Music in the Mountains

03 Apr 2024

The vibrant music scene in Highlands


On any given spring or summer evening, there are several places to enjoy live music on the plateau. In this two-part series, we explore an expansive list of offerings, so expansive, in fact, that we decided to split the offerings by location in order to highlight as many as possible. For this issue, our focus is Highlands. In our next issue, we will explore the equally wonderful and unique offerings in Cashiers.

In Highlands, visitors and locals alike can take in free outdoor concerts every Friday and Saturday evening beginning May 17th through October 12th. Mark your calendars for “Friday Night Live” at the Town Square on Main Street or “Saturday on Pine” held at Kelsey-Hutchinson Founders Park where you can hear local and regional musicians perform all season long. This year marks the 43rd season of the esteemed Highlands-Cashiers Chamber Music Festival, which takes place from July 6th - August 11th and brings world-class musicians and repertoire to the plateau. Guests of the Ruffed Grouse Tavern can treat themselves to a gourmet burger and brew while listening to live Blues music on Thursday evenings or gather with their friends and family for a one-of-a-kind Bluegrass Brunch on a Sunday afternoon. Whether you stop in for a craft cocktail or glass of wine at the elegant Hummingbird Lounge or The Wine Garden at Old Edwards Inn, visit the Vineyard at High Holly, or share a bacon-pimento burger and a brew while listening to bluegrass at the Ugly Dog Pub, you’ll find live music and fun at some of Highlands’ finest establishments and eateries.

The plateau is even home to its very own boutique music festival, Bear Shadow Music Festival, the annual spring sister festival to the wildly popular Highlands Food and Wine Festival that takes place in the fall and frequently sells out in a matter of minutes. Bear Shadow’s inaugural festival occurred in the spring of 2021 and ushered in the long-anticipated return to live music following the global pandemic. Taking place at the picturesque Winfield Farm, it promises a weekend of “music, mountains, and revelry,” and has become one of the most popular micro-festivals in the Southeast, garnering attention from Rolling Stone in 2023. Named after the Shadow of the Bear, a popular natural phenomenon that occurs against the backdrop of Whiteside Mountain each fall and spring, this much-loved festival has quickly morphed into a mountain tradition.

Past artists have included Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, The Head and the Heart, Band of Horses, 49 Winchester, Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors, Watchhouse, The War and Treaty, and St. Paul and the Broken Bones. This year’s lineup is equally impressive with headliners JJ Grey & Mofro and Black Pumas, as well as Futurebirds, American Aquarium, The Record Company, Grace Bowers, and more.

Bear Shadow Festival Director, Casey Reid, explained that moving the festival from late April to mid-May will hopefully bring warmer temperatures, and slimming the festival from three days to two will “give festival-goers ample time to travel to the Highlands-Cashiers Plateau and take advantage of all the charm and attractions the area has to offer.”

There’s no doubt that the plateau is a special place. Year after year, Reid hears from both festival-goers and artists who are moved by their time in such a serene setting, “We are continually amazed by the massively talented artists and festival fans who rave about the charm of the Highlands-Cashiers Plateau. We are often told that Bear Shadow is not just another stop on the tour – rather, it’s a highlight for the artists and their crews to soak in the Blue Ridge Mountain views while entertaining the crowd. It’s also interesting to hear where our ticket holders hail from as our reach continues to grow and become regionally diverse. So, that’s what we look forward to the most – hosting these incredibly brilliant souls who choose to lend their talents to us while putting on a memorable show for our fans from across the southeast and beyond. It’s exciting to be part of bringing everyone together in the plateau!”

With premiere lodging, shopping, and dining nearby, Bear Shadow Music Festival is the perfect weekend destination to connect and celebrate with family and friends. Reid added, “This year’s festival overlaps with Mother’s Day, and we encourage families to enjoy the festival together. Children 12 and under are free. We also provide a free shuttle service from downtown Highlands to our main stage and festival grounds at Winfield Farm. This year’s lineup is top-notch. It’s going to be an incredible weekend!” Make plans now to attend this year’s festival on May 11th and 12th. Tickets are on sale now at

For a premiere acoustic listening experience like no other, be sure to check out the Highlander Mountain House Salon Series, which brings world-class musicians, artists, and performers every month all year long. Imagine sitting fireside in the intimate setting of the Ruffed Grouse Tavern and listening to Americana singer-songwriter S.G. Goodman sing the lovely “Space and Time” or “All My Love is Coming Back to Me” in a space that feels as cozy as your living room. In 2021, Jason Reeves launched the Salon Series at the charming Highlander Mountain House, inspired by the European Salons of the 17th century that served as cultural hubs for writers, artists, and musicians to exchange ideas and share their work with others. Reeves has described the Salon Series as “more analog than digital. To get back to those things that are elemental - friendship, sustenance, warmth, connection, and inspiration.” He added, “Some return guests have started calling it the Bluebird Cafe of Appalachia. Highlands is incredibly fortunate to have this level of talent every month - national and international touring musicians who normally play much larger theatres, amphitheaters, and even stadiums, in a setting that seats fewer than 100 people.”

The Highlander Mountain House Salon Series has hosted a bevy of notable musicians over its first three seasons including American Aquarium, Patterson Hood, Hiss Golden Messenger, Sarah Jarosz, Futurebirds, Tyler Ramsey, Kevn Kinney, Erin Rae, Shannon Whitworth and Woody Platt, and many others, and one of the first guests was literary luminary Ron Rash, who read from his then newly released book In the Valley. If you missed Stephen Wilson Jr.’s performance in February or S.G. Goodman’s stunning set in March, you can catch singer-songwriter Lillie Mae on April 18th. Mae has played the fiddle and mandolin alongside Jack White, appearing on all three of his solo albums, and has been part of the backing band for artists like Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard. Grab your tickets and plan to arrive early as the room fills up quickly. There is free on-site and street parking available, and guests can make dinner reservations before the show by calling the Ruffed Grouse Tavern at 828-526-2590. If you’re a music lover, be sure to check their website for upcoming shows this season.

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