This foray came at the invitation of friends Jay and Sylvia, who had recently read a piece about the Center in Our State Magazine.
The Center is easy to find there in the old courthouse on the square. Opened just three years ago, it’s a magnificent tribute to Scruggs, a favorite son who picked his way to fame with the Foggy Mountain Boys. Later paired with Lester Flatt, he recorded some notable tunes “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” (Bonnie & Clyde), “The Ballad of Jed Clampett” (The Beverly Hillbillies) as well as the soundtrack for Where the Lillies Bloom.
Scruggs was born and reared in the Flint Hills area of Cleveland County in a musical family, picking banjo tunes before he started first grade. One of five children, he is a tribute to single motherhood. His father died when Earl was only four. Earl Scruggs is credited with mastering the three-finger picking style.
The Center, billed as “Music and Stories from the American South,” offers videos, displays, memorabilia and interactive exhibits. There are banjos for visitors to try out and a computerized “touch table” that lets up to four visitors explore various sounds, vintage photos and text to learn more about the wide world of country music. I’ve seen similar displays in London, Dublin and Las Vegas. Who would guess there’s one in Shelby?
We drove past the Don Gibson Theatre, a vintage cinema that’s been converted to a live theatre for country acts such as Rickey Skaggs, Mickey Gilley, Travis Tritt and the Bellamy Brothers.
Gibson, by the way, is buried under an impressive monument in the city cemetery. We learned this because the folks at Scruggs Center were more than happy to direct us to other points of interest.
One of the most impressive parts of this venture—aside from lunch at Bridges’ Barbecue, was seeing how successfully a small North Carolina town has gotten their act together. Some town leaders obviously banded together to determine what would make a go in their town and Earl Scruggs, one of their favorite sons, is clearly it.
The other musical notable is songwriter Don Gibson, a second-grade dropout, went on to pen such hits as “Oh Lonesome Me” and “Sweet Dreams.” He’s a Country Music Hall of Famer.
The Shelby folks have recruited support of those respective families and some major donors, of course, and have made some beautiful music out of what was once a ho-hum downtown district.
That kind of can-do spirit is to be admired. If lazy little Shelby isn’t a place you’ve thought about to visit lately, think again. It’s a delightful day trip or stopover on the way to the South Carolina mountains.
I was duly impressed with how they drew in other local color. Exhibits of the textile industry and a quote from local author Ron Rash, an attraction in and of himself. His 2008 novel Serena, which later became a movie, is considered one of the major novels of our time.
If you’re going
The Scruggs Center, in the heart of downtown, is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays through Saturday. Wednesday hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The Don Gibson Theatre offers both movies and live entertainment weekly. More information is at www.dongibsontheatre.com