Remembering Joe Shannon

By Jesse Campbell (

Article Published: May. 14 | Modified: May. 14
Remembering Joe Shannon

Joe Shannon, pictured in March 2013, when he opened for Garrison Keillor at ASU’s Holmes Convocation Center, died Tuesday, May 13. Shannon was the founder and host of Mountain Home Music, a popular High Country music series that aimed to bring attention to the traditional and Americana music of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Photo by Frank Ruggiero

One of the High Country’s favorite sons, Joe Shannon, died Tuesday morning, following a lengthy battle with cancer.

He died in Florida, surrounded by friends and families. He was 64.

Shannon was the founder and leading voice of Mountain Home Music, which was regionally renowned for given a stage and voice to traditional mountain music and artists.

“Joe was one of the kindest and gentle gentlemen you will ever meet,” said Karen James, MHM board member. “He loved people, and he loved teaching. Teaching was his goal in life.”

J.P. Greene, treasurer of MHM, said Shannon “personified” the seasonal music series.

“His adherence to the traditions of the mountains and his whole reason for starting MHM was to give local musicians an attentive audience,” Greene said. “His basic philosophy was the music here is as good as any music in the world and that it needs an audience. That’s what MHM was all about: presenting Appalachian music to an appreciative audience.”

For his decades of musical service to the High Country, Shannon was awarded The Order of the Long Leaf Pine Award — the state’s highest honor — in March.

Shannon started MHM in 1994.

The music series, which alternates venues between various churches and auditoriums in Watauga County, has two main seasons: summer and fall. The summer season starts in May, according to the series’ website.

In the months leading up to his passing, Shannon prepared detailed plans and instructions on how the series should be carried on in his absence.

“We were charged by Joe and the membership to carry on, and that’s what we intend to do,” Greene said.

MHM secretary Tom Pace said Shannon’s legacy, which illuminated traditional mountain music, will not soon fade.

“It’s both a sad and happy day,” Pace said. “It’s sad that Joe is no longer with us — he is, though, with us in spirit — but it’s good that he’s no longer in a cancer-ridden body.”

Pace said he first met Shannon in the early 1980s and was initially impressed by his “easygoing” attitude and his aptitude for playing a wide range of instruments.

“I was teaching at App State when I met Joe,” Pace said. “Joe was then a special education teacher at Hardin Park Elementary. He was a fine teacher and a fine person. I would go over to his room to just stop by and say, ‘Hey.’”

Pace added that he would not be the only one who will miss Shannon, as it’s impossible to ascertain his true profound impact on Watauga County.

“He will certainly be missed by the people of the High Country,” Pace said. “He played so many weddings for people who were getting ready to start families. The nice thing is the many memories he left with people. He will never be forgotten.”

More than his ear for music and promotion, Shannon is perhaps remembered most for his compassion for children and tending to their creative needs.

James recalled one particular example of Shannon’s kindness that still warms her heart to this day.
Through his love of teaching, Shannon was assigned a position teaching remedial students in Mitchell County, where some of the region’s poorest families reside.

“One of the young men he knew wanted to learn how to play guitar, so Joe taught him to play,” James said. “Joe came back to us and said, ‘Do we have an old guitar he can play? Because there’s no way he can afford one.’”

A short time later, the same young man sent the MHM board a carefully hand-drawn picture and letter expressing his appreciation for the gift.

“That was typical of Joe,” James said. “He was always concerned with everyone around him. He was a very loving and generous man.”

“He has a strong footprint in these mountains,” Pace said. “He’s known everywhere.”

According to James, a memorial service will be held two weeks from now in Florida, and a celebration of life, to be coordinated by Cynthia Banks of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, will be held in Boone in the near future.

For more information on Mountain Home Music, visit

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