History Feature: Feed, Seed (and a Little Bluegrass) for the Soul


When Pastor Phillip Trees took over the Feed & Seed in 2007, he encountered some deep-seated issues. Really deep: Termites were eating away at the floor joists in the basement. A contractor was hired, and eventually, the bugs in the Fletcher building were eradicated.

That act of restoration is emblematic of what’s happened, on a larger scale, at Feed & Seed. The historic structure — which was built in 1919 and has housed, by turns, a butcher shop, a pottery and ceramics studio, a TV repair shop, a bingo hall, and the feed store its name still suggests — has found perhaps its most community-friendly use to date. 

For the past decade-plus, it’s come into its own as a space for nondenominational worship, while simultaneously becoming one of the most distinctive bluegrass venues in Western North Carolina — if not the entire Southeast. 

“Fletcher has often been thought of as a sort of fly-through between Asheville and Hendersonville,” Trees says. “Now when people stop at the intersection here on the weekend, there’s bluegrass cranking through the outdoor speakers, and they think, ‘What’s going on over there?’”

That it routinely attracts genre titans like Larry Sparks and the Lonesome Ramblers  and Ralph Stanley II speaks to just how respected the venue has become. As does the fact that it was featured on Blue Ridge Music Trails, a collaborative nonprofit project that highlights significant traditional-music venues throughout the region. And 2019 is a particularly special year for the Feed & Seed, considering it’s the building’s 100th anniversary. 

“There’s an engraving in the basement that says ‘1919,’” Trees confirms. “There’s an amazing history here, and we’re making the celebration a year-long thing.”

He is leaning into the venue’s centennial anniversary during October and November, with shows from Larry Sparks (a two-time International Bluegrass Music Association Vocalist of the Year), Gaelynn Lea (the 2016 winner of NPR’s Tiny Desk contest), La Terza Classe (an Italian bluegrass band), Carolina Blue (IBMA’s New Artist of the Year for 2019), and many others. Last month, an event titled “Unbroken: Bands Give Back” featured numerous Henderson County bluegrass acts playing for donations that will fund upgrades to the building. On Oct. 17, the first annual “Nick Chandler and Delivered: A Bluegrass Christmas” will be held, operating as a fundraiser for Toys for Tots. 

“The 100-year-old building may be bruised and battered,” Trees says. “But [it’s] unbroken,” he adds, echoing the lyrics of the bluegrass-gospel standard “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?”

That circle today is strong indeed. Brevard-based Carolina Blue has played at the Feed & Seed somewhere between 20 and 30 times, and the community atmosphere keeps them coming back, says guitarist Bobby Powell. 

“Our first impression was how cool it looked: kind of like an old general store,” recalls Powell. “I remember thinking that this was the type of place that the first-generation bluegrass acts played in, which suited us just fine. You’ve got this intimate venue [that attracts] national acts,” he says. “It’s a real family-oriented environment, where you can bring the kids to dance and have fun. Everyone is welcome … there’s something magical about it.”

The Feed & Seed’s weekly schedule has become fairly standard. There’s worship on Sunday, usually attended by 100 or so people. In the middle of the week, there are potluck meals, movie screenings, and other community events. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights are reserved for music. These shows, almost all of them free, draw upwards of 150 people. Trees has also used the building to host weddings and memorial services. Old-time immersion baptisms take place in Cane Creek, weather and water quality permitting.

A wistful nostalgia plays a big part in the popularity. Walking into the Feed & Seed is akin to stepping back in time. Trees encourages the feel by selling Moon Pies and RC Colas for $1 (coffee is free), and the vintage vibe has spread its allure from generational locals to regional residents, and even, now, to tourists. Growing acclaim has  earned the venue a lofty nickname: “Ryman of the Blue Ridge.” That’s a reference to the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, a legendary 2,000-plus-seat venue that opened in 1892 as the Union Gospel Tabernacle. For 31 years, it hosted the Grand Ole Opry, and has seen the likes of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Pasty Cline, Hank Williams, and other timeless musical icons grace its stage.

To Trees, “Ryman of the Blue Ridge” is about the best nickname Feed & Seed could have.

