From US Presidents to famous holiday traditions, new friends from The Omni Grove Park Inn provide us with an exhilarating Asheville travel guide. Plus, we chat with band leader Whitney Moore on how Asheville inspires her music. This episode of The Destination Everywhere Podcast is going to give you a great view of Asheville, North Carolina—the four-season destination for both business and pleasure. Join Andy McNeill and Todd Bludworth as they chat with Jennifer Wagner of The Omni Grove Park Inn and Asheville band queen Whitney about the charms of this city, providing you with a unique guide that no travel book can offer.
Andy McNeill and Todd Bludworth are travel and hospitality entrepreneurs and owners of the global meetings organization, American Meetings, Inc. From sourcing meetings in Asheville, to corporate event management around the world, their team selects corporate event venues and meeting planners for a wide array of enterprise business clients, providing ideas for convention themes and strategies for running global meetings and events. Learn more at https://www.americanmeetings.com.
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In this episode, we are talking Asheville, North Carolina, a great four-season destination for both business and for pleasure. What I love about Asheville is that it has a great local scene, but you can also go there and have a large conference or trade show or business meeting because it’s in a great location. There’s much to do, many bucket list items. Todd, what’s been your experience in Asheville?
What’s great about Asheville is its proximity to many places, its ease of access to get to. It’s one of those places if you go, you’re going to want a car because you’re not going to want to be stuck. For people that are coming from the Southeast and the Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States, it’s great because you can bring your car, your pets and your kids, and then home base from there. It’s a gorgeous place. It’s got many outdoor activities, which I love. I love being in the outdoors, and because it’s all seasoned, there’s always something to do there.
It’s warm and sunny in the summer and has some of the most beautiful fall foliage in the fall. You can stay, there are ski resorts, and you can enjoy winter sports. There are many things to do in Asheville. On top of it, it has award-winning hotels, which is great for business. You can stay in an Airbnb or a classic bed and breakfast there. It’s one of those special places that is for everybody. We’re going to speak to two special guests. One of them is a transplant there, so we’ll get her perspective. The other is a lifelong resident of Asheville. We’ll be able to get her perspective as well.
Asheville is one of those places that has changed so much in a short time. I can remember my parents talking about Asheville and how nice it was to go there. Now, there are activities and there are things for a younger generation to do, including the music scene, which we’re going to hit on later in the episode, which I’m excited about.
Who are our guests?
We’ve got two wonderful guests. We’ve got Jennifer Wagner. She is with the Omni Grove Park Inn, which is a historic property, beautiful, set in the mountains. She’s going to tell us a bit more about that property and some of her favorite things to do in Asheville. She’s a transplant. She’s lived a bit everywhere. We’re going to get her perspective on it. She’s got some comparisons for us. We have Whitney Moore. Whitney is going to be talking a bit about the music scene in Asheville, which is wonderful. Whitney is a singer. They have a swing group, and she is the Queen Bee of the band Queen Bee and the Honeylovers. We’re going to have a great conversation with her.
She might even sing for us too. She has a song about Asheville.
Hopefully, we can get her to sing for us. We’ll see what she does.
We are here with a special guest. We have the Special Event Manager for the Omni Grove Park Inn, Jennifer Wagner. Jennifer, welcome.
Thank you for having me.
Jennifer, the Omni Grove Park Inn is a historical property. It’s been around since the early 1900s.
That’s got some history. It’s beautifully set in the mountains. That’s a destination place. Being in special events, tell us a bit about what you do for people when they want to come there and get that over-the-top experience. What are some of the requests that you have and the services that you provide?
My job here is to plan all of our guest-facing events, which means our holiday weekends or any of our winter concert series events, which happen over the course of the winter. We bring in big acts. The Glenn Miller Orchestra comes and does a big band weekend for us. I also manage the National Gingerbread House Competition. We service hundreds of bakers who create beautiful pieces and bring them here to the hotel every year.
Are the bakers local or do they come from all over?
They come from all over the country. We have a few Canadian entries as well. That’s quite a drive to bring them here.
Is it the same weekend every year?
It varies. It depends. It usually starts around in November.
It sounds incredible and a lot of fun. If you want reservations for that, how far in advance will our readers need to plan?
For the fall-winter season, you have to start calling at the beginning of the summer. It is the most popular time here at the hotel.
When is Glenn Miller there?
We have that in January every year for a Big Band Dance Weekend.
Is that the same weekend every year?
No, it floats in January.
The Gingerbread competition, are these all on display around the hotel?
Yes, they are out on display in the hotel. We do have the grand prize winner on display throughout the year, every year here at the hotel. It’s quite an ask to have that piece stand up for a full year because our requirements of that competition is that it has to be 100% edible. They can’t use anything traditional glue or dowels inside of the piece to hold it up. They have to get creative with how that piece will stand.
Who’s judging that competition?
We have a panel of nine judges that also come from all over the country. Our lead judge is Chef Nicholas Lodge out of Atlanta. He owns a sugar art school, which is the Nicholas Lodge School of Sugar Arts. We also have Carla Hall. She’s from The Chew and Top Chef team. We also have some great culinary professionals specializing in cakes, sugars, and a Metropolitan Museum of Art curator as well out of New York. A great way of talent and perspectives to judge these pieces.
The Grove Park Inn has had some amazing, influential, powerful politicians, presidents, artists, celebrities. You get the gamut on people that come and stay at the property. You’ve had every president almost in recent history.
We had ten presidents all together.
How does the hotel prep for something like that?
