Friday night dates

Heritage center offers slice of regional flavor with music, stories and scenery

Ed Chastain’s regular Friday night hangout is more of a getaway.

He and his wife, Sharon, travel to the Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center for open-air concerts, storytellers and art exhibits in a picturesque setting with legendary sunsets.

“We’ve never had a bad night there,” Chastain said.

Every Friday, the Maryville residents drive 30 minutes to the center, located in Townsend. “It’s a nice ride down there and a nice ride back.”

Chastain said he gets home from work on Fridays, and the couple stops first at a local restaurant. “We just leave our lawn chairs in the trunk.”

He said they usually arrive to the center around 6:30 p.m. but for popular concerts, like the one being held this Friday with three-time guitar picking champion Steve Kaufman, Chastain said, “You better get there early.”

The center’s marketing director, Nancy Williams said last year more than 500 people attended Kaufman’s concert.

Admission for concerts at the center is $4 and Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center members are free.

The Chastains are members of the Heritage Center where a 12-month family membership is $25 and covers most events.

“It’s one of the best deals going in this county,” he said.

The Sunset Music Series presented by BankEast offered eight concerts this summer with music from a wide-range of genres.

The Chastains said along with concerts, they have enjoyed all of the center’s Friday evening programs.

“There’s just all kinds of culture there from this region. It’s kind of like going to your grandmother’s house and sitting on the porch.”

He said his wife also enjoys shopping at the center where local artisans display and sell their work.

Williams said there are several regulars like the Chastains who support and frequent the center.

The Chastains said one of the most memorable events from the summer was on July 9 with Storyteller Elizabeth Rose and music by Jill Pair and The Shadow Mountain String Band.

Chastain said the storyteller was “just amazing! She starts with this eerie tune that she sings acapella and then she just grabs you.”

Williams said the event was a partnership between the Heritage Center and Tremont.

“Tremont is about connecting people to nature, and our mission is to present the cultural history of the region,” said Williams. “Both are part of the fabric of this region.”

For more information about programs at the Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center, visit their website at www.gsmheritagecenter.org or call 865-448-0044.

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