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New director will guide music center

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By Shaina Stockton, Staff

The Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation has appointed Richard Emmett as director of music programming at the Blue Ridge Music Center, located on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Galax.
Just a few weeks into his new position, Emmett has spent his time meeting local talent, familiarizing himself with his surroundings and learning everything he can from his predecessor, Erynn Marshall.
Walking into his office, Emmett immediately pointed to one of his favorite perks about his new job: a window that overlooks the natural beauty found along the parkway.

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“I always worked in basements until now, and when I first met with Erin, she went straight to the window, opened the blinds and said, ‘This is your view!’”
Emmett brings a wealth of experience in arts management to the foundation.
He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in finance and a master’s degree in public administration and policy — both from Pennsylvania State University. He is the former executive director of the Children’s Theatre of Winston-Salem, N.C., and former owner of The Garage, a pioneering, intimate live performing arts venue in downtown Winston-Salem that focused on roots and Americana music and featured touring artists from around the nation.
For the past six years, he was the chief operating officer and vice president of facility operations for the Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, N.C.
Prior to focusing on music, Emmett says that his first focus in school was academia. After obtaining his graduate degree, he worked in a non-profit educational and research institute in Bar Harbor, Maine, doing research on educational and healthcare policy.
“But I realized that I didn’t necessarily want to be in academia, because I was more pragmatic than that,” he said.
He moved to Winston-Salem in 1996, where he took a part-time job at a coffee house to earn some extra money. “They had a music and film series there, and it happened to be where things started to percolate in Winston about revitalization of the arts.”
He eventually took over the programming, and he became passionate about elevating the musical and artistic talents in his community. “I met a lot of artists who played bluegrass, old-time and blues music, and I learned about the heritage of Winston and the Blue Ridge music traditions. I was fascinated… I thought it was incredible.”
As he made friends with local talents, he found many sources of inspiration. But his biggest inspiration, he says, is his own family. “The kids were as involved as I was in the downtown arts projects, and my wife is a fellow music lover. She grew up in these parts,” he said. “I never would have made the decision to switch jobs had she not been supportive of that.”
After completing several projects, Emmett and his wife opened The Garage in 1999 — a new live performance venue for the artists he’d helped along his newfound career path. “That venue was the first nighttime venue, and now there are a dozen other restaurants and clubs. I’m proud of being able to foster the growth of that,” he said.
Throughout his other ventures, Emmett had heard about the Blue Ridge Music Center. When he heard that they were looking for a new program director, it seemed like the perfect fit. “It seemed like a wonderful opportunity, and place to be… something that would suit my experiences and skills.”
Emmett also loved the idea of spending his off-hours with his wife and children here, where there are a plethora of fun activities and outdoor resources.
When looking at the work in front of him, one challenge that he plans to tackle is spreading the word about local venues. To this, he added that there is a connection to other venues in this area that he hopes to boost, as well. “Obviously, we are on the parkway, so people have to make an effort to be here. But there are so many other things in the region in terms of music, whether it’s at the Rex Theater, the Wayne Henderson Music Festival, the Old Fiddlers’ Convention in Galax, the fiddlers’ convention in Mount Airy… or the other many resources here. These relationships are something we want to continually focus on. We don’t want to be seen as a competitor, because if we can bring more people here to experience [all of these resources], it’s a win-win for everybody.”
With his contacts in North Carolina, Emmett also hopes to continue fostering the partnership between the two states that the Blue Ridge Music Center began. “This is one of the things about music that I love the most. It often brings people together, and they forget about the things they have in common or think differently about,” he said.
The music center staff also believes that they have found a good match. “This incredible facility has had a long history of great performances, and we are confident that Richard’s deep experience will allow us to continue to grow the music center’s presence with the regional community and parkway visitors alike.” said Carolyn Ward, Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation CEO.
Parkway Superintendent Mark Woods added that the music center “is an incredible resource to showcase the rich musical and cultural heritage of the area. Our partnership with the foundation will ensure that it continues to provide high quality programming for both Parkway visitors and neighboring communities, as well as be a good partner to the many groups who keep the deep musical traditions of the area alive.”

Open late May through October, the center welcomes more than 10,000 people each year to traditional music concerts, the Roots of American Music Museum and lectures, demonstrations and workshops.
The Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation is the non-profit partner of the National Park Service that oversees programming at the Blue Ridge Music Center, a former role of the National Council for Traditional Arts.
The music center works with both the Blue Ridge Music Trails of North Carolina and Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail, The Crooked Road, as it straddles the state line and shares a mission with both organizations to boost travel tourism around traditional music.
As the primary fundraising partner for the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation funds projects that protect the natural beauty and historic legacy of the Parkway, which generates close to $1 billon in tourist revenue annually for surrounding communities.
For a list of the Foundation’s 2014 projects, visit http://brpfoundation.org/projects/current-projects-and-programs or call 866-308-2773.