It depends. We’ve had President Obama who stayed with us twice. One before he was president, and once after he became president. When he was president, we had to block off a large part of the hotel to ensure his security. He stayed over in the Vanderbilt Wing. We blocked off the whole level above him and below him to make sure that everyone was staying a safe distance away. There’s a lot of vetting that goes on of our hotel staff when we have a president here on property.
Did he play golf? You guys have a beautiful eighteen-hole course.
Yes. He played golf for sure. We have his set of clubs here on the property that he used to play on our golf course.
Jennifer, what are some of your past favorite events that you’ve produced there that guests love? We’ve talked about the Gingerbread House. We’ve talked about the Glenn Miller Big Band Weekend, but all of these are bucket list items too. People can stay there at an iconic property, but they can also do these incredible things. Give us some other activities or events that you guys have done in the past that stand out.
We annually do a Salute to Fitzgerald Weekend, which highlights F. Scott Fitzgerald. He was a guest of ours back in 1935 and 1936. We have his two guest rooms marked as they were back then. They are two adjoining rooms. One was used as his writing. The other was used for sleeping. They overlook our front courtyard area. In September, around his birthday every year, we do celebrate his presence here and do a room tour situation where we bring in a professor from Western North Carolina to talk about the history of that. We try to have some fun events around that as well. In the past, we’ve had a gin and jazz social. Mr. Fitzgerald would have approved of this type of event.
It’s all Gatsby, isn’t it? I love it.
Our guests are encouraged to come fully dressed.
His wife, Zelda, was in an insane asylum while he was a guest at the hotel. Isn’t that correct?
Zelda was downtown at the Highland Hospital being treated for some mental health issues while he stayed here. A part of his reasoning for staying at the hotel was to be close to her. Although we have heard rumors over the years that they did not see each other much while he stayed here. He was more in it for the views.
If you’re a couple and you’re not going to a big event and someone wants to do something special for an anniversary or a significant birthday, what are some requests that you’ve had in terms of helping somebody plan something over the top special for somebody?
We do get special dining requests here. The chef can work with guests on a number of different levels to create a special experience and a custom menu. We also have requests for musicians being booked to accompany a special occasion. A lot of people come here and celebrate when the weather is good out on our sunset terrace, which has the most spectacular view of the mountains here. It’s a beautiful, tranquil view. You’re not looking at anything except for nature. A lot of people like that more natural look to embrace the occasion.
Tell us a bit about your chef. You mentioned that he can do special things.
We have a number of chefs here. We have a few different restaurants. We have the Vue 1913, which is our upscale restaurant here at the hotel. Chef Richard Gras handles that. He has a great wealth of experience. His pleading is beautiful and he’s always ready to accommodate any special guests’ requests. We also have the Edison Ales and Kitchen, which is more of a pub-style experience. We feature some local beers on tap. That also has a beautiful terrace where you can stay. There are a number of experiences for dining.
How far are you from downtown if they want to get out of the hotel and go do something a little more local?
Guests could walk if they’re up for it. It’s not that far at all. It’s a few minutes in an Uber, but it is a nice walk. You come down through a historic neighborhood when you leave the hotel heading toward town. It’s enjoyable to view all those beautiful homes.
It’s such a beautiful walk too. How far is that?
It’s about a mile.
It’s not that far at all. It’s a way to see the town and enjoy, especially in the fall and the spring where it’s beautiful. We’re talking to you in the summertime. How’s the weather?
It’s been a bit back and forth. We’ve had a few days that do feel like fall. It’s dipping down into the 50s in the evening, which is very welcome.
Do you know what the elevation of the Grove Park is like how high you are?
That’s not at the top of my head now.
I’m going to look it up and do it in our wrap-up so we know because I know that you’re elevated a bit higher.
We’re looking at Sunset Mountain. It’s our location.
You went to Full Sail University, which is a production university in Orlando. You did some things in Florida before you made your trek up to Asheville. What drew you to Asheville? Was it the opportunity at the Omni Grove Park Inn or is it a place that you had wanted to spend some time?
When we were in Florida, a number of people kept telling us about Asheville. It was starting to gain popularity and I had never been before. We made a visit and realized that it was a nice combination of small-town feel with a lot of amenities. I’m originally from New Jersey, and we were coming from Florida. This is ironically halfway between Florida and New Jersey. It was a nice combination of the two places that I was coming from. We had a lot to choose from in terms of beautiful scenery, hikes and outdoor opportunities. We also have a great music scene here downtown, a thriving food scene and the beer.
It is a four-season destination. You do get them all. I know the holidays are a huge time. With the exception of all of those wonderful things that happened in the fall, I can imagine that summer and spring are as busy, is that true?
It is true. Apparently, throughout the years we used to have a quiet season. The hotel used to close entirely in the winter because we didn’t have traditional heat back in the early 1900s, so we couldn’t combat that. Throughout the years we’ve become a four-season hotel. It doesn’t ever seem entirely quiet here. The slowest season for us is after the holidays before it starts to warm up for spring.
What is your ultimate favorite thing to do in Asheville as a local?
What’s your favorite restaurant outside the hotel? Give me a couple then.
I am always a fan of a good cheeseburger. The combo of a delicious beer and a cheeseburger. I enjoy Hi-Wire Brewing, and they partner with Foothills who has a food truck that lives on their property. It’s the perfect combination for me. The cheeseburger, a lo-pitch at Hi-Wire is a great evening.
Talk a bit about the music scene that Asheville has. When people think of music, everybody knows Austin has a great music scene. Tell us a bit about what happens in Asheville. What makes the music great there?
