Shelby, North Carolina celebrates music legend, local history at the Earl Scruggs Center.
By Hope S. Philbrick
Before visiting the Earl Scruggs Center, located on the Uptown Shelby square in the historic Cleveland County Courthouse, everything I knew about banjos was this: They are round string instruments, were featured in a scene in Deliverance, and managed to woo Steve Martin.
Which means shortly after our media group arrived for a tour I was the idiot who asked, “Who’s Earl Scruggs and why does he warrant a Center?”
Earl Scruggs was “to the five-string banjo what Babe Ruth was to baseball,” country singer Porter Wagoner is said to have famously uttered. “He is the best there ever was and the best there ever will be.”
Uh, yeah, so I should have known who he was. But thanks to the Center, I now know a whole lot more about him and banjos than ever before.
Earl was THE great banjo player. He perfected and popularized a unique three-finger picking style (now called “Scruggs style”) that is a defining characteristic of bluegrass and continues to influence music today.
The Center shares Earl’s life story as well as the history and traditions of the region where he was born and raised and banjo music in general.
Among the exhibits are several too-good-to-miss displays, including…
- An interactive touch table to explore different musical styles through “virtual strumming.”
- A gallery showcasing Flatt & Scruggs on the Grand Ole Opry, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Bonnie & Clyde.
- A banjo breakdown trio of interactive screens that allow you to analyze three styles of banjo playing.
- A “banjo petting zoo” where you can try to play a banjo.
After visiting the Earl Scruggs Center I bought “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” and added it to my road trip playlist. I came, I saw, I learned, I bought. If that’s not an endorsement for a place, I don’t know what is.
Earl Scruggs Center
103 S. Lafayette St.
Shelby, NC 28150
While in Shelby, also visit the Don Gibson Theatre.
– Photos © HSP Media LLC
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