“The Ryman in Nashville was a church,” he points out. “It has pews, they do bluegrass, so it fits. It’s a great tagline for us. We’re so thankful to be kicking bluegrass and having church here in Fletcher.”

Feed & Seed, 3715 Hendersonville Road, Fletcher. The building’s 100th-anniversary celebration starts this month. See sidebar for schedule. For more information, call 828-216-3492 or see feedandseednc.com.

By Beth Beasley / Times-News correspondentPosted Mar 27, 2011 at 12:01 AM


The entertainment at the Feed & Seed gets the toes tapping; clogging, clapping and general foot stomping energize this popular venue’s “listening room.”

The entertainment at the Feed & Seed gets the toes tapping; clogging, clapping and general foot stomping energize this popular venue’s “listening room.“
A slew of bluegrass acts and singer-songwriters are slated to perform throughout April at the casual, drop-in music venue in Fletcher, with music spilling over to weeknight shows.
“When you see them lining out the door, you know it’s a good band playing,” Shayna Mali says.
Mali, who lives in Asheville, likes to visit the Feed & Seed to jump in with the spontaneous group of dancers clogging to rollicking bluegrass bands.
The family-friendly venue has been offering a slice of old time Appalachian fun — with no cover charge — since 2007, offering sales of RC Cola and Moon Pies, popcorn and cups of free coffee.
“There’s a lot of great music in April besides the Saturday and Sunday shows,” says Philip Trees, pastor at the music venue/church.
Trees adds that the Feed & Seed is often called “the little Ryman in the mountains,” referring to the renowned Nashville country music concert hall that, like Feed & Seed, has good acoustics as well as church pews for seating.
Trees thinks the fact that there’s no cover charge allows a wider crowd of fans to enjoy the music at Feed & Seed.
“In these hard times, when it’s difficult to afford gas, donations [for the band] work out best — you give what you can afford,” Trees says.
Bluegrass is at the backbone of upcoming shows, with a good dose of gospel and some traditional singer-songwriter acts thrown in, such as Susan Gibson, known for writing “Wide Open Spaces,” made popular by the Dixie Chicks.

Other bands making an appearance in April include Bobby Anderson & Blue Ridge Tradition, Mark Stuart and Stacy Earle, Sista Otis, The Hurleys, and Project Johnny Cash.
A recent show featuring the Moore Brothers Band and the all-female string band Honey Holler had Mali dancing with a crowd of cloggers on a standing-room-only Saturday night.
“It’s just fun, and it’s something different,” says Jim Hutchison, a Feed & Seed regular with his wife, Jorda. “The acoustics are better here, the people are quieter.“
Padded seating in the so-called “listening room” — running the gamut from pews and chairs to theater seats bought on eBay from Dollywood — let patrons sit back, relax and soak in the tunes in an alcohol- and smoke-free environment.
“It’s fun to watch the cloggers,” Jorda Hutchison says. “Come early and pick your seat.“
Lacking anywhere else to sit, some patrons sit on low-slung display cabinets at the front of the former general store to get a better view of the Moore Brothers on stage.
The two young brothers from Hickory — ages 8 and 13 — that front the Moore Brothers Band had the Feed & Seed audience whooping and hollering with their quick picking and charismatic presence.
Isaac Moore, 8, did a great impersonation of Johnny Cash as he introduced “Folsom Prison Blues,” sung by him and his brother, Jacob, 13, playing guitar and mandolin, respectively.
The home-schooled musical prodigies have been selected for the past three years to be included in the Kids on Bluegrass program by the International Bluegrass Music Association — an honor given to only 25 children throughout the country, according to their mother Patti Moore.
“Isaac’s been on the guitar about nine months,” says Patti Moore. “He plays mandolin, but loves the guitar.”

Isaac Moore has been dabbling on the banjo for the past month, already wowing audiences and impressing his father, Jeff Moore, who plays backup on guitar for his sons, along with Richard Penland on guitar and Mark Davis on stand-up bass.

