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When Richard Emmett walks the streets of downtown Winston-Salem, his mind looks past the present landscape and sees shades of the past. Before Trade Street was the Arts District, it was known as Old Town Street, and it drew rural famers into town to sell their crops, specifically tobacco, at the city’s many tobacco warehouses.

Between the corn and tobacco, musicians would take up a spot, particularly old-time string bands hoping to gather a crowd from the streets. Artists like Ernest Thompson and the North Carolina Cooper Boys made their start here and in other corners of North Carolina before finding the limelight.

They filled Winston-Salem’s streets with music distinctive of this region—a little-known history that Richard, program director for the Blue Ridge Music Center, works to preserve.

The decades since have brought waves of change to the area. In the wake of downtown revitalization and the growth of Wake Forest Innovation Quarter, Richard is reviving Winston-Salem’s street-music roots. When Lindsey Yarborough, director, community relations at the Innovation Quarter, approached Richard about partnering with the Blue Ridge Music Center to bring more blues and bluegrass acts downtown, they joined efforts to create Bailey Blues & Bluegrass, a new music festival at Bailey Park that’s bringing a fresh generation of soul to an old-time tradition.

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