You hear about that a lot, for sure.
Is there a type of music that’s coming out of Asheville? Is it more country? Is it more rock?
I wouldn’t say it’s specifically any one genre. The unique thing is that we are a small mountain town, but we get great exposure to all different types. We have a lot of larger groups come through Asheville as well. We have the Cherokee Center downtown, which gets a lot of those national acts. We get comedians as well. Chappelle was here a few years ago and it was a huge deal for us. We do have the Trans-Siberian Orchestra come play in downtown. We also have some more local venues, some smaller, more intimate places like The Orange Peel, which also gets a lot of great acts coming through. I know Dave Grohl made an appearance a few years ago at The Orange Peel as well.
He’s a Virginia kid. He’s from Northern Virginia. He’s not far from you. The Grove Park Inn, are you running any specials or deals? Do you guys have things that are continuous in terms of promotions that you do?
Special packages that you guys do at certain times a year that are popular? Anything you’d like to talk about?
We do have seasonal packages. The biggest one we’re pushing is our fall packages. Peepers are looking to come up here and view those vistas from our back porch. We’re always working on packages in conjunction with special events that we’re doing as well. We do have associated with Gingerbread coming up for the winter to watch out for. They are not quite available yet, but we want to celebrate.
When is the peak fall season for leaves and leaf peepers? What week of the month is it?
It tends to be later October, early November.
It’s later down there. It’s good to know.
Being in Vermont, leaves are starting to show the signs of change. They’ll peak down here and that wave starts heading South. If you’ve got all the time in the world, you could have the best fall going down there, and then ending where you are.
Jennifer, as we wrap up our conversation with you, we do something with each one of our guests. It’s called our rapid-fire questions. We are looking for hospitality and travel experts to tell our audience their personal experiences about a bucket list and travel. We’re going to hit you up with these. There’s no wrong answer and no pressure at all. The first one is, have you ever completed anything on your personal bucket list, and if it was, what was it?
Living closer to the city in New Jersey as a child, I always dreamed of living at the beach. Before I moved to Asheville, I did have the opportunity to live on the West Coast of Florida, within walking distance of beautiful beaches in Sarasota. I did that for three years, and that was a change of pace scenery for me. I’ve had a great opportunity of living close to New York, living at a Florida beach, and now in the beautiful mountains of Western North Carolina. I’m making my rounds and living out a few different life experiences being able to move with my job.
What about a bucket list item that you haven’t completed yet?
I want to go to Ireland.
We did an episode in Ireland. We’ve got great some great tips for you, so check that. It’s going to be awesome.
A lot of castles you can stay in. When you do it, do it right. It’s wonderful.
This might answer the next question, but if you could live anywhere for a year, where would it be?
It would be England. My family and I visited for a few weeks, a few summers ago, and we had a wonderful time. I felt the whole time we were there that I wanted to stay longer. There are rich history and culture. I love historic architecture. It’s a great place to walk and see a lot of that. I would love to be there for an extended period.
If you could travel with someone infamous or famous, who would it be?
I’m a big fan of travel-food television. It would have been Anthony Bourdain. He had a great way of showing the more real side, not such touristy side of a lot of these locations people like to travel to, and was able to show not only the cuisine but the culture in such a unique way. I’d like to see countries more like that.
He had a passion for travel. He went to great places. When packing for a trip, what is something you pack that may surprise our readers?
Everything is so digital these days that I feel I have everything at my disposal. One thing I do tend to keep in my bag is a mini tape measure.
It’s a good one. We haven’t had that yet.
For what? I’m curious.
I like to find local antique shops when I’m in a new area. I am drawn to furniture and decor items. Anytime that I feel like I’m interested, I keep not only the measurements in my phone of areas of my home, but I have that tape measure to see if pieces will work for me.
That is genius. I might be stealing that one. That is a great idea.
I’m sure you have a beautiful home too. If you’re that particular about size when you’re traveling, I’m sure you’ve got some great pieces.
It takes a while to find those pieces.
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Finally, what is your most memorable experience in Asheville since you’ve been there?
I thought about this one a bit, and it was my first trip to the hotel because I had never sat in such a restful area amongst nature and have the opportunity to sip on a cocktail without working. It was relaxing. At that point, my first visit to the Grove Park Inn also started a great new adventure for me because a month after that I moved to Asheville. That kicked off my entire experience here in this new city. It’s been quite adventurous ever since.
For sure, the Grove Park Inn is a bucket list hotel. You’d want to stop by if you go to Asheville. Hit up Jennifer, she’ll give you all the great locations. We look forward to visiting you soon in Asheville. A beautiful city that has become a national treasure in the last years. Everyone loves to go there.
Jennifer, if people want to get any more information on the hotel reservations, follow you on social media, where should they go to do that?
The Omni Hotels and Resorts website is a great place to start. You can select our location from that point and view what is available and the packages we have going at the time. We also have a great Instagram account. It’s @OmniGrovePark on Instagram. We keep up with our chefs. We have a lot of great views of the vistas from the back of the hotel and a lot of great food on there too.
Thank you. I appreciate it. We’ll go into those websites and your Instagram account. We’ll check it out and follow you. We’re looking forward to it. Thank you, Jennifer.
Thank you for having me. It’s nice to talk with you guys.
