Opry-bound and Down
It's a dream 10 years in the making, and one that'll be witnessed by hundreds of thousands of people.
"I would say this is my biggest audience," said Matthew Weaver, an Appalachian State University student, multi-instrumentalist and soon-to-be performer on the Grand Ole Opry.
The Salisbury resident who's been commuting to Boone for three and a half years will soon commute to Nashville, Tenn., where he'll step into the Opry's iconic Circle of Wood.
Also known as the "sacred circle," it's the same space shared by such legends as Hank Williams, Dolly Parton and other country music luminaries throughout the showcase's celebrated history.
The April 16 performance is a big step, but certainly not the last, in a musical journey that's spanned decades, 19 instruments and plenty of patience.
"I started on a piano when I was 3, never had any formal training or music lessons, and now I play 19 different instruments and have performed in 16 off-Broadway shows," Weaver said.
Weaver, 38, grew up in a musical family, many members of which appeared on the Grand Ole Opry in the 1940s, '50s and '60s. Though born in the mountains of Pennsylvania, Weaver grew up in North Carolina, "so I wasn't around my musical family a whole lot, but I inherited their musical influence."
A descendent of Tommy Schaffer and the Blue Mountain Ramblers, Weaver still has the accordion his Great Uncle Tommy gave him when he was only 4 years old. "I just kept gradually going from one instrument to another," he said.
When he was 14, Weaver started traveling and playing in various bluegrass bands, albeit part time, for several weekends out of the month. He kept pushing onwards and, by the time he was 18, had stepped off-Broadway.
Weaver's appeared in shows like "Smoke on the Mountain" and "Pump Boys and Dinettes," along with more regional acts like Tweetsie Railroad and Dollywood.
Music, though, has always taken center stage.
"It's just part of every day life," he said. "Just like you have to eat, I have to play. I don't know any other explanation."
That would explain the nine recorded albums, including two to be released this autumn.
"I'd like to get into more studio work, but I'll take performing over that," he said. "I'm at home when I'm on stage, that's where I belong."
For years, he hoped that would include the Opry's sacred circle. A VIP invitation to attend the Opry's 85th anniversary celebration last year brought that hope closer to reality.
This afforded him the opportunity to meet with Opry artists and staff, including Opry star and "Hee Haw" veteran Mike Snider.
"It just blossomed from there," Weaver said. "He heard me play my music, and then I received the invitation. I had tears in my eyes, because it's been 10 years pursuing that dream. A lot of people try to put their foot in the door, and it doesn't seem to open up for a lot of people."
Per Opry tradition, Weaver will play two or three songs, one of which is "Ashokan's Farewell," an instrumental he'll perform with Snider. He's also anticipating a Hank Williams number, "but I'm still tossing ideas back and forth right now," he said.
"What's always been instilled with me is to always be yourself. So, when people come and hear me perform, they hear Matthew Weaver; they don't hear me trying to be this country artist or that bluegrass artist. I'm being myself."
But the Appalachian Studies major is also being somewhat of an ambassador. ASU Chancellor Kenneth Peacock presented him an Appalachian "A" pin to wear during the performance.
"I'll wear it with pride," Weaver said. "The support has just been astronomical - my family, friends, professors, colleagues. I still want to say, 'Pinch me. Am I still dreaming?'"
He'll find out Saturday, April 16, at 8 p.m.
For more information on Matthew Weaver, visit http://www.matthewweavermusic.com.