concert in the future on CD for archiving and to provide a source of income by copying the CDs and making them available for purchase by radio stations, members, or other interested persons.
Mountain Home Music Board Begins Transition To Continue Without Founder Joe Shannon
With the blessing of MHM founder Joe Shannon, who was diagnosed with cancer near the end of 2012, the MHM board has pledged to carry on what will be Joe’s legacy by finding someone in 2014 to manage the music series in the future. “We all felt like Mountain Home Music was Joe Shannon. We all had the feeling that we wanted it to continue, but we would only do that with Joe’s blessing which he has given the MHM Board.”
Pictured left: At a MHM concert in December, Julie Williamson and Joe Shannon share memories of Appalachian State University when Joe was a professor over 20 years ago. Photo by Lonnie Webster
In December 2012, Shannon found out he had cancer. While initial chemo treatments caused the cancer to stop spreading for about six months, subsequent treatments weren’t as effective. While Joe was still in Boone, he mentored a Board Member in developing a concert series by contacting artists and venues. Other Board Members are assuming various duties that Joe has handled the past 20 years such as writing grants to obtain funding for the concert series, handling finances, updating the website, preparing brochures, posters, and press releases to advertise the concerts
Looking forward, Shannon said he hopes the series stays “true to the mission” of honoring Appalachian culture and the music and musicians that it breeds.
“I just want it to stay true to the mission and keep it a friendly place where people can feel like, can come and have a good night of entertainment and also feel like they are a part of the experience,” Shannon said. “That’s something I’ve tried to do in my 20 years of Mountain Home Music.”
Shannon has also been described as a quiet leader, one who is also passionate about education. Along with teaching in public schools, he was an educator at Appalachian State University. During his time at Appalachian State, he encountered a young lady who was going through a very difficult time in her life. She eventually graduated and moved on, but Shannon inspired her so that 20 years ago – unbeknownst to Shannon – she cross-stitched a poem that he wrote called the “Garden of Knowledge.”
Shannon – Photo by Lonnie Webster
During the last Mountain Home Music concert of 2013, Shannon saw the embroidered poem for the first time. It was also at that December concert that Shannon told the public of his health condition. It was shocking and saddening for all.
“We do want to continue Mountain Home Music. That’s his wish,” the Chair of Mountain Home Music said. “So we really want to do a good job for Joe.”
A Mountain of a Man**
Joe Shannon awarded the Order of the Long Leaf Pine
Joe Shannon has been the founder and guiding light of Mountain Home Music for 20 years. He conceived the MHM concert series in order to honor the music and outstanding musicians of the Appalachian region. In late 2012 Joe was diagnosed with cancer and in 2014 stepped down from his position as executive director of MHM.
Governor Pat McCrory has honored Joe Shannon with The Order of the Long Leaf Pine, among the most prestigious awards presented by the Governor of North Carolina. The Order of the Long Leaf Pine is presented to individuals who have a proven record of extraordinary service to the state of North Carolina.
Contributions to their communities, extra effort in their careers, and many years of service to their organizations are some of the guidelines by which recipients are selected for this award. This very special honor was presented to Joe at a special concert so the community could also honor him.
“This is a great day for all of us,” said Wade Wilmoth, former mayor of Boone and previous recipient of the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, at the St. Patrick’s Day concert. “This Long Leaf Pine award goes to Joe for all his contributions to help save the special music and storytelling traditions of our area.”
The concert featured performances from the Mountain Home Bluegrass Boys, members of the Forget-Me-Nots and Strictly Clean and Decent, but also served as a fundraiser to help cover the medical expenses of Shannon, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2012.
More than 200 people attended to show their support, and more than $5,000 was raised.
“We have been spoiled for more than 20 years by having someone take care of us,” said concert performer and emcee Patrick Crouch. “As musicians, all we’ve had to do is show up and play. Joe has taken care of all of the behind-the-scenes work for two decades, and we are incredibly grateful for it.”
The Boone Town Council admitted that it felt the same way and adopted the Joe Shannon Appreciation Resolution, signed by Mayor Andy Ball, reading:
“Whereas, Joe Shannon founded Music in the Mountains on Feb. 4, 1994, to showcase and honor musicians, storytellers, dancers and poets of the Appalachian region; and, whereas, Joe Shannon organized and directed the concert series, which became Mountain Home Music in 1997, in Boone and the High Country; and, whereas, Joe Shannon helped establish Mountain Home Music as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization on June 5, 2003; and, whereas, on Nov. 30, 2013, Joe Shannon was recognized with the Appalachian Cultural Enrichment Award for 20 years of service; and, whereas, Joe Shannon enriches our community by preserving and promoting the artistic heritage of the Appalachian Mountains; and, whereas, Joe Shannon helped establish Boone and the High Country as a destination for cultural tourism; and, whereas, Joe Shannon supports local and regional old-time, bluegrass, and folk musicians by showcasing them in his concert series and paying them a fair performing wage.
“Now, therefore, I, Mayor Andy Ball of the Town of Boone, in honor of Joe Shannon, a teacher, musician, storyteller, concert host, founder and director of Mountain Home Music, do hereby proclaim recognition and appreciation for more than two decades of community service championing our cultural heritage.”
Shannon attended the meeting and was joined by family and Mountain Home Music board members, as Ball read the resolution. It was met with a standing ovation.
“Thirty-five years ago, I moved to Boone. I didn’t know one person; I didn’t know a soul,” Shannon said. “It was the best move I ever made. Thank you all so much.” Joe Shannon
**Extracted from articles by Frank Ruggiero, Jeff Eason and Anna Oakes, Mountain Timesa
Joe Shannon’s Mountain Home Music
Just prior to Joe’s move back to Florida to spend his final days with his family, the Board of Directors voted unanimously to rename Mountain Home Music to Joe Shannon’s Mountain Home Music.
Members of the Board then set about seeking a new Executive Director, knowing that nobody can “fill Joe’s shoes”, but in order to continue, they need to find someone who believed in the mission of MHM and would be willing to continue producing the concerts in a similar manner to which Joe did, though with undoubtedly different skills. Knowing that time was short to get everything done, various Board members took on the tasks of setting up the concert schedule, locating performers for all 20 concerts, finding venues in which to hold the concerts until the Appalachian Theatre opens (?2016), developing brochures and posters, sending newsletters to MHM members, etc.
The New Executive Director has been hired! See his picture and bio under Director’s Notes.