Born and raised in Crossnore, Jennie Vance grew up in a large hard-working and music-loving family, the twelfth of thirteen children. “After the chores were all done, we’d put on the radio. I listened to the Carter Family from Bristol and the Grand Ole Opry, but what I liked best was the Lone Ranger,” Jennie said. A Stella guitar was handed down through each of the siblings in her family. Jennie made a chord chart and taught herself to play from watching an older man who traveled around the community singing old ballads, telling stories, and playing guitar in exchange for lodging and food. The first song she learned was “In the Pines.” Jennie played and sang harmonies with two of her brothers, Everett and Ed, entertaining at the local chapel or in the school gymnasium. “That was the entertainment you got back then, people gathering in the home or certain places to play and dance.”
Jennie met Jim Vance when he returned from World War II. Jim, born in Crossnore in 1923, was just back from service when Jennie heard him playing music in Crossnore with another fellow. Jennie went right up and started singing harmonies with them, and their relationship began. Jim played fiddle for Mac Wiseman for a number of years, touring around the country. He played guitar, fiddle, and bass, and sang harmony as well.
Eventually, Jim and Jennie formed their own band. They toured in the Pacific Northwest and all over the country with a full band. They also went to Vietnam during the war to play for troops. “They asked us where we would like to go,” Jennie recalled. “We told them we came to entertain the troops and wanted to go to the boonies where boys don’t get to see Bob Hope and the big shows. We left them crying. They really, really enjoyed it.” When they came back to Avery County to raise their children, they established Jim and Jennie’s High Country Music.
They built a fourteen-foot stage, equipped it with lights and sound equipment, and prepared the site for bluegrass shows. They booked a number of well-known musicians over the years, including Jim and Jesse McReynolds, the Osborne Brothers, Charlie Louvin, and Rhonda Vincent. Unable to meet the costs of bringing big names to their venue in the mountains of Avery County, they built the music barn – a modest, but adequate building with seats, a dance floor, and a kitchen in the back. Jim and Jennie began hosting music events on their land in 1979, running Jim and Jennie’s High Country Music Barn on Saturday nights through the summer.