After years of hearing stories about The Willow Tree Coffeehouse and Music Room's reunions and the storied magic that happens there every year, a few of us decided to make the trek from the Triangle NC through Boone and across the mountain pass into Johnson City Tennessee to see what all the fuss was about. It was everything we had heard and more. The artists, staff and fans that descend on this event to help make it all happen are a force to be reckoned with. This year a few of us from the Home Grown Music Network family decided to join a large contingent of North Carolina music lovers on their annual pilgrimage to celebrate live music.
Of course my decision to join in the fun was influenced heavily by the knowledge that three of my favorite bands that have long contributed to our incredible music scene in the Mid-Atlantic region over the last decade or more were on the bill. Big Daddy Love, Yarn and Dangermuffin all led us through amazing sets over the span of the weekend including many sit-ins and of course the crowd sang along joining in the fun. 49 Winchester also performed a lively set, a local favorite of the Willow Tree's founder, Teri Butler Dosher. She's a former teacher who dared to give up the security of that career as an educator, for a dream to launch the coffeehouse and music venue.
She created a space that has helped to solidify a space for locals and visitors alike to soak in community. It's a very welcoming spot where everyone is invited to enjoy delicious coffee, custom tea blends, or a craft beer while they relax in the casual environment she has created, filled with comfy sitting corners, and nooks filled with books or games to browse while they sit and relax. You can take the opportunity to just browse a wall filled with napkin art, or add to it if you feel so inspired. The various rooms display the talented work of local artists, and the main room includes a stage that hosts performances by local and touring musicians.
Listen to Yarn's set from January 27!
I had been thinking about communities lately and what makes some of them really shine, like beacons, and somehow, even with the sparsest resources, they find ways to spur growth, inspire participation, welcome new members and thrive. Others, seem to stagnate or slip off of their foundations often struggling through self-inflicted wounds, that create storms eroding their base.
Of course the people that form these communities are their most valuable asset. Their willingness to adopt and guide those that are interested in joining them is a huge factor in their longevity. Creating and supporting an atmosphere that is nurturing and inspiring is another key to that success. Similarly, Home Grown Music Network is another example of a community inspired by helping to promote and support musicians, record labels, venues, writers and even photographers with their careers . Over more than 25 years the founder of HGMN, has built a reputation for connecting deserving artists with hungry fans. Communities thrive when they are forward thinking, focusing on how we can help each other to succeed and get on the road to their brightest possible future. Ideally, that future allows those who have benefited from that kind of incubation to reach out to help others inspired by their success, and help them learn from their experiences. This lifts us all up and encourages everyone to rise to their fullest potential. Artists, especially musicians recognize those that influenced them to first pick up an instrument and start playing.
Dangermuffin "Rising Souls" unplugged live video
Most artists know that while we can be our own harshest critics, and that can stifle even the most creative-minded person, it's those voices of support that help to inspire and encourage us to move forward. We become better, because we're willing to put in the hard work, even after others may have given up. Always striving to improve at whatever it is that we feel inspired to do with the talents we are continually developing. That is the nature of an artist and their struggle with their art. And this is where the community created at the Willow Tree excels.
We didn't even make it to Boone before we found ourselves meeting up with friends for lunch on the beautiful Saturday afternoon of our road trip. What I found when we arrived in town were some familiar and all friendly faces of people who had also come to celebrate and grow the traditions that they had begun just five years ago,. The Willow Tree Reunion is rooted in these traditions like joining a large group of folks for a pre-show meetup at one of the local breweries and sampling the menu offerings at White Duck Taco, to create a base to absorb your craft beer consumption later that night. And gathering again on Sunday morning for a brunch at the coffeehouse, with breakfast casseroles and mimosa's made with champagne, and orange or cranberry juice, as well as doughnuts, croissants and cheeses all donated by venue and it's guests before that final matinee show. It only took this one visit to understand that the best is yet to come and to convince me that I want to be a part of that bright future.
If you've been a fan of music and the arts as long as I have you have seen similar forces at work in bands and their communities of fans as well. And if you've lived more than a few places in your life or are well traveled you see cities and towns deal with similar struggles where they want to find new ways to be their best, holding on to their pride and traditions while trying to breathe new life into parts of them that have withered, where they are looking for revival, inspiration and new hope.
All artists struggle with the search for that creative spark, and they thrive when they are surrounded by a community that lifts them up. Artists, like communities thrive when they are nurtured. Successful communities are the sum of all parts. The Willow Tree is a shining example of such a community. It was wonderful to bask in that positive atmosphere even just for a couple days.
We'd like to leave you with a couple of quotes from the proprietor of this venue and the linchpin of that wonderful community, Teri Dosher:
"There are many reasons I am passionate about live music, one is that I know it can really change your life."
"So here we go into year six with no regrets, lots of lessons learned, and a great deal of gratitude for all those faces in the crowd."
We shall return for future events, adding our faces and spirits to that crowd, to feel that community's magic once again!
- words and photos by Jerry Friend