STRINGS & SUDS SERIES: Pisgah Brewing & HoosierDevil
It is no secret that live music and craft beer are inseparable. Take a look around the next time you are at a concert. After you become appalled by the number of people taking selfies and video; count the number of different baseball hats or t-shirts stating the wearer's favorite brewery.
This symbiotic relationship between craft beer and music didn't happen by accident, nor was it something that needed to be forced. Once the craft beer industry took off, the music grew along with it. Some breweries made the intentional effort to capture the music-loving market. But, for Pisgah Brewing in Black Mountain, NC, the music just showed up on their doorstep, and they decided to give it a home.
When Pisgah started fourteen years ago, they became the fifth brewery to open in Buncombe County. If you look at the list now, you will find over sixty. Some of those are large national brands from outside of North Carolina that recognized the area as a mecca for lovers of live music, craft beer, and the great outdoors. But Pisgah was at the start of it all.
Benton Wharton has been involved with live music at Pisgah since the beginning. He started booking shows for the tap-rooms indoor stage, and when the brewery built their outdoor stage in 2010, with a 2,000+ capacity, the skies opened, and the music came pouring down. Since then, Pisgah has improved their outdoor stage a few times over, consistently showing the commitment to their audience, and the musicians on their stage. They have also become one of the most coveted outdoor music venues in the state of North Carolina, and a destination for music and beer lovers visiting the area from near and far. Case in point; over 70% of pre-sale tickets for Pisgah's concerts come from outside of Buncombe County.
Pisgah's outdoor music season runs from April till October. And a vast majority of that booking is done in-house by Benton Wharton. But this year, Pisgah is presenting a two-day event called "String and Suds," where they brought in outside partners. HoosierDevil's Steve Johnson and Maggie Rainwater have joined with Pisgah, curating a line-up and atmosphere that embraces the Americana, Bluegrass, and Alt-Country scenes.
NC Music Magazine recently had a chat with Pisgah's Benton Wharton, who filled us in on how music came to Pisgah, and how Strings and Suds came to be:
BT: When did Pisgah Brewing decide to start bringing live music to the brewery?
BW: It just happened organically right from the start. The owner of Pisgah Brewing was notorious for opening the brewery on Thursdays in the beginning. That was before the taproom. In North Carolina, you can give beer away, if you don't take money, so he did suggested-donation-tastings every Thursday. It was his way of marketing the beer. Thursdays turned into 200-300 people pouring out of the warehouse and into the parking lot. This guy walked in one of those Thursday's and said that he had a drum kit in his car. And some other of his friends had instruments with them. So he asked if they could jam. That quickly turned into bands performing on pallets, and then an indoor stage. There was an organic music scene here before our taproom even opened. I think the owner decided to open a tap-room when he saw a guy selling grilled cheeses in the parking lot during these Thursday get-togethers. It was a scene.
BT: How did Strings and Suds come about?
BW: Steve Johnson from HoosierDevil was formerly the talent buyer at MerleFest. Years ago, he was approached about doing an event in Western NC that focused on Americana, Bluegrass, and Alt-Country, that was away from the MerleFest timeframe in the fall. Mutual friends with the Del McCoury team hooked Pisgah up with Steve, and we did an event called Jam in the Trees together for a few years. I also used to do an event here called "Del Yeah", where we partnered with the McCoury's and hosted that for a few years. We wanted to keep that momentum going. I had already done a one day Strings and Suds event here back in 2013, which had Keller Williams featuring the Travelin McCory's, Hot Tuna Acoustic, and a couple of others. It was a cool name, so we brought it back for this new partnership with HoosierDevil.
BT: What is the experience you are creating with Strings and Suds?
BW: For me, it starts with the music. So, creating an atmosphere for the musicians and patrons alike, where the music can thrive. Specifically, we are trying to nurture the Americana and Bluegrass scene. We are also creating a feeling and setting that allows musicians to take things a step further on-stage. That, in turn, gives the audience an exceptional experience.
BT: The music fits so well with the physical environment. It fits with the music history of the area as well.
BW: Absolutely. If you've ever been to Pisgah Brewing, you will notice the aesthetics of the wooden stage. Almost all the wood used to build it was sourced locally and milled on the property. So, the setting is very organic. Which goes well with the music. And this music was heavily influenced by the Appalachian region we are in. We are lucky to have it all come together at this event.
BT: What excites you about this event?
BW: We have worked with a lot of these artists separately over the years. So, it's great to be able to bring them all together at one event. Jim Lauderdale, Donna the Buffalo, Sierra Hull, and Yarn are all artists we have engaged with in so many different ways over the past decade. We are really excited to see what each artist is going to produce in this atmosphere.
BT: Tell me more about your partners in this event.
BW: Both Steve Johnson and Maggie Rainwater at Hoosier Devil are incredibly knowledgeable regarding Appalachian music, and really steeped in that world. Steve sat on the lap of Bill Monroe as a kid, since their families were very close. Maggie is also from a third-generation bluegrass family. The whole partnership feels very natural. Nurturing Americana, Bluegrass, and Alt-Country is very important to all of us.
Black Mountain, NC