Asheville, North Carolina, we love it. We’re going to talk about some bucket list items. Asheville’s got a lot of things going on. They got a funky downtown, they’ve got a ton of art galleries, booming culinary scene, and music scene. It’s something I always to talk about when we’re talking about a destination. I’m always like, “What movies were filmed there?” For me, it puts it in perspective, and it triggers a memory. The movies that were filmed in Asheville based on our research, there were scenes from Dirty Dancing filmed in Asheville.
Do you know which ones?
I don’t, but I’m sure we could do a little more research and find out the actual spots. If I’m guessing, it’s the stuff out in the water. I know that inn. The actual lodge that was used for Kellerman’s is in Virginia, but a lot of maybe the outdoor scenes, maybe some of the cabins, but that’s cool, nobody puts baby in a corner. Scenes from The Hunger Games. If you have to guess which scenes, it’s probably when they’re out hunting each other in the woods. A few of the running scenes from Forrest Gump, which is cool. He did run entirely across the country, but he was a Southern kid who went on a journey. Those were some of the movies. If you know of any more, reach out and let us know. Let’s talk about the top ten bucket list items for Asheville, which are great. I’m going to start, and this one’s not going to be a surprise to anybody. It’s the Biltmore Estate. The Biltmore Estate is America’s largest home. It sits on 8,000 acres in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and it was built by George Vanderbilt.
It was a private residence at one time. Now, it’s an amazing estate. The thing about the Biltmore, and anybody who plans ahead, they plan to go see it in Christmas time or the holiday season because it is decked out. It is charming. It’s that Southern feel. It’s a beautiful spot. On the estate, you can find the Biltmore home, winery, gardens, Antler Hill Village. It has tons of history. If you’re a history buff, you can pursue it all day long. You can stay on the property in either the village hotel, the inn or the cottage. It offers a wide variety of estate tours. You can even do a behind the scenes tour of the winery and tasting. Plan ahead because those things do fill especially at certain times of the year.
My first bucket list is paddle boarding on the French Broad River, which is the river that runs through Asheville. It’s the third oldest river on the planet. It helps shape the Appalachian Mountains. It’s beautiful because you’re in the downtown area. You can paddleboard, keep going and go into nature. It’s fantastic. I highly recommend it if you go to Asheville. Todd, what’s next?
Something that they’ve created in Asheville, it’s a new water sport. It’s the Bellyak. The Bellyak like it sounds is a kayak, but you’re laying on your stomach. Instead of using an ordinary paddle, you’re using your arms and swimming a bit.
I’ve done that but not on purpose. I’ve fallen out of my kayak and had to go down the rapids on my stomach.
When you take a surfboard out and you’re paddling out past the break to try to get some waves, you’re getting that comfortable spot, which is a lot more comfortable than standing because that could be tiring sometimes. The Bellyak was invented by locals. You can do it on whitewater, or to surf in the ocean. It’s a great form of exercise. There are lots of places to Bellyak there.
Mine is a real local one and it happens every Friday night in downtown, in Pritchard Park. It is an Asheville Drum Circle. This is an actual local tradition with local musicians in a circle, and tourists. They are invited to play, dance or watch and enjoy the atmosphere. A lot of fun, free and get a taste of the real Asheville. A drum circle on Friday night in Asheville is that bucket list.
Depending on where you’re at, drum circles can get a little bizarre too, but I’m sure this one’s a little tame. We’ve been to a couple that turns into something crazy. For those who are into wellness and yoga, there is a Namaste in Nature Tours. You venture out with a guide to hidden waterfalls and peaceful spots, and you find the best yoga hikes. That would be great. Going with a guide, going out, enjoying it, and getting your yoga on. Pull out your mat, be near a waterfall and meditate for a bit.
Speaking of wellness, we have the Asheville Salt Cave, which is a comfortable salon with therapeutic massages. They have a Himalayan salt room, which is incredible. I’ve never done it, but I’ve heard great things about it. It’s supposed to be great for your circulatory system. They also have a zero-gravity chair to experience. You have ambient music and you’re relaxed. It helps you drift into a peaceful slumber and do your own meditation. I want to try that out and fits the culture of Asheville.
That’s got to be good for your sinuses too if you are a congested person. I don’t know, but I got to look into the benefits of salt because it’s one of those wonder things. Going from wellness to fun-ness. I’m going to talk about the breweries. There is an amazing craft beer scene in Asheville. There are over 50 breweries in the region. Asheville is often referred to as Beer City USA for good reason. We recommend the Highland Brewing Company, The New Belgium Liquid Center and Wedge Brewing Company because they oftentimes have food trucks parked outside. You can enjoy your beer but be sure that you balance it out with a little bit of sustenance. You can also do tours. There’s a brew cruise. Check out one of these tours and get it behind the scenes. Look at one of these craft breweries because it could be a lot of fun, and the sampling is amazing.
Todd and I have been to a lot of places and we’ve done a lot of things in our lives, but the next one I’d never heard of. It’s something that I would want to put on my bucket list, which is a foraging tour. It’s called the No Taste Like Home Tour. It’s where you walk through the forest and the city, and pick things that are edible. You’re with a guide, and that guide takes you all the way through, talks to you about what to pick, what not to pick and why. It takes you to a fine restaurant or the Grove Park Inn. They take your ingredients, and they’ll cook you a meal with the ingredients that you cook as an appetizer. What a great experience and something that is educational, as well as fun.
That’s for an ambitious person. I don’t know if I would trust myself, but that’s a cool thing to do. Go out and find mushrooms. I always look at mushrooms and I’m like, “Are those safe to eat?” You see them growing outside.
You should go on the tour and learn.
It does sound a lot of fun.