On April 3, husband-and-wife-led band The Hurleys will play the Feed & Seed, with their style of “good solid gospel music.“
Fusing gospel, bluegrass, blues and Celtic with high levels of enthusiasm, The Hurleys have a sound that’s different from most bluegrass groups.
Stacey Earle and Mark Stuart, another husband-and-wife team, will play April 5.
The duo is known for acoustic guitar interplay, autobiographical songwriting, lovely harmonies and humorous storytelling.
After years touring the folk/Americana circuit with their brand of blues, pop, country and rock styles, Earle and Stuart have a knack for reaching out to the audience in an intimate come-into-my-living-room fashion, Trees says.
On April 7, Sista Otis is ready to bring down the house with the “Gospel of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” her first performance at the Feed & Seed.
“She’s like Janis Joplin,” Trees says of Sista Otis’s magnetic on-stage energy.
The veteran Detroit singer-songwriter has been named one of the top indie artists in the U.S. by the magazine The Advocate.

As part of the Urban Folk Movement, she founded “Sista Otis and the Traveling Folk Review,” which toured the country in the late 1990s and early 2000s showcasing Detroit talent.
Susan Gibson, a songwriter honored with a Country Music Association award, will play her own brand of Texas-Americana-folk music on April 14, part of a national tour that has continued for 14 years.
A broken arm caused a setback for Gibson last year, but she returned to making and playing music within two-and-a-half months after her accident.
Her 2011 release, “Tightrope,” is both at home with and a departure from her previous albums.
Gibson and producer Gabe Rhodes are the sole musicians on Tightrope, which “manages to be beautiful in its sparseness, easily accessible yet full of sophisticated notes for those who take a careful listen.“
If the shows aren’t enough, bluegrass fans can take a bit of the Feed & Seed home with them — two volumes of music from local bands that have been recorded at the venue are available for $10 each.

SAMMY FELDBLUM December 10, 2018

All photos by Bryce Alberghini


When Pastor Phillip Trees took over the old Feed and Seed in Fletcher, North Carolina, his plans were modest: first, remove two and a half tons of old TVs. Beat back the termites. And, if he was lucky, find some pews to bring in.

He had been preaching out of the public park for years at that point, and was happy just to have a roof over his head. “But a year later, after I started doing music in here—I play guitar during worship—I noticed the acoustics were wonderful,” Trees recalls. “So I said hey, let’s open the doors and have a venue.”

He points out the floor-to-ceiling windows fronting the store. “Look at the Blue Ridge Mountains, right out the window. You’re in a general store. What do you think you’re going to do?”

“You’re going to do bluegrass.”

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And boy, did he. The Feed and Seed now hosts bluegrass shows every Friday and Saturday, free of charge (the bands are paid by donation). More remarkable even than the music is the dancing: in front of the stage, audience members get up during every song, the jangle of clogging shoes accenting down-beats. No alcohol is served—it’s a church, after all—but it’s the best dance party in Fletcher.

Trees knew little about bluegrass as he began inviting bands to the venue, but what he’s discovered has thrilled him. “The music is such a treasure,” he says. “The catalogue of these songs—not only the history of what they teach, but of love lost, and cheat, and murder—it’s life. But there’s always a gospel song thrown in. And that’s the hope. We stumbled onto that. I’d never theologically considered bluegrass music. But I realized, ‘wait a minute—that matches exactly what I’m doing on Sunday.’ The murder, cheating, and moonshining, and then a gospel song—that’s what life is.”

“The murder, cheating, and moonshining, and then a gospel song—that’s what life is.”

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Some weekends that connection becomes even more pronounced, as bands that play on Saturday nights will stay over to lead Sunday morning worship. Trees credits the pull of the night-time reveries with expanding his flock: when his church took over the Feed and Seed in 2007, his congregation was thirty members. Now, it’s four times that.

The congregation, in turn, helps to run the weekend show. They book the acts, they sell the one-dollar popcorn and keep the free coffee stocked, and they fill in emceeing and on the soundboards when Trees takes a rare vacation.

The gospel numbers are accorded special treatment on Fridays and Saturdays; everyone stands at attention with hats off. It’s one beat in the rhythm of a Feed and Seed night. Slow songs are obvious, quicker songs beget fancier footwork. I’ve yet to see someone turn down a dance request. After each song, dancers sit respectfully in their pews before starting all over again when the next one begins.

