By Tamas Mondovics
Since established in 2017, Harbin Hill Farms “Mountain Music Stage” has had a chance to entertain visitors and music lovers with a series of benefit concerts. Thanks to the event’s success farm owner Richard Calkins was pleased to announce plans to host five concerts planned for this season, promoting the legacy of bluegrass and “old-timey, mountain music” that originated in the mountain hollows of North East Tennessee, Western North Carolina, and Southwestern Virginia.
The first concert is scheduled for Saturday, June 9, benefiting the new Arts Center building located at 127 College Street in Mountain City. After several years of searching, Calkins and his wife Kathy found the property they’d been looking for a 42-acre farm nestled in the foothills of Doe Mountain on Harbin Hill Road. The two bought the farm in the fall of 2013. Richard emphasized that the purchase of the farm was the result of a hike that included the crossing of Rt. 67 near Hampton, TN, to the top of Iron Mountain.
“I was so taken with the beauty of Lake Watauga and the surrounding mountains that I knew that this was the area I wanted to live in when I was finally done working,” he said.
While proud of seeing his dream of owning a working farm become a reality, Richard admitted that creating the mountain music stage, was a bit more than just a walk in the park. A working farm would need, at a minimum, to pay for itself and preferably, return a profit.
“Not one to do things halfway, I knew that I would not be satisfied with a “hobby farm,” Calkins added.
“That is when our thoughts returned to preserve and enhance the legacy of traditional music in the region, in particular, the JAM program that is training young musicians to play the traditional instruments and to learn the repertoire of famous old songs from the originators of mountain music,” Richard said.
The next step seemed obvious. “We will host concerts,” Richard said, before realizing an important factor. “I knew absolutely nothing about that music, or about promoting concerts.”
That was only scratching the surface. The farm needed a stage, seating for the audience, and parking area.
Determined to make things happen, Richard enlisted the help of his friends and his farm interns and, within weeks, the hay was moved, and a simple wooden stage was built. A canopy provided shade for the musicians, a sound-system, complete with microphones, speakers, and wiring was installed.
“The idea was to offer “lawn chair concerts,” where the audience would bring their own seating – lawn chairs or just a blanket to spread on the ground,” he said.
Thanks to key members of the Johnson County Arts Council the first event a benefit concert for the Jam Program, launched “The Mountain Music Stage” on the green, at Harbin Hill Farms.This year’s first concert supporting the Arts Center will feature the descendants of “Fiddlin’ Fred Price” – including Kenny Price, Lois Price Dunn, and fourth generation pickers Andrew and Kyman Matherly.
Other planned concerts are expected to benefit the JAM program, the Library Expansion Project, the Church-based Johnson County food banks, and Flow Bellamy’s Feed the kids after school Program.
The Calkins hope is that the Mountain Music Stage will accomplish three things: provide great, family-friendly entertainment; help to preserve and enhance the legacy of mountain music in Johnson County, and strengthen and support key institutions that make Johnson County an ever-better place in which to live.