I was talking to the owner to get some information on this. It was interesting. He said, “There are more things in the city, in regular landscaping that you can eat and sauté. It’s good and edible.” They do a lot within the city, but he also takes you out into some of the more remote areas to do like mushrooms and things like that.
That sounds awesome because you can take those ingredients and then go to a restaurant and get it prepared correctly, which is even better. For those that like an outdoor activity, there’s Sliding Rock. Our producer Lauren has been to this and she said it was a lot of fun. It’s a 60-foot natural mountain waterfall in Pisgah National Forest. You plunge into a pool below along Looking Glass Creek. That sounds a great time. It sounds a commercial for soda if you see something like that in the summertime, it’s beautiful. Check it out.
One of the most beautiful times a year to go and we’ll wrap up our top ten list is fall foliage. Our guests will talk about the fall foliage season. It is easy to get to in the Southeast, and there’s some of the top apple picking in the nation right outside the city of Asheville with dozens and dozens of apple orchards. A lot of them offer free visits and you get apples. They allow you to pick your own apples and enjoy warm apple cider, and get the entire fall foliage experience.
You can do an entire fall foliage. If you start in the Northeast, sometimes at the end of September, early October. You slowly drive your way down. It would end right about Asheville, maybe a little further South. Come on down. It takes a month because that’s how it would go if it starts peaking in late October, early November in Asheville. That would be a wonderful activity.
Todd, who’s our next guest. Who are we speaking to?
Whitney Moore, who is the queen of Queen Bee and the Honeylovers. A popular and award-winning swing band in Asheville. She is several generations in local and Asheville. She’s going to give us her perspective on this wonderful location.
[bctt tweet=”A lot of people come to Omni Grove Park and celebrate when the weather is good out on its sunset terrace.” via=”no”]
We are excited to have our next guest. We have Whitney Moore, who is the bandleader for Queen Bee and the Honeylovers, a band based out of Asheville. Welcome. How are you, Whitney?
I’m doing great. Thanks for having me.
I’ve got to know the history of the name first before anything else because that tells so much about a band and the lead singer. How did you become Queen Bee? I’m assuming you’re the queen bee.
My husband and I are into gardening and suburban homesteading as much as we can with a bit of land we have. We wanted to get bees. We were looking into it. We mentioned to a friend of ours, “Wouldn’t it be great to have bees?” I said, “Do you like honey?” He said, “I don’t just like honey, I love honey. I am a honey lover.” I was like, “That would be a cute name for a swing band.” I was trying to think of a name for the project I had in mind. I said, “What about The Honey Lovers?” My husband goes, “You’d have to be the queen bee.” That’s where it came from.
You touched on it, which I was going to say, you guys are a swing band based in Asheville. I don’t think of swing and jazz when I think of Asheville. I think more country, classic rock, bluegrass. I love that there is a swing and jazz presence in Asheville. Tell us a little bit about where you perform and what your crowds are like.
We’re lucky to have an up-and-coming decent scene of swing jazz, trad jazz music here. We play all over town and also around the Southeast, occasionally on the West coast. There’s a surprising number of gigs. We’re able to play all over whenever, so are all the other bands. We’ve got plenty of venues and scenes. There’s somewhere to go dancing of some type every night of the week here, swing dancing 2 or 3 nights a week, and find a band to go swing dancing to, which is fun. I don’t know if you’ve been to swing dancing, but it’s whole wonderful experience.
There’s a rockabilly feel. There’s a place in Fort Lauderdale that they do swing. They come in outfits. They come dressed to impress. They are dapper and know how to move. Do you guys dress while you perform?
We do dress up. I feel our scene is distinct from the rockabilly scene in vibe. At least my band and the folks here in Asheville lean more towards the trad jazz swing perspective. It’s going to be less ‘50s influence. It’s more ‘30s influenced music. You’re not going to have electric guitars or that rock and edge that you get with that later music. However, people still love to dress up and it’s still a real lighthearted vibe. We try to dress and transport people a bit and create a whole ethos around what we do.
What are the key instruments for a swing band to have?
We do small combo jazz. For us, that’s the piano, guitar, drums, upright bass, and a couple of horns. That’s a basic small combo setup. Swing bands can go all the way up to many orchestras. There’s a great band in town, Russ Wilson’s Orchestra that has a seventeen-piece orchestra that plays here on a regular basis.
You have been doing this for a few years. You have already won some awards at the 2020 Music Video Asheville Awards. How fun is the Music Video Asheville Awards? That sounds like something that people should put on their bucket list.
Yes, it’s fun. In true Asheville style, they roll out a red carpet and people come. There’s paparazzi with their cameras, but it’s Asheville style. Everyone’s dressed in their own quirky, wonderful creations.
What time of the year is it?
It usually happens in April. We had it virtually this 2020. It was in April 2019.
That sounds like it would be a lot of fun to go to.
You were also saying your parents were both jazz performers. They played in Asheville prior to you being on the scene. Your husband, is he in the band?
He’s not. He’s an academic. He’s a PhD in Music and was a professor for a long time. He’s more at that end of the spectrum.
How do your kids feel about having a mom as a musician? I think that’s cool.
I have two sons. One is only four months old. I just had a baby. My older son is about to turn four. Starting around two years old, he started coming to the gigs that we play that are early enough before his bedtime and playing the cello like an upright bass. I should put some links on our website because it’s amazing.
You need to. Everybody would eat that up.
