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Mountain City celebrates musical tradition

Long Journey Home
Temple Reece puts the finishing touches on a new mural, which will be revealed during the 4th Annual Long Journey Home celebration scheduled for Labor Day weekend. Photo by Jinifer Rae

By Jinifer Rae
Freelance Writer

Old-time music will be heard throughout Johnson County this Labor Day weekend as residents bring the past to life during the 4th Annual Long Journey Home celebration. “Black Smoke a Risin’, and It Surely is a Train” is the theme of this year’s four-day Long Journey Home Tour and Festival honoring the iconic old-time mountain music style that shaped country music as we know it. Befitting its musical heritage, Johnson County is located as far as northeast in Tennessee as one can get, equally sharing the hills and hollers of Cherokee National Forest and Watauga Lake.

Nestled within those hills, lies Mountain City, where once again much of the musical celebration will take place. According to event organizers and members of the Long Journey Home Committee, Temple Reece and Cristy Dunn, the festivities are scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. on Thursday, August 30, with the Senior Center Dinner Concert and Dance.

“The committee has a special kickoff planned for Thursday night before anything else gets started,” Reece said. “Diners will enjoy the live music provided by The Long Journey Home House Band complete with an old-fashioned cake walk.”

Of course, that is only the beginning, as the festivities will continue throughout the following three days with a series of art and quilt shows on Friday and Saturday at the Johnson County Art Center and at the First Christian Church Christian Life Center, respectively. One of the most anticipated parts of the celebration is once again scheduled for Friday evening, with Buskin’ on Main Street, a special round of festivities that promises to bring the small town to life with music, friends, and plenty of good food. Reece emphasized that country music, as we know it today was shaped by some of Johnson County’s famous historical residents.

The first to make a recording of the now well-known song “The Ballad of Tom Dooley,” G.B Grayson, will be commemorated on Saturday at the unveiling of a new mural honoring the blind fiddler, painted by Reece. The newest painting entitled “It Surely is a Train” will be the fifth in the series depicting Johnson County’s early country music icons.

Following the unveiling, guests will have an opportunity to enjoy a self-guided musical heritage tour, which will begin at Maymead, the site of one of the old Mountain City train depots with the music of Grayson. Aside from The Ballad of Tom Dooley, Grayson’s short career also produced Train 45, Handsome Molly, and nearly 40 other songs that became the standards of Bluegrass and early country music. The tour will guide visitors and music lovers to various sites throughout the county, concluding the day with performances of the Piney Woods Boys from the album, Old Time Music at Clarence Ashley’s, now on the National Recording Registry, followed by an open community jam session at the home place of Fred Price.

“Guests are encouraged to bring a quilt or lawn chair and be ready to take a trip back in time and follow the tour to five sites throughout the county, with the opportunity to hear murder ballads on the creek bank to commemorate the capture of Tom Dooley, and experience the signature claw-hammer banjo style of Clarence “Tom” Ashley played on the front porch of his home place,” Dunn said in a recent press release.

This year’s festivities will close on Sunday afternoon with a traditional gospel Sunday Singin’ at historic Heritage
Hall in downtown Mountain City.

For more information, please contact Cristy Dunn at 423-957-6346 or Evelyn Cook at 423-727-8700, or [email protected] or visit