The Earl Scruggs Center in Shelby: Tribute to a Legend

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The Earl Scruggs Center sits in Uptown Shelby, one of our state’s finest small towns. And inside this courthouse-turned-museum, you’ll learn about the legend that is Earl Scruggs, cultural and musical shifts during his lifetime, the music business, and much more. It’s a wonderful tribute to a true musical icon, and visitors understandably come from all over the world to check it out. If you haven’t visited yet, here’s what you’ll see when visiting. I also wanted to share some things that definitely have us convinced that a return trip is necessary, considering this is one of our favorite museums in North Carolina

This post is a part of our series on Cleveland County, where we’ve covered things to do during a weekend there and more.

Earl Scruggs Center

Hours, and Admission Note

With the exception of major federal holidays, the Earl Scruggs Center is open Tuesday to Saturday at 10 am. Veterans, active military personnel (with credentials), and kids under five receive free admission. Youth from six years old to 17 pay $5, seniors and college students pay $8, and adults pay $12 to enter. 

Earl Scruggs, the Bluegrass Master

Earl Scruggs Center Shelby NC Downstairs Image

Earl Scruggs is the reason this center exists, as the Cleveland County native’s three-finger picking style (also known as “Scruggs Style”) paved the way for bluegrass music as we know it today. Scruggs’s “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” is probably his best-known written song, helping launch the banjo as THE bluegrass instrument. Earl passed away in 2012 and his funeral was held in Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. He’s one of a few big names to receive that honor. The center opened in January 2014 to commemorate his life, achievements, and legacy. And as you’ll see, the folks in Shelby do more than a pretty good job of that.

The Tribute Video

If you’re greeted at the door like we were, you’ll likely be instructed to first watch a video dedicated to Scruggs. This amazing way to start covers the bluegrass master’s background, his upbringing, and the imprint he left on the musical world. There are even cameos scattered throughout the film from various people within the music industry, including Steve Martin. And of course, they all point to Scruggs as the catalyst for the music they love to create. 

The Permanent Exhibits

You’ll first see the Rotunda Gallery, which features three generations of family instruments, including an Earl Scruggs banjo. There are also three permanent exhibits and chronologically, you should start with “In These Hills.” After learning about the American South, you can simulate various musical instruments on the giant interactive Common Threads table. Across the hall, “Out of Carolina” takes you through Scruggs’s early life and finally, there’s “The Turning Road.” That section combines Earl’s evolving musical tastes with the change that came as a result of the Civil Rights movement in the US during the 1960s. 

Special Exhibits

American South Stereotypes Comics Special Exhibit Image
Special Exhibit from Spring 2019.

There’s even more beyond the permanent exhibits, which you’ll discover upstairs. There’s an area for sitting and picking a banjo yourself, as well as a kids area for coloring. And through a set of doors, you’ll find the Earl Scruggs Center’s Special Exhibits section. In 2019, “Comic Stripped” focused on the South’s coverage in various cartoons over the years. In the fall, “Come Hear Shelby” will follow Governor Cooper’s proclamation that 2019 would be the year of music for North Carolina. Come Hear NC leads that awesome effort. 

If you visit Cleveland County during fall, stay tuned for events planned to coincide with this exhibit. The Arts Council’s Annual Art of Sound Festival is one in the area that you should not miss.

Volunteer-led

When I started writing about the Earl Scruggs Center, it was interesting to learn about its volunteers. You might see a few of them when visiting, but others go undetected. That’s because a lot of work happens behind the scenes. Volunteers help with setup and breakdown of events, work as guides for various groups, and help curate collections. 

The Perfect Intro to Shelby and Cleveland County

Shelby NC Foothills Farmers Market Image
At the Foothills Farmers Market in Shelby.

With all the interactive fun available, I see why people from all over the US and at least 20 countries come to visit the Earl Scruggs Center. It’s an excellent tribute to a Cleveland County native, but also a wonderful introduction to the surrounding area. And just outside, the awesome people, local businesses, and fun attractions in the area work together to make this one of our favorite places to visit in North Carolina

Have you ever visited the Earl Scruggs Center in Shelby? If so, what did you think of it? Why should someone else visit this place? If not, what’s the first thing you’d like to see here?

Disclosure Note

Special thanks to Tour Cleveland County for providing us with complimentary admission to Earl Scruggs Center. All opinions within this article are our own.

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