It’s amazing. He was two years old. He’s almost four now and it’s still amazing because he’s still tiny. He takes the cello, and he could even hit it on the beat, and he’d be on the stage with us. It was cute.
You’ve got to expand the band once he can travel with you.
He says that. He’s like, “You have two bass players in your band. Trevor plays the daddy bass, the big bass and he plays the mommy bass,” which is the cello.
Let’s talk about the album, the namesake is Asheville, which is cool. You’re telling a story about Asheville in this album, and even in the songs. Why did you decide to do that? You’re from there, the music’s there, but you’re like, “I’m making an anthem here for this town.”
I’m an Asheville native of many generations. My family has been in the area since the early 20th century. I grew up close to my grandparents. They lived next door and I spent a ton of time with them hearing all these stories about old Asheville, and also listening to their Benny Goodman records and such. They helped to cement my love of that classic swing sound. Asheville’s been changing in the last years. Big buildings going up and folks moving here from all over. Our scene has changed, which I love. It’s a better place for creatives like me and there’s a lot more going on. We’re also paving paradise to put up a parking lot. We’re losing a lot of the charm that had people want to visit here in the first place. I felt drawn to preserve some of those stories and some of that history, just try to remind people who was here before who built the town.
Let’s talk a bit about some of the lyrics in the title song, Asheville, which focus on some special things about the city. There are lyrics in there about floating down the French Broad River, where do the goats go to play to do yoga like Bikram.
For the goats do yoga like Bikram.
You’re only trying to encapsulate the real feeling of Asheville in that song.
That was the one song on the album that was about modern Asheville. Everything else on the album was set in the ‘30s. I wanted the title track to be an overview of where we are now.
Did you write all the lyrics?
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There’s a ghost story in Asheville and you touch on it in your songs. There’s the ghost of Zealandia Mansion, and also Helen’s Bridge.
That’s an intro to Helen’s Bridge. That song is a mini-intro. Those are the same tune. Helen’s Bridge is a cool story. The legend of the ghost says that Helen was a guest at the Zealandia Mansion, which is still there. There was a fire and her infant child was killed in the fire. She was overcome by grief that she threw herself from the bridge and killed herself. Now she wanders the mountainside looking for her lost child. They say that if you drive up to Helen’s Bridge and park underneath the bridge and wait, Helen will stop your engine so that you can’t drive away. Some of my buddies in high school tried that. One of them said that they experienced some spooky things up there. I don’t know if it’s true, but it makes for a fun story.
Never doubt what they say, it could have happened.
It’s more fun to believe.
The Zealandia Mansion is now a museum in Asheville.
I know they also have events there. You can rent it out and have an event venue. I haven’t played there, but some of my friends have. Every once in a while, they’ll have an event that has music.
Whitney, I know it’s like picking your favorite child, but do you have a favorite song on the album?
Beachams Curve is my favorite.
I like that one. Tell us about it.
That tune, Michael Gamble wrote the music for. Our families have been friends since the ‘20s. Our grandfathers were best friends as children. Our grandfathers used to ride the streetcar together in West Asheville when Asheville had had a streetcar. He sent me the music for that song. I had been watching an old interview with my grandfather talking about riding the streetcar. I took his story of riding the streetcar and superimposed a love story happening along that path as it rides through old Asheville. I put that on top of the music that Michael wrote. That is special to me because of many layers of history, family and friends. We made a music video for it that I also adore. That won us best soundtrack in 2019 at the Music Video Asheville Awards.
Do you have a YouTube channel that people can go and see the video? Do you know what the channel is called? Is it the name of the band?
It’s Queen Bee and the HoneyLovers.
You do voiceovers also when you’re not singing. Sam Adams, I see Duke’s Mayonnaise and The Kennedy Center. To me, The Kennedy Center is the holy grail of performing. What did you do for The Kennedy Center?
I did some stuff for them. Some commercials for a summer series that they were doing. I wish I had performed there. I haven’t done that. That’s on my bucket list.
It’s on your bucket list. You’re young enough and talented enough that you’re probably going to get there.
That would be amazing.
Some of your music has also been featured on a Bravo series. It was the Southern Charm.
Was it the Southern Charm New Orleans one?
Why? Is it because of the swing sound?
Yes. They try to use a lot of swing jazz music on that.
I’m excited to interview you, not only you’re a great talent, but you’re also a local. One of the things that our readers join us for is to find out those special local things to do. Do you have any local secrets, fun events that you’ve done over the years that you’d to tell our readers that’s like, “If you’re going to go to Asheville, you should try to do this?” The Video Music Awards is something that I would love to go see because it’d be special. Anything like that.
Any of the Lake Eden Arts Festival, they have two at Camp Rockmont in the fall and the spring, and then they have one downtown in the summer. All of those are top-notch. They also opened a museum downtown that’s like a musical installation spot.
What is the acronym for the LEAF Festivals?
Lake Eden Arts Festival.
For the festival, what is it? Is it artisans? Do they incorporate music and food and everything?
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It’s arts, culture and music. They bring in awesome bands from all over the world. It’s a world festival. The one in the summer is more local Asheville artists. They usually get a few headliners to come in for the end of the evenings. All kinds of art. Especially the fall and spring festivals, you camp out by this gorgeous lake and Black Mountain. You wake up in your tent in the morning surrounded by the golden leaves of fall. There’s a parade through the middle of the festival with kids and paper mache masks, everybody’s smiling and happy.
How long has that been going on?
For many years.
Do you have a favorite restaurant?
I still love Laughing Seed a whole lot.
What’s the cuisine at Laughing Seed?
