Rodney Sutton has some challenges ahead of him as the newest executive director of the High Country’s Mountain Home Music series, but the excitement he is generating for the showcase’s direction has more than made up for any anxiety that comes with new leadership.
“We were so impressed with him that we almost hired him on the spot,” MHM board member Ada Webster said.
Sutton succeeds MHM founder and former executive director Joe Shannon, who stepped down earlier this spring due to illness.
“He (Sutton) will bring a new source of energy to the shows, and I think he will blend right in with what we’ve done in the past,” Webster said.
The music series, which alternates venues between various churches and auditoriums in Watauga County, has two main seasons: summer and fall. The summer season starts in May, according to the series’ website. Most of the shows take place at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Boone and the others at Blowing Rock churches and the Blowing Rock School Auditorium, Webster said.
Since it began in 1994, the series’ popularity and list of musicians continued to grow.
Sutton’s responsibilities will include securing venues, compiling a list of musicians to perform, working with sponsors and with any other of the myriad tasks that come with running a music series.
“He will also be there hours before the show to get things open and set up,” Webster said. “He will be responsible for taking care all of the little details, too, like taking care of tickets and programs.”
Sutton knows he is facing a mountain not necessarily of obstacles, but poignancy attached to the changeover.
“It’s a very emotional time, not only for the board of MHM concert series but all of Joe’s friends,” Sutton said. “His request was to have the concert series continue, and his goal was to work with the board and make sure it happened this year. When his health took a sudden downturn and he had to move to Florida, then they realized having someone with some background working with concert series would be very helpful in meeting his requests.”
Sutton said he is not trying to replace Shannon, but rather continue the rich tradition he started.
“Joe left an extensive list of how to make sure whoever stepped in through his role would be able to have a map of how he had done things,” Sutton said. “Joe did a lot of it on his own, and members of his board have been very supportive. He was very hands-on, and I continue to gather stories and insights on how he managed to do so many things. It’s obvious to me that no one would expect me to step in Joe’s shoes.”
In accepting the new position, Sutton felt it was a natural progression in his life’s work of promoting old-time and traditional mountain music.
“I would have not undertaken this role if I had not been impressed by dedication of the board of directors of MHM and their promise they would stick by my side all the way through this year,” he said. “It will be an emotional time for a lot of people, but I have high hopes it will be successful series with a high-quality list of entertainers.”
Sutton is a 1974 graduate of East Carolina University and an accomplished musician.
In 1978, he became director of Green Grass Cloggers and organized it into a professional dance team. The group went to produce school performances, featuring traditional old-time music and dance.
Sutton went on to found The Fiddle Puppets Dance Company and served as emcee for hundreds of school assemblies and stage-managed at numerous festivals, including the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival on the Mall in Washington, D.C, according to an unofficial résumé.
Later, Sutton taught clogging workshops to students in McDowell and Haywood counties in Western North Carolina.
He also has extensive experience working with nonprofits. Currently, he is serving on the board of directors of the Madison County Arts Council.
In 1995, he organized the Bluff Mountain Festival in Hot Springs as a way to educate county citizens about the issues associated with the proposal by the U.S. Forest Service to clear cut Bluff Mountain that runs parallel to the Appalachian Trail in Madison County.
Mountain Home Music’s summer season opens May 25.