The Blue Ridge Music Trails website was recently relaunched.

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Press release from the N.C. Arts Council:

ASHEVILLE — The launch of the website www.BlueRidgeMusicNC.com this week highlights what happens when state agencies, along with regional and local partners, work together to improve the economic health of Western North Carolina communities using traditional assets.

“We are partnering with private sector music venues and musicians to improve the economies of our communities,” said Gov. Pat McCrory.

“By positioning North Carolina’s unique traditional assets for the tourism industry,” he said, “we are demonstrating that arts and culture provide jobs, attract visitors, influence consumer spending and build community vitality.”

The North Carolina Arts Council, a division of the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources, created Blue Ridge Music Trails in 2003 as a way to use the region’s rich music traditions to bring visitors to the state. The N.C. Department of Transportation, through a federal transportation enhancement grant, contracted with the Department of Cultural Resources to reposition the Blue Ridge Music Trails project in 2010. The goal of the project is to use traditional music in 29 western and foothill counties to strengthen cultural tourism in the region. In addition to motivating North Carolina residents to explore traditional music, the projects targeted cultural travelers who are eager to connect to authentic experiences.

The Arts Council and the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area Partnership, funded by the federal government through a National Park Service grant, and private sources, have collaborated to update the guidebook Blue Ridge Music Trails of North Carolina produced by UNC Press. The agencies have broadened the scope of the project by developing an identity program, producing promotional materials and creating a new website.

The Blue Ridge Music Trails of North Carolina project has documented more than 200 events and venues in the region that draw visitors and residents.

“The arts add value to the tourism industry by rooting it in the authenticity of place and leveraging a region’s unique culture,” said Wit Tuttell, assistant secretary, Division of
Tourism, Film & Sports Development. “We are delighted that there is a new tourism resource to help us showcase and promote North Carolina’s rich musical heritage.”

The website, developed by Asheville-based PaleoSun and designed by Element Advertising, features an interactive, searchable events calendar, videos of traditional musicians and interesting profiles and stories about Western North Carolina’s rich traditions of ballad singing, flatfooting and clogging, and stringband and bluegrass music, with a special emphasis on the development of banjo styles. The Blue Ridge National Heritage Area held 16 listening sessions across the region to hear from musicians, tourism promoters and others interested in the project prior to developing the website.

“The re-launching of Blue Ridge Music Trails is the result of successful collaborations,” said Wayne Martin, executive director of the North Carolina Arts Council. “This project shows how a region with authentic, high-quality arts and a strong, unique sense of place can benefit from a partnership of musicians, government agencies, local arts councils and tourism organizations that are intent on both preserving our traditions and leveraging economic development.”

Martin, who helped develop the original Blue Ridge Heritage Initiative that led to the federal designation of the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area in 2003, said making connections to community cultural traditions creates a strong sense of place and pride in residents.

“Documenting and presenting authentic North Carolina is the foundation of our work,” Martin said. “Celebrating local musicians and the traditions that they continue is one of the ways we strengthen the creative economy – improving the quality of life in the mountains and the foothills and for all North Carolina residents.”

The Blue Ridge National Heritage Area Partnership leveraged the initial investments for the guidebook update and promotional materials to fund the new website and to hire a full time Blue Ridge Music Trails project coordinator and a music consultant.

“We know our return on investment will be significant,” said Angie Chandler, executive director of the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area. “Research shows us that there is $20.7 million in total economic impact associated with only 26 music events. This is a substantial contribution to the region.”

An economic impact analysis of 26 venues conducted by East Carolina University showed $18.6 million of direct spending at music events. Additionally, the study found that a typical community traditional music event can be expected to return more than $4,000 for every 100 visitors attending.

“Important, too, is that if these events were not held the various communities hosting music events would lose more than $13.5 million,” Chandler added.

Arts, culture and heritage tourism are key components of a sustainable economy and the N.C. Arts Council started working in the cultural tourism arena in the late 1990s.

“Exploring our state’s rich arts traditions, such as pottery and music, are reasons why visitors want to return to North Carolina,” said Susan Kluttz, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources. “Arts and culture provide numerous benefits to our state’s economy, stimulating job creation, attracting investments and motivating visitors. Collaborations with regional and local partners help increase tax revenues from visitor spending.”

To find out ways that you can experience the rich music traditions in western North Carolina and the foothills, please visit www.BlueRidgeMusicNC.com.

Angie Newsome

Angie Newsome is the executive director and editor of Carolina Public Press. Contact her at (828) 774-5290 or e-mail her at anewsome@carolinapublicpress.org.

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