Laughing Seed is a vegetarian restaurant. It’s original, cool food. We also have some great farm to table places. Chestnut is amazing. There’s Heiwa, which is Japanese but it’s locally sourced. We’re into local sourcing here in Asheville. We do a lot of growing our own things.
Whitney, I want to talk about the music scene. I want to tell our readers about the ever-growing music scene in Asheville. We compared it to an up-and-coming Austin. They’ve been known as the live music capital for quite a while. People would be shocked if they understood the music scene that Asheville has. Can you tell us a bit how it’s evolved, and what type of music they can find, and where they might be able to find it? What is trending in NAsheville in terms of music?
We are still a hub for old-time, bluegrass and folk. Steep Canyon Rangers is out of Asheville. They’re gigging with Steve Martin, which is funny. He’s good though. Not just a shtick.
Steve Martin, does he hang out in Asheville? Do you see him?
Those guys are touring. If they play in Asheville, they play at the Civic Center. He doesn’t hang much at the local spot. If you do come to Asheville, Jack of the Wood, this venue downtown, they have live music sessions like jam sessions almost every day of the week. You can look at their website. That’s a nice thing to do. Bring your guitar or your mandolin, sit in, or come listen to some folks sitting around casually jamming together. We’re still known for old-time and bluegrass, but there’s also a lot of indie pop and folk coming out here. A lot of them have moved here in the last few years from other places because they love the quality of life and artistic freedom. Asheville is a wonderful place for collaboration.
Your gorgeous weather.
As artists, we love to spend time in nature. Asheville has got a lot of nature, a lot of space to breathe, think and create.
What’s your favorite spot to go watch live music? Do you even have time, because you’re performing and you’ve got two little boys at home?
I don’t get to hear much because if I have a night off, I’m with my family. I don’t have many nights off between touring and gigging around. I love the Isis Theater in West Asheville. It’s a great listening space where you can also get a wonderfully cooked dinner from locally sourced food. Great folks there run the Woody’s. The Orange Peel is a great venue, that’s a go-to for a lot of people. Unfortunately, a lot of places have closed. I loved Ambrose West. I loved The Mothlight, those places aren’t there now.
What’s coming up next for you? Are you working on another album? Are you making more music videos? It sounds like you should do a children’s album because you’ve got two little ones that are influencing you quite a bit.
My goal has always been with this project for it to be a family-friendly band. I always say I want to take a page out of Steven Spielberg’s book in the sense that he didn’t make movies for a demographic. He made movies for the family that everyone could get something out of and enjoy watching together. I always joke that we’re a party band that you could bring your grandma to. I know we’ve been doing some distance recordings. We released a single, Spirit of Swing. We’ve got some more original music that we’ve been working on, but it’s a weird time to be writing. I don’t want to make a whole album about current events and it’s hard to think about anything else.
It would be a dark album. The motivation for many people that are creative types, I don’t think it’s there. Hopefully, soon everybody will be.
Could you sing a few bars for us of one of your favorite songs from one of your albums?
Why don’t I sing some of Asheville’s? “Bountiful valley way up high. Fertile and green land of the sky. Tip of the blue ridge mountain range. Lengthy autumns and lingering springs. Up on the parkway take a drive. Float down the French Broad, take a dive. Maybe enjoy a local brew. All that and the Biltmore too. In Asheville – North Cackalacky.”
You’re a beautiful guest. We do ask each one of our guests a favor. We ask them our rapid-fire questions to educate our readers on their lives and things that they’ve done on their bucket list, and also about the city that they’re from. The first one is, have you ever completed something on your personal bucket list, and if so, what was it?
I always dreamt of announcing my pregnancy with my first child in front of a huge crowd. I did that. I was on tour in Colorado. It was 2,000 people. We were playing at this festival in Downtown Boulder. I was three and a half months pregnant at that point, but you can announce it. I turned the camera out on the crowd, and I had them scream, “Whitney and Allen are having a baby.” I posted it on social media. That was how I announced my pregnancy.
Is that how your parents found out?
No, they would have hated me. No, I told them.
Starting a swing band, that’s a great bucket list too. You live in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, Asheville, but if you can live anywhere else in the world for a year, where would it be?
Argentina, Mendoza, I’ve heard a lot about it. The wine region of Argentina. I speak fluent Spanish, so does my husband. We dream of taking the kids to live for a year in Argentina.
It’s got that Italian dialect too.
You do a lot better than us when you go because we’re like, “What?”
That’s a good choice. Argentina is gorgeous.
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If you could travel with someone infamous or famous, alive or dead, who would it be?
Lost Cities With Albert Lin. He takes these his fancy digital tech and he can go to ancient sites and see areas underground that they haven’t uncovered yet. It’d be fun to go with him somewhere in the Pacific.
When you’re packing for a trip, what is something you pack that may surprise our readers?
Battery operated Christmas lights.
I got to ask, why?
They create ambiance. It’s a little string of Christmas lights. I lived in Europe and Mexico. I spent years on the road traveling. I learned how to take this tiny, little care package of ambiance with me, so that I could take some crappy corner of somebody’s garage that I was hanging a hammock and toss a couple of things up that instantly made it for a homie.
What a great suggestion. That is a Destination Everywhere first.
I don’t know how often you’re going to be sleeping in someone’s corner garage in a hammock. That comes up for musicians.
Finally, what is your most memorable experience in Asheville? I’m sure you have thousands. Can you pick one?
