Backwoods Beat Music Festival

Singers, songwriters, and storytellers will converge on Sparta, NC, May 13 & 14, as SkyLine/SkyBest presents the first Backwoods Beat Music Festival in Sparta’s Crouse Park.

Tim & Myles Thompson, a Nashville father/son duo perform Friday, May 13, 7pm, and will teach a songwriting workshop Saturday, May 14. Kate Campbell, a popular performer with Sparta audiences, returns to teach songwriting with Tim & Myles on Saturday, and performs Saturday evening at 7pm. Galax native, Dori Freeman, opens the Saturday evening performance at 6:30pm.

The festival events will open Friday and Saturday evenings at 6pm. Admission Friday is $5/person. Admission Saturday is $10/person. If you bring your ticket from Friday night, Saturday’s admission will be half-off. Kids 12 and under are free.

A variety of food vendors will be on-site before the performances begin. Craft beer and wine will be available from Round Peak Winery and Skull Camp Brewery. Crouse Park is located at Grayson & Whitehead St., Sparta. Free parking is available in surrounding lots.

“We want to bring all types of music lovers to Sparta,” says Festival Chairman, Barbara Halsey. “The Festival will encourage a sense of community while it offers Workshop participants the chance to learn songwriting skills from experienced artists.”

The Saturday songwriting workshop is free to the first 60 registrants, with a $10 registration fee covering lunch and a tee shirt. The morning session begins at 9am. After a lunch break, the afternoon session goes until 3pm. Students will have the benefit of a session with Tim & Myles, and a session with Kate. Private sessions with the instructors are available after the workshop for $30/half-hour, $60/hour. Call the Alleghany Chamber,  336-372-5473 for details.  Registration closes May 9.

To register for the songwriting workshop, visit the Backwoods Beat Facebook event page, the Alleghany Chamber website,, or pick up a form at the Chamber office, 58 S. Main St., Sparta. Funding for the workshop was made available through the Arts Guild of Alleghany and the North Carolina Arts Council.


Tim and Myles Thompson are a father-son duo who will be teaching songwriting workshops during the Backwoods Beat Music Festival, and headlining on the Crouse Park Stage Friday evening at 7pm.


Tim and Myles Thompson

Tim is a Nashville based session player, singer/songwriter and the 2008 International Fingerstyle Champion. He has recorded 11 CDs and two DVDs. He has been featured in three magazines and has taught several songwriting and guitar workshops, much like the one planned for the Backwoods Beat Festival.

Music has always filled the Thompson home; unknowingly it inspired Myles to pick up the violin at the tender age of five! By the age of twelve he was studying music theory and improvising with skill beyond his years – it was clear that music would be his life. Today at the ripe old age of twenty-one Myles is also a prolific singer/songwriter and mandolin player.

No one music genre totally encompasses the Thompson’s repertoire. Is it acoustic rock, pop, country, Celtic, jazz, funk? The simple answer is yes to all of the above. To experience a Thompson performance is to remember the experience.

Kate Campbell is a singer-songwriter whose past performances have developed a strong Sparta fan base. On Saturday Kate will be teaching workshops during the day and will perform on Saturday evening at 7pm on the Crouse Park Stage.

kate campbell

Kate Campbell at MerleFest

Campbell has a musical career spanning over 20 years. She has always resisted the temptation to follow musical trends, and instead has decided to set her own pace for her unique musical journey. Campbell is originally from the Mississippi Delta and is the daughter of a Baptist preacher. Her formative years were spent in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, and the experiences she gained from that difficult period of time shaped her life as well as her songwriting. Campbell’s music, which effortlessly combines Southern rock, rhythm and blues, and soul, is filled with cultural themes from her upbringing. Her music continues to inspire and excite a growing fan base.

Dori Freeman is a 24-year-old singer and songwriter from Galax, Va. who will open for Kate Campbell  at 6:30pm on Saturday evening.

d freeman

Dori Freeman

Freeman comes from a family rooted in art and tradition. Her grandfather, Willard Gayheart, is an artist and guitar player, and her father, Scott Freeman, is a multi-instrumentalist and music instructor. While her style subscribes to no one genre, the influence of her Appalachian upbringing lies at the core of her music — heard especially in the lulling mountain drawl of her voice. She sings without affect and with striking clarity, delivering each song carefully and earnestly. Her recently released CD was named by Rolling Stone Magazine as one of the top 35 most anticipated country CDs of 2016.

Freeman’s style was shaped by American Roots music:  Bluegrass, Rhythm and Blues, and Old Country. Her early introduction to musicians like Doc Watson, The Louvin Brothers, and Peggy Lee have heavily influenced her modern yet timeless sound. Dori learned how to play the guitar at fifteen and began writing her own material a few years later, citing Rufus Wainwright and his haunting melodies and achingly honest lyrics as the spark that inspired her to pen her first song. Her songs often center on heartache and pining; unrequited and sometimes unconventional love are common muses for her melodies and lyrics.