Every weekend, Jeri Jerome and Perry Clayton pace the proceedings. Each song is a partner dance, with eyes locked: she in shiny shirt, often gold-trimmed, alert and wide-eyed; he in cowboy hat and ponytail, sanguine. The two met seven years back at a “Pickin’ in the Park” event in nearby Canton, before Jerome knew how to dance in the mountain way. “I was from the West Coast,” she explains. “I saw kids and 80-year-old men and women doing the same dance. And I thought, ‘how cool is that?’”

“I was from the West Coast,” she explains. “I saw kids and 80-year-old men and women doing the same dance. And I thought, ‘how cool is that?’”

“And that’s when she looked up and saw me,” says Clayton with a laugh. He grew up in Sylva, forty minutes west, and so caught her up to speed. Now every weekend they dance the same dances that he grew up on.

Much of the crowd hails from their white-haired generation. The venue is older still. Built in 1920, it has housed a great many businesses in its near-century of life: it started out as a general store and kerosene distributor and became for many years an agricultural purveyor. When Pastor Trees took it over in 2007, it was four years removed from life as a ceramic shop and TV repair business.

Bill Moore, mayor of Fletcher from 1999 to 2017 and a regular Feed and Seed attendee, recalls growing up with the building as the largest grocery store between Asheville and nearby Hendersonville. That was decades before the town of Fletcher incorporated in 1989.

Despite having quadrupled in size since then to around 8000 people, Fletcher has no walkable downtown. Instead, Highway 25 cuts through, with retail strips dotting its sides. In a town without a true center of gravity, the Feed and Seed acts as a hub on weekend nights, a gathering place tailor-made for the community it serves. That means a space for celebration, for joy, in a town that Pastor Trees describes as having little else happening on weekend nights.

Trees has a simple test he uses to assess the Feed and Seed’s community import. “If a church got hit by a Star Trek invisible beam, and the church disappeared on Monday—would the people realize it was gone on Tuesday?” he asks. “Would it take ‘til next Sunday?

Trees has a simple test he uses to assess the Feed and Seed’s community import. “If a church got hit by a Star Trek invisible beam, and the church disappeared on Monday—would the people realize it was gone on Tuesday?” he asks. “Would it take ‘til next Sunday?

“If this place disappeared on Monday,” he continues, “there’d be riots. Because people are already looking on the marquee: “Who’s playing?” And then on Wednesday they’re checking the website: “Who’s playing?” And then on Friday, they’re coming at 2 o’clock to park, to get here early enough. There’d be riots in Fletcher if this place disappeared!”

Ex-mayor Moore is thankful for the economic boon that influx provides Fletcher. “A lot of people fail to realize that on any given weekend the Feed and Seed will bring an average of 400 people to Fletcher,” he says.

Even so, much of the audience hails from close by. Every week, a crowd of regulars arrives hours early to sit outside and chat before the shows begin. “It’s a place you can go, and you can talk to friends and family, and meet somebody new,” Moore says.

From behind a pulpit-turned-sound board, Trees reflects happily on the many functions of his venue. “This is actually supposed to be a pulpit: this is where I’m at. So Friday and Saturday nights, from four or five to ten, I’m here. Instead of a sermon, the pastor is serving sounds. And lights. It’s got the connection: ‘I saw the light, I saw the light’—Hank Williams. So I’m serving not from the front with a pulpit, but I’m more of a conduit. People come in: the door is open, it’s free, there’s no ticket.

“To serve the community with sound and light for a musical tradition and heritage of the area—it’s a native art form, bluegrass, to the community, with our doors open—I love that.”

The open doors and free entry foster a community with a wide embrace: musicians, cloggers, bluegrass fans, church-goers, locals, tourists.

“Fletcher’s a better place with Philip Trees,” says Moore. “Since he came on, we’re a better town.”

Trees, for his part, seems stunned at how the venue has come together, with each week another happy surprise. “I’ve been in the ministry 20 years now as a pastor. And it’s been a renaissance for me, to do something for the community. And then final thing on Sunday, I get to teach a little sermon. It’s been a neat thing for me.

“I would’ve crashed and burned like everybody else in the machine of church. This is the farthest thing from a machine. It’s alive.”