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.