Be there or be square: Jonesborough celebrating 20th anniversary of Music on the Square

Mackenzie Moore • Updated Jul 7, 2018 at 12:33 AM

Friday nights often serve as a time for unwinding after a long week. For 20 years in Jonesborough, people have packed their car trunks with a few lawn chairs and set up camp at their usual spot for Music on the Square to relax and relish the live music.

Music on the Square’s founder and organizer, Steve Cook, highlighted the familial and comfortable aspect of Jonesborough’s 20-year musical tradition.

“It’s very low-key,” Cook said. “It’s one of the most attentive audiences the bands will ever play in front of. The people are sitting there listening. It’s comfortable for everybody, and everybody brings their lawn chairs. I always said that if there were a GPS on the law chairs, you’d find them to be in the same spot every Friday. People really enjoy being here.

“The most important part of Music on the Square is community. Community and family. You see kids drawing chalk on the sidewalk and with hula-hoops and bubbles. It’s a very nice setting.”

One band performs every Friday at 7 p.m. from the beginning of May to the end of September. Cook focuses on Americana-style music, but every once in a while will book bluegrass bands to commemorate the Appalachian culture-rich genre.

“There’s a lot of bands that you’ll never hear unless somebody books them and puts them in front of a good audience,” Cook said. “It’s funny because someone might say, ‘Oh, that band wasn’t all that great.’ But someone else will say, ‘Oh, that’s one of the best bands I’ve ever heard.’

“It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s some people’s favorite place to be on a Friday night, you know?”

When Cook decided to launch the weekly festival 20 years ago, there were a few naysayers who claimed blocking off a block on Main Street every Friday wouldn’t do the town justice. However, after almost two decades of doing just that, the community realized the impact the music could have on both the audience and surrounding businesses.

“The town fathers at the time basically said, ‘Well, we can’t close the streets every Friday night. That’s crazy,’” Cook said. “So, we didn’t, and we had listeners on one side, music on the other and traffic in the middle. I said that somebody’s going to get hurt, so we went behind the courthouse, stole a couple of sawhorses and blocked the street off.

“I wanted to hold Music on the Square where it would do some business and help the surrounding businesses by putting it on the street in front of the courthouse. Originally, the town wasn’t going to let us hold it there, but they received so many calls backing it up that they went ahead and tried it. So, we ended up blocking that block off in front of the courthouse and have ever since.”

Cook estimated that with an average of 750 people on any given night at Music on the Square, every summer season reels in 15,000 visitors on Main Street, keeping shops and restaurants open and bustling.

“The restaurants gain from it,” Cook said. “People might go shop or go have ice cream; they’re spending a little money in town. Sometimes if the visitors just happened to come across Music on the Square and are from out of town, they’ll spend the night here. It has a definite economic impact — especially for the restaurants — because everyone is going to want to grab a bite to eat or have an ice cream cone.

“I was trying to let people know that our streets do not roll up at 5 p.m. There is a reason to be down here past 5 p.m. at least one or two days a week. Especially on Friday nights. So, it was just to try to breathe some life into town after hours.

“Once Jonesborough realized that Music on the Square really did bring people to town and the businesses were getting business through it, then it worked out pretty nicely. Well, that was 20 years ago, and now here we are.”

For more information, including a full entertainment schedule, visit musiconthesquare.net.

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