For more than 60 years Neila Hyatt has been hosting bluegrass music in her Asheville home, known by many as Mrs. Hyatt’s Music House. Over the years, bluegrass legends and novice players alike gathered together for weekly jams in this warm and friendly setting. According to Karen Cogdill Reilly, Mrs. Hyatt’s granddaughter, “It’s an environment conditioned to learning and passing on tradition – here manners count more than musicianship. The young learn from the old sitting around the music circle.” Even at age 95, Neila Hyatt remains at the center of this circle; musicians still surround her during her weekly visits to the jams.
Recent events, however, have threatened the very existence of this treasured landmark. “Our first and foremost priority is to preserve the Music House,” said Karen Cogdill Reilly. Mrs. Hyatt’s Music House Preservation Society, Incorporated, a 501(C)(3) not-for-profit organization, has been recently established to further this effort. “Sadly, we were unable to save Nelia’s home, but the music house must survive – and the music will live on.” Anderson Nissan, owner of the adjacent dealership, has offered to host the weekly Thursday night jams in their show-room through the end of April, by which time the Music House must either be moved or demolished.
Over the years, Mrs. Hyatt’s Music House mountain music jams have delighted tourists and newcomers and offered a familial environment for musicians. Pickers at the Hyatt jams have included Grammy winner Bryan Sutton, Shane Lail of the Dillard’s, Chris Sharp, formerly with the John Hartford String Band, George Buckner , Lawrence Dillingham and Wayne Erbsen, now instructor of Appalachian Culture at Warren Wilson College, are regulars. They have been instrumental in preserving the roots of traditional Appalachian mountain music.
Over time, the jams became so popular that they out grew the Hyatt family living room and in 1974, Wayne Hyatt built the “Music House” himself to provide a place to “pick outside” year round. This humble venue has attracted media attention from far and wide including features in The Times of London, The Evening News with Tom Brokaw, the Voice of America and a listing as a destination in the popular online Trip Advisor, among many others.
“A sense of urgency has required us to move ahead quickly to archive the contents of Mrs. Hyatt’s,” says Cogdill Reilly. “We have hundreds of photos, articles and assorted memorabilia to preserve before the building is lost. “That’s our top priority right now while we continue to look for a new, permanent location for the Music House in Buncombe County.”
“When these folk-era people are gone, I don’t know who’s going to take their place in the music house circle; she said pointing out that electronic music now dominates this generation’s play list. Mrs. Hyatt’s has been a place for both musicians and storytellers to gather – to play their tunes and tell tales. Luthiers, as well as craftsman, have come here and practiced their skills. Today, there are more and more young people picking up traditional music and there is an ever-increasing desire to preserve Western North Carolina folk history and culture -“we need to preserve this place for them,” she added.
For more information on Mrs. Hyatt’s Music House Preservation Society, Incorporated as MHMHPSI, a 501 (c) (3) not-for-profit, please contact Karen Cogdill Reilly at Info@MrsHyattsMusicHouse.Org.
You may also keep abreast of events at Mrs. Hyatt’s Facebook pages.