Just as his folk songs and stories take listeners back home, Michael Reno Harrell comes back to the source of his inspiration to perform for the local crowd once per year.
That annual hometown show is coming up this weekend as Harrell returns to Brown Mountain Bottleworks on Sunday at 5 p.m. Tickets cost $20 and doors will open at 4 p.m.
“It’ll be pretty much all new stories and songs,” Harrell said. “I travel nationally, and I do one show in my hometown every year. This is my annual hometown show. I do storytelling festivals all over America, plus, in the folk world, I’m a singer-songwriter. It’s sort of a combination of both.
“I’ve been working on a lot of new material this year, and this will be the first time that a lot of these songs and stories have been heard in public. It’s sort of a kickoff for that. Then, I’ll take them out into the rest of the world and see how they fly out there.”
Harrell has had his name on the local and national music scenes for quite some time. That has included quite a few shows at other venues also familiar to the hometown crowd.
“I’ve been a part of this regional music scene, as well as the national music scene, for a long time around here,” Harrell said. “WNCW has been playing my records for going on 25 years. So, a lot of folks around here know who I am. I’ve played at the CoMMA and a lot of venues around town for a lot of years. For a while, I did my shows at The Grind.
“The folks who opened Brown Mountain Bottleworks were good friends of ours, and they invited us to try it there. We said, ‘Let’s do it,’ so it’s just turned out to be a good thing for us and a good thing for them. I think the place sort of changes from just a nice tavern atmosphere to a nice concert venue for a little bit.”
Harrell’s repertoire is steeped in North Carolina history and heritage. His family tree is intertwined with the state’s history, and his material reflects those deep-running connections.
“I’ve been at it since 1963. That’s the first time I got paid, I think,” Harrell said. “So, I’ve been at it a long time. You write what you know, and a lot of what I know is this part of the world. So, a lot of my stories and songs take place in North Carolina. My family’s from Buncombe County and Mitchell County. I tell people we go back to the North Carol-anderthals — we’ve been here a long time.
“So, it’s a lot of things that people will recognize. Names and places and situations that I think people recognize. I get a lot of people who say, ‘Did we go to the same school together?’ or, ‘Did you live in my neighborhood?’ That’s a lot of what I write about — sort of the life and times in our part of the world.”
While he loves it here, Harrell tries to spread the stories and songs of his local roots around the country in an impactful manner. But, at the end of the day, he still is drawn back to this area and the city he has called home for more than a decade now.
“I only play in any town once a year,” Harrell said. “I try to make it sort of special so people can say, ‘Wow, we haven’t seen him in a year. Let’s go back and see him.’ Of course, in Morganton, we’re just proud as heck we’ve been here going on 14 years. We moved up here from Charlotte.
“We’re really proud to be here because it’s such a vital town. There’s so much going on here. There’s so much music. That’s the reason we moved here. We just knew so many musicians in this area. So, it’s a real honor for us to be a part of that group.
Fittingly, Harrell’s unique showcase of songs and stories has firmly established its home venue at what he calls a one-of-a-kind downtown business. It’s a place where people can feel comfortable, safe and entertained, he said.
“Of course, Brown Mountain Bottleworks is unique in what’s going on in the micro-brew world in that they’re a bottle shop rather than brewing their own beer. They just go out and find all the good stuff and bring it to us. Along with that, it’s just a great place that you don’t worry about your wife going up there by herself or to meet some girlfriends or that sort of thing. It’s just a good atmosphere. Mike (Brown) and the crew up there are always so hospitable — (asking), ‘What else can we do to make people comfortable and have a good time?’
“It’s just a great place to meet and be with your friends, not unlike The Grind and places like that. It’s just a good place for people to get together and have a good time.”
Harrell’s hometown show remains at the Bottleworks even though the business has changed ownership over to Brown since the last one in 2019. The only changes to the store have been subtle, Harrell said, but effective.
“When you go in, you don’t feel much difference,” Harrell said. “Not much big changes have happened because it wasn’t broke, so it didn’t need fixing. (Brown has) made some improvements with a little more comfortable furniture for people to sort of cluster in small groups and have conversation and libation.
“And, of course, the great Phillip Epley will be emceeing for me. That’s always a part of the downtown scene and especially the music scene, our local hero Phillip Epley doing the emceeing.”
The hometown show will feature limited concert seating in the shop, which will transform back into its usual self once Harrell’s show comes to a close.
“This will be at least our third or maybe fourth straight year doing our hometown show there,” Harrell said. “The place just becomes a listening venue during that time. The bar’s closed. It’s a ticketed event, so the place just sort of shuts down and becomes a concert hall.
“Then, after the concert’s over, it opens up and it’s business as usual. There’s comfortable seating and a good sound system, so I think people will enjoy the show. They always have. We always have a good time there.”