This post was based on a press release by Jennifer Swenk.

Sam and Julia Simmons

In Alleghany County, Christmas is never far from conscious thought.  It is difficult to drive far on any road without seeing a hillside covered with rows of Frasier Firs.  According to a USDA report almost 900,000 Christmas trees were shipped out of Alleghany in 2012.  Christmas and all that surrounds the holiday are an integral part of our county.

IMG_4172For Sam and Julia Simmons, Christmas takes on an even stronger presence in their daily lives.  Wrapped in a full white beard and styled mustache, complimented with twinkling eyes, Sam embodies Santa Claus. And Julia fully embraces the role of Mrs. Claus.

Sam grew up in Nashville, Tennessee.  At age 13, he and his family moved to Raleigh, NC.  He attended Broughton High School just blocks away from the capital grounds.  After graduation he wound his way through undergraduate studies and then to dental school.

In 1971, Sam joined the US Air Force and served there as a dentist.  He was stationed in England where he met a young local woman, Julia.  They were married 1973 and a year later Sam and his new bride returned to the United States.  They opened a dental practice in King, NC in 1975 and served patients there for over 30 years.

As Sam worked to establish his practice, Julia worked in the dental office and poured herself into their growing family.  Then at age 27, she considered returning to school. Julia did not think she would do well in college as she had not been tracked towards college in England.   She took a tentative step by enrolling in Surry Community College (SCC) and never looked back.  Over the course of time, she graduated from SCC, then Salem College.  She received a scholarship to Wake Forest University where she received a masters degree in counseling.  She finished up with a PHD in human services and counseling from Cappella University.

While Sam served the dental needs of the King community, Julia worked with the Wake Forest Medical School to help internal medicine residents become more aware of the mental health needs of their patients.  She also worked with others in the community to develop a suicide prevention program in Stokes County. They jokingly refer to themselves as the Doctors Simmons – dental and mental.

The Simmons’ residency in Alleghany County was an incremental process.  They began by looking for a weekend home, focusing their search in southwest Virginia.  There they met a man who told them that he had a small farm for sale in Alleghany County.  They made arrangements to view the farm and found it wasn’t exactly what they were looking for.  On their way out, the man said, “Oh, there is a house for sale just up the road.  You may want to take a look at it.”  They pulled into the drive and fell in love with the house and Alleghany County.  After Sam’s retirement, they moved to Alleghany fulltime and bought a new home with a breathtaking view.

Sam and Julia immediately began plugging into the community.  They sing in the Highland Camerata and are active in promoting the arts.  With some 25 years of mental health intervention experience, Julia worked with others to develop Alleghany Lives, a suicide prevention program.  Sam volunteers as a tutor at Sparta Elementary School.  They are active in Mountain Laurel Moravian Fellowship in Laurel Springs.

Then in 2005, a question steered Sam and Julia into a different service direction.  A child saw Sam with his white beard and a touch of red clothing.  The boy, in a moment of pure innocence, asked Sam, “Are you Santa Claus?”  Sam laughs as he recalls that in spite of momentous efforts, many children were always afraid of him as a dentist.  Now, he had the chance to go from someone feared by children to someone revered.

Santa Sam was born.

Surely making the transformation to Santa would be an easy one.  Put on a red suit, polish a perfect “Ho, Ho, Ho,” and listen to the kid’s requests.  But, it was one of those early requests that struck Sam with the seriousness of his new role.

A shy girl climbed onto his lap and as is sometimes the case, she went silent.  Santa Sam probed for her Christmas wish but the girl remained quiet.  Finally Santa suggested a Barbie and the little girl nodded enthusiastically. She climbed down and rushed over to take her mother’s hand.  As she moved to leave, she suddenly rushed back to Santa Sam and exclaimed, “I know what I want for Christmas.”  Santa Sam leaned forward and asked her request.  “I would like my grandmother to be cured of cancer.”

Sam struggled to maintain his composure.  He promised to ask his elves to pray for her grandmother.  To fulfill that promise he asked members of his church to pray for this child’s request.

This revealed the true role of Santa to Sam and Julia.  They now use Santa as a vehicle to emphasize giving to others.  Sometimes they share the Nativity Story using a model to tell about the greatest gift of all – the birth of Jesus.  Their message whether secular or religious is one of faith, hope and love.


The funds generated through their role as Santa and Mrs. Claus are plowed back into the community.  The Simmons support Camp New Hope in Glendale Springs where the staff minister to children with life-threatening illnesses.  They also support the Solid Rock Food closet backpack program, help buy art and music supplies for local schools, and support the animal rescue program.  Through their giving, Christmas lasts all year for Sam and Julia.

sam and julia

Santa and Mrs. Claus

A year round beard, a red Jeep, the wire rimmed glasses, and the rosy cheeks required the question be posed to Sam, “You know you are not really Santa – right?”

Sam only responded with a smile – a smile that hinted of a secret – a secret whose answer is only known to him and Julia.


For more information on Sam and Julia visit