Don Gibson Theater at night

Just West of Charlotte


Cleveland County is nestled at the base of the Blue Ridge mountains just 45 minutes west of Charlotte. Here, away for the crowded parking lots, towering buildings and the rush of nine-to-five you’ll find a place where a spark of creativity runs through everything you see and do.

Music fills the air and concert stages. Art galleries sell spoons that have been twisted and transformed into bracelets. Boutiques are filled with hand-dyed scarves colored to match the autumn leaves. Restaurants create meals that are part tradition, part story and 100% delicious.

Walk along the tree-lined streets and you can feel the energy in the air. Call it a creative force. Call it inspiration. It’s something that has been in Cleveland County for generations. It draws in those who love to create and visitors who want to see new things, taste new things and hear new sounds.

Back in the 1920’s this creative force saw the rise of two music legends; Earl Scruggs and Don Gibson. Growing up in Cleveland County, both boys were surrounded by music. It filled the front porches, corner bars, even thier own homes. For them, music became a creative way to express themselves.

Earl started playing music early in life. At just four years old, he would sit cross-legged on the floor with the banjo across his lap and play using a two-finger picking style. By the age of ten, he had adopted his signature three-finger picking style. This technique, known today as “Scruggs-Style”, permitted him to play lightning fast melodies. Earl’s music career took him to the stage at the Ryman Auditorium. He played with artists like Elton John and Sting. He was a true innovator whose music helped define the bluegrass music we know today. In 1985, this Cleveland County native was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Don Gibson was a prolific singer and songwriter. During his career, he penned more than 375 songs. Some of his most famous tracks are Oh, Lonesome MeSweet Dreams and I Can’t Stop Loving You -which has been recorded by more than 750 different artists (including the 1962 recording by Ray Charles) and is ranked as one of the top Country songs of all time.

Fast forward almost a century, and Cleveland County is still offering inspiration and creativity to new generations –through food, craft beer, art, wine and, of course, music.

So let’s talk about those.

Food has always been a big part of local traditions here and a centerpiece of family gatherings. Today, those recipes have found their way onto menus and tables throughout Cleveland County. Chefs at places like the Honey Hog and Red Bridges Barbecue are creatively mixing family recipes with ingredients from local farms. Pork is cooked slowly over a bed of glowing hickory and oak. Ribs come wet or dry with a kick of spice. Hush puppies beg for attention. Each meal is an experiment in flavor that will wake up your taste buds and have you investing in pants with an elastic waist. This food is not just good. It’s redefining and elevating Southern comfort foods.

Even local beer is being crafted to offer seasonal brews and a multitude of flavors. Anybody can drink a beer. But it takes intelligence to enjoy it. At least, that’s the thinking at Newgrass Brewing Company. That’s why they handcraft beer in small batches using only the finest ingredients from local farmers and around the world. Quality ingredients and creativity are the start of any great brew. It doesn’t matter if you prefer a pale ale or a stout, this place can make any beer enthusiasts rethink what they know about hops and barley.

Shopping has its own creative drive in Cleveland County. It’s about finding the perfect one-of-a-kind treasure. We’re not talking big box stores and endless parking lots. Here you will find galleries filled with the work of local artists. Potters dig into the clay of the surrounding hills to create bowls, vases and sculptures that line the shelves. Jewelers hammer copper into earrings and necklaces that beckon you from across the room. Quilters weave stories into fabric that keep you warm on those chilly autumn nights. Each creation is one-of-a-kind, a conversation to have with your friends and a memory of your time in this place.

Local vineyards, like Veronet and Baker Buffalo Creek, are partnering with Mother Nature to offer a creative spin on wine. Good soils and a sustainable approach allow for a variety of grapes to grow abundantly in this area. Each wine is chosen, blended and aged with the utmost care and passion. Both vineyards offer tours of their winemaking process and a chance to visit a tasting room. Order up a flight of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Merlot or more. Vintages can be enjoyed by the bottle, by the glass or, sometimes, with a view of Crowder’s Mountain. Raise your glass to a wonderful afternoon.

And then there’s music, of course.

Uptown Shelby is home to The Earl Scruggs Center and the Don Gibson Theatre. These are two places you don’t just listen to music, you become part of it. Visitors to the Earl Scrugg’s Center can dig back into bluegrass history through interactive exhibits, learn to play a banjo in the banjo petting zoo or marvel at Earl’s legendary career highlights. Pop over to the Gibson Theatre and buy a ticket to take in a concert by someone like Travis Tritt, Wynonna Judd or a rising country artist on their way to the Hall of Fame.

So, the next time you need a little creative inspiration, head over to Cleveland County. Sample some barbecue from a generation’s old recipe. Watch vases being brought to life from a mound of clay. Listen to some new sounds. Discover a few legends. Or find your own voice.

It’s just about 45 minutes west of Charlotte and a million miles from ordinary.