Arvill Scott grew up in Surry County amongst the region’s traditional music and dance. When he was young, Arvill listened to mountain music from local station WPAQ on a transistor radio. He went to chicken stews and other social events at his uncle’s home where he was exposed to old-time music and dancing. These experiences left a deep impression on Arvill. “I’m especially proud of being able to keep presenting traditional music, he says. “That’s what’s in my heart.”
Arvill met Albert Hash when he moved to Ashe County in 1979, and he started playing lots of oldtime music. A couple of years later, Arvill formed an oldtime band with his then wife, Rita Scott, and Rita’s banjo-playing uncle. Rita played fiddle in the group, and Arvill played guitar.
Arvill started the Mountain Music Jamboree in 1988 as a nonprofit organization for people interested in traditional music and dance of the region, and the organization hosted weekly dances with live music. Arvill’s band and the Whitetop Mountain Band played alternating weekends for the dances, which were received with great success. “There were a lot of traditional dancers in those early years,” says Arvill.
Arvill calls the dances at the Jamboree. He learned to be a dance caller from playing dances with Hubby St. Clair from Alexander County, who would call from the floor. When the crowd got too big for all the dancers to hear Hobby, Arvill would relay the information through the microphone. Over time, he learned enough to call the dances himself.
After five years, the crowds outgrew the dance space, and Mountain Music Jamboree moved to a newly built barn erected for the sole purpose of hosting the dances. The dances at the new facility were averaging 175 people per week through the summer and fall. Eventually, Arvill bought his own land and built the current facility that houses the Mountain Music Jamboree. It has one of the largest dance floors in the region, and visitors have come from all over the country and world.
“I get a rush from introducing the music to people who don’t know what the traditional music is,” he explains. “If I were going to Texas, I’d want to hear some western swing. If I were going to the U.P. of Michigan, I’d want to hear some polka music. If I’m going to an area where there is a traditional music, I want to see the core, the heart of it. That’s what I think the Jamboree is. They can come here and see traditional music and dance without all the pretentious lights and neon. They see it right at its heart. That’s what keeps me coming.”
Mountain Music Jamboree dances run from April through November every Saturday night, every Friday night from June through September, and other musical gatherings take place throughout the year, all featuring bluegrass and/or old-time music. Arvill is available to call dances when there is no conflict with the Jamboree, and he has also done school performances that include music and dancing for arts councils in Ashe, Alleghany, and Surry counties. He has created a curriculum that can be used by classroom teachers.