Music-related, I got to play Bele Chere the last year that it happened, which was a big music festival that we had in Asheville that my father helped create in the early ‘80s. It was cool to get to play the last one before it disappeared. It had been 20 years or 30 years or something. That was fun. Downtown After 5, also is a festival that we have here on Fridays in the summer. We have music down on Lexington Avenue. Playing that was awesome. I was eight months pregnant, so that was an adventure.
Whitney Moore from the Queen Bee and the Honeylovers. Whenever you’re in Asheville, make sure you look her up. Whitney, where can they find you on social media? If someone’s headed their way there, they could see if you’re going to be playing.
We’re @QueenBeeSwing on all the things, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. The website is QueenBeeSwing.com. We do keep a calendar updated there and on our Instagram social pages.
We look forward to it. We look forward to hearing more about you and following you. We wish you the best of luck.
We’ll see you next time we’re in Asheville.
Look us up when you’re here.
That wraps up our show around Asheville, North Carolina, which we love. We hope you got some great tips, both from where to stay, who to listen to, and all the great activities in and around Asheville. Some of my favorites I want to go when they’re having a Gingerbread competition at the Grove Park Inn. Todd, what are some things you want to do next time you go to Asheville?
I want to go to spend more time at the Grove Park Inn. I loved hearing about it. Barack Obama’s golf clubs are there and the Gingerbread competition. Ten presidents have stayed there. There’s so much history. I love history. I want to check out this Gingerbread competition with the pastry chefs coming from great distances to have them on display. It’s amazing. I want to go visit that.
Whitney was fantastic. If you’re going to go to Asheville, make sure you look up Queen Bee and the HoneyLovers, and see where they’re playing. Meet Whitney and let her know that you found out about her on this show. She’s a joy and what a beautiful voice.
Bring your dance shoes. It is swing music. Her voice is unique, I loved it. I’m glad that she sang for us. It gives you an idea of the type of music that she’s making. Go out and have fun. Put your dancing shoe on, go do a swing thing.
Go to Asheville and have a great time.
There’s much to do. It’s changing all the time. If you want the old Asheville, you’ve got that to enjoy. If you want the new Asheville, you’ve got that to enjoy. Go with your parents and your grandparents. Everybody will have a good time.
We highly recommend it.
We’re going to close out this episode. We hope you enjoyed it. Please be sure to subscribe, rate and review on your preferred platform or visit us at www.Destination-Everywhere.com. If there’s something you would like us to research on, a place that you’d like to go or visit, let us know. We look forward to you joining us next time. Safe travels.
At AMI, we are passionate about meeting connections that change lives. For over twenty years, we have traveled our clients all over the globe supporting their business goals and helping them stand apart from hotel sourcing to audiovisual magic. We’ll make your corporate meeting or event second to none. Go to AmericanMeetings.com to learn more. American Meetings, AMI, meeting planning perfected.
- Omni Grove Park Inn
- Queen Bee and the Honeylovers
- Glenn Miller Orchestra
- National Gingerbread House Competition
- Nicholas Lodge School of Sugar Arts
- Carla Hall
- Vue 1913
- Edison Ales and Kitchen
- Hi-Wire Brewing
- Cherokee Center
- The Orange Peel
- Ireland – Previous episode
- Omni Hotels and Resorts
- @OmniGrovePark – Instagram
- Biltmore Estate
- Asheville Drum Circle
- Namaste in Nature Tours
- Asheville Salt Cave
- Highland Brewing Company
- The New Belgium Liquid Center
- Wedge Brewing Company
- No Taste Like Home Tour
- Sliding Rock
- Queen Bee and the Honeylovers – YouTube
- Lake Eden Arts Festival
- Laughing Seed
- Jack of the Wood
- Isis Theater
- Ambrose West
- The Mothlight
- Downtown After 5
- @QueenBeeSwing – Instagram
- Facebook – Queen Bee and the Honeylovers
- Twitter – Queen Bee and the Honeylovers
About Jennifer Wagner
Jennifer Wagner is the Special Events Manager at the Omni Grove Park Inn. She is originally from New Jersey, but has been here in Asheville for 5 years. Her background and education lie in Show Production and Entertainment Business which ties well to her role at the hotel. Jennifer manages all guest facing events, such as The National Gingerbread House Competition, as well the promotion of the hotel’s rich history. In her spare time, she enjoys cooking and gardening, or hanging out with her pup, Lucy the hound dog.
About Whitney Moore
Whitney Moore is a musician and voice actor who has performed in venues across the globe. Raised in a family of professional musicians, Whitney began her own career at 18. She founded her most recent project, Queen Bee and the Honeylovers, in 2018 – a vintage swing band that performs all-original compositions with a dedicated ‘nod’ to the small-jazz-combo and ‘hot club’ legends who first defined the genre. Their debut album, “Asheville” celebrates their hometown’s history. It landed at #41 on WNCW’s listener-voted poll of Best Albums of 2019 and won them features on The State of Things with Frank Stasio and PBS Woodsongs. Their videos for Beacham’s Curve and Hayes and Hopson won awards at the 2019 and 2020 Music Video Asheville Awards. Other songs were featured on Bravo’s Southern Charm, New Orleans. And just recently, Queen Bee and the Honeylovers were voted “Best Jazz Band” in the Mountain Xpress 2020 poll. When she’s not on stage, you can catch Whitney doing TV and radio voice overs for clients like Sam Adams, Duke’s Mayonnaise and the Kennedy Center. She lives on a small suburban homestead with her husband, 2 sons aged 4 years and 4 months, and a small flock of chickens.