It all started with a cinder block building that was also an auction house, on farmland in the foothills of western North Carolina. The bathroom had a toilet but no sink. There was no phone, and it was heated by a large wood stove. The owner had a band, and brought in others that played there often as well, starting around the mid 1970s. It went on to add an outdoor stage, amenities, and thousands of fans. It became a key stop for bluegrass, "newgrass" and roots music artists of all kinds. Even the likes of Garth Brooks and Merle Haggard came calling to play there.
This is part one of our series on Green Acres Music Hall, with interviews from artists like Bela Fleck, John Cowan, Carol Rifkin and the band Acoustic Syndicate, along with the man who helped take it from its humble beginnings to its peak, Steve Metcalf. Joining them are some of the folks who frequented the venue, myself included. Of course, the music itself is here too, with audio from shows by Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, the John Cowan Band and others.
Do you remember the 1980s? The Cold War, Reagan, big hair, synthesizers, yuppies, AIDS, MTV? It can be easy to point and laugh at times, maybe easier than it is to remember the good things about the era. It did not make national headlines, but one of those good things was Green Acres Music Hall, which came of age in that decade.
In our first episode, we touched on some of the history of the music scene in the region and how rough things could get in the 70s, with biker gangs taking over outdoor festivals and rock clubs, and in this episode we get to some more of the history of the live music business in the 80s and early 90s. You know, the days when you didn’t buy tickets online, but at a window after you waited in line. When being social was always in person rather than often on a network. This was the heyday of Green Acres Music Hall.
This episode features conversations with artists like Bela Fleck, John Cowan, Darin Aldridge, the band Acoustic Syndicate, Sandy Carlton, Ashley Capps of AC Entertainment, Green Acres regular and frequent emcee Vicki Dameron, Carol Rifkin, former club owner Phil Dennis and Mettie, the “Little King”, Steve Metcalf. We’ll also feature more live music recorded at the Acres, as we have been able to dive into more tapes from Steve Metcalf’s collection, and live shows from archive.org.
Back in 2018, we dove into the history and culture of a beloved venue that was its own cultural phenomenon over a span of nearly four decades. It was a sprawling, quirky, at times surprising and almost always joyful tale; those first three episodes of our Green Acres series totaled almost three hours (they started with fifteen separate interviews totaling over five hours), and included 19 songs or portions of songs played live at the venue.
Those episodes detailed the history of the Acres, from its inception as a spot for dancing and country music to its embrace of Bluegrass and progressive acoustic bands, to the addition of an outdoor stage and larger and larger crowds in later years. In those first three episodes you can hear about how owner Nile Cuthbertson started Green Acres, how Steve Metcalf became its front man, while the episodes include a lot of context on external forces at play in the music scene locally and nationally in the 1970s, 80s and 90s.
People are just as ready to talk about Green Acres today as they were when we made those first episodes. Additionally, many artists who played there are set to perform at the inaugural Earl Scruggs Music Festival on Labor Day weekend in 2022, and that got me thinking about revisiting the Acres by reworking all those hours of interviews and including many portions of our conversations that were left out the first time. Now, we put forward Green Acres alumni Bela Fleck, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Darin Aldridge, and Acoustic Syndicate in this new context, as well as the person who made an indelible impact on the whole shebang, Steve Metcalf.
The Little King tells his story and the story of the infamous and legendary Green Acres Music Hall, Little King Records and all the shows and many artists involved in those shows