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Bluegrass band performs 'A Turnpike Sunset,' about early drovers' road

Imagine being on the road with thousands of hogs, tens of thousands of turkeys and sheep herded by hundreds of local farmers. It would make today’s traffic on I-26 seem like a day in the park.


However in the 1800s, several roads became drovers turnpikes in the fall allowing local farmers from East Tennessee and throughout Western North Carolina to herd their livestock to market in Rutherfordton, Greenville and Spartanburg. The Center for Cultural Preservation, WNC’s cultural history and documentary film center, on Saturday presents a Turnpike Sunset, an historical play by the acclaimed bluegrass band, Buncombe Turnpike.

Old Buncombe Turnpike is also the name of one of the main roads farmers used to drove their livestock to market. It allowed farmers to move their animals from Nashville to Asheville, south to Hendersonville and on to Greenville and Spartanburg. It’s estimated that during the 1820s through the late 1800s, that 150,000 hogs were herded down the Turnpike in a season. Roadside inns called stock stands acted like motels where farmers could spend the night and pen their animals before hitting the road once again.

The Old Sherrill Inn was one of those drovers inn as was the old Flat Rock Inn according to local historian Jennie Jones Giles. The Buncombe Turnpike Bluegrass Band members have taken this fascinating slice of local history and turned it into a whimsical play that includes their own music and a retelling of WNC’s agricultural community and the life that local farmers lived in the 19th century before and after the Civil War.

"The stories of WNC’s drover history demonstrate how creative farmers needed to be to herd their livestock sometimes hundreds of miles away," said Tom Godleski, the band’s founder and the playwright. "Given that my family was a part of this history, I wanted to create a play that helped to preserve a slice of local culture that few are aware of.”

A Turnpike Sunset is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 27, at Thomas Auditorium Blue Ridge Community College’s Thomas Auditorium. Tickets are $15 and $20 at the door and advanced reservations are strongly recommended by registering online at or calling the Center at (828) 692-8062.

Upcoming in the Center’s cultural calendar is the long-awaited documentary film release, "Guardians of Our Troubled Waters," which will have its world premiere in WNC on June 20, 22 and 23 in Flat Rock and Asheville. More information is available online at