Pickin' through the winter

Canton hosts dance every other Friday
By Stina Sieg | Jan 21, 2013
Photo by: Stina Sieg Kim Ross and Terry Woody, two J. Creek Cloggers, dance at Winter Pickin' in the Park, returning this Friday night to the Canton Armory.

CANTON — When the weather turns warm in Haywood County, people know where to turn for their mountain music and dance fix. Every Friday, all summer long, pickers and singers and cloggers meet at Canton's Rec Park for a few hours of listening, visiting and jamming. For more than two decades, Pickin’ in the Park has been quite the party, with a diverse, all-ages group and a vitality that can't be beat. It's a big deal, but in the winter it takes a nice, big nap.

Or it used to.

Two Fridays ago, the nearby Canton Armory shook off its seasonal slumber with the first-ever wintertime edition of the well-known, well-loved musical get-together. It wasn’t just that the debut of the twice-monthly Winter Pickin’ in the Park was packed. It was that it was comfortable, familiar, and as if it had always been.
On the sidelines, young clogger Leona Goodson was talking about it as though she'd been going for years, not hours.

“It's a time for families,” she said, over the sounds of country music and stomping feet.

The whole community seemed to be out, and the 10-year-old looked to be loving it. There's a difference, she explained, between dancing on a stage with many people versus just a few. She could feel it that night, as she and the other tiny dancers in Mountain Tradition Cloggers moved and joked across a busy stage.

“It feels like it's not just you,” Goodson said, smiling. “When you're out there, it feels like you can't spell ‘team’ with an ‘I.’ ”

There certainly was a togetherness that evening, the kind that can't really be explained, but instead must be felt. While being in the armory might not have been as romantic as under the trees and stars of the park, the difference was kind of fun. While the traditional version of Pickin’ is filled with different factions, with various groups and singers and players scattered every which way, here everyone seemed fairly united. As the Lisa Price Band unleashed a long string of crowd-pleasing country covers, most everyone was either dancing or watching the sure-footed scene with a grin.

Carroll Nelson, longtime Pickin’ supporter, did both. The night was, in his words, “real good,” especially when he was able to get out on that dance floor. When asked about the rush of dancing around so many friends, he smiled lightly and cracked a deadpan joke.

“It just makes you feel good you can still do it,” he said.

That wasn't the only reason he was there, though. While he wasn't about to admit it, Nelson, 74, is one of the driving forces behind this wintry event. He’s actually been with the original Pickin’ since the very beginning, helping line up bands and dancers for 25 years (or thereabouts, as he explained the town has long since lost count). He’d been working on this new venture for years, eventually enlisting the help of Canton Mayor Mike Ray and his wife, Sherry.

While Nelson made sure to thank the town, he left himself out of the equation, choosing instead to put the spotlight on the event. Not one to be too verbose, he explained that Canton was simply needing something like this. As he sees it, the little town didn't have much to do in the winter. Now it does.

“I hope it grows and everybody likes it,” he said, matter-of-factly.

That seemed like a forgone conclusion that night — even for some who weren't on stage. Patsy Parton, 67, might have been stuck behind the snack table, but she still perked up when the music was playing. Between selling bags of chips and cans of soda for the Canton Senior Center, she was moving to the tunes. She couldn't help herself.

“Every time I hear music, I want to dance,” she said.

If it weren't for her concession gig, she would have been out there, she stressed. Looking as delighted as could be, Parton called the night “wonderful,” and gushed about how happy she was it had finally started up. Like many there that night, she explained that she wasn't just glad for herself (and or her dance-hungry feet), but for everyone in Canton. She talked as though that night didn't just offer clogging and picking, but a good dose of hope.

“I just look forward to these dances,” she said, “because this is what we need to build our town back up.”

Winter Pickin’ in the Park takes place from 7 to 10 p.m. every other Friday — including this one, Jan. 25 — at the Canton Armory, 71 Penland St., until the summer season. This week's performers will be The Hill Country Band, and the Green Valley Cloggers and Southern Mountain Fire dance teams. For more information, call Carroll Nelson at 648-2287.

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