Every Saturday in downtown Dahlonega, a crowd of 100 or so gathers to hear some mountain-inspired music.
And that’s on an average Saturday; last weekend, close to 500 packed around the pickers.
The weekend Appalachian jam sessions are part of the fabric that makes up Dahlonega, this little mountain town that is deeply rooted in music traditions. It’s home to several world-renowned musicians, including members of the Indigo Girls and Widespread Panic, and it’s not uncommon for a shopkeeper or a college professor to be equally well trained on a fiddle or with their voice.
“I think Dahlonega has always been a great place for live music — there’s just a lot of good talent here,” said Mary Ann Knight, manager at the Dahlonega Visitors Center. The weekend jam sessions have brought people out onto the sidewalks, but until recently it wasn’t unusual to encounter a spontaneous jam session at a shop on the square, she said.
While she doesn’t play an instrument, Knight has sung in many of these impromptu sessions.
“People would just meet and play in coffee shops or restaurants,” she said.
This weekend, when the Indigo Girls perform four sold-out shows at The Crimson Moon in Dahlonega, it continues a tradition of high-quality music in this little town — and also a connection between bandmembers Amy Ray and Emily Saliers. The two have played shows at The Crimson Moon and at North Georgia College & State University in the past, and have lots of friends in the area.
John Grimm, owner of Vintage Musical Instruments in Dahlonega, said the interest in music spans generations; he teaches students at Lumpkin County Middle School through the Pick and Bow school, and in the store’s 23 years he’s taught countless others to play stringed instruments.
“I think having music stores in a small community, and having venues to play in, it helps a lot,” he said. “You take those things away, it’s hard for a community to have things to organize.”
As it enters its ninth year, The Crimson Moon serves as the focus of regularly scheduled live music. Owner Dana LaChance schedules live music several nights a week, bringing in regional and national acts and mixing it up with local favorites, such as Tom and Juli Theobald.
In a 2009 interview with The Times, LaChance said she initially “set a goal to be a nationally known, multi-genre acoustic venue.”
“I like lots of different music, and I think it’s a creative spirit that makes it happen; it has to be very diverse,” she said.
But it’s also the connection with the mountains and the people who originally founded the area — the Scotch-Irish — that gives the music in this town an added dimension.
“Dahlonega was settled by Scotch-Irish; that’s where our mountain, Appalachian music started,” said Knight. “And the people that don’t know Appalachian music call it bluegrass — there’s a difference.
“I would call it old-time mountain music.”