Step It Up and Go

Step“Step It Up and Go: The Story of North Carolina Popular Music, from Blind Boy Fuller and Doc Watson to Nina Simone and Superchunk,” (2020, University of North Carolina Press). Find it in both hardcover or paperback at your favorite bookstore as well as online at,, Google Play, or Walmart. Beyond America, the book is available in Canada, England, France, Germany, Spain, Japan, India, Australia and New Zealand.

If you want a signed copy, the best place to get that is Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh (which offers free shipping anywhere in the U.S.).

Across the great state of North Carolina, it can also be had at Durham’s Regulator Bookshop, Wake Forest’s Page 158 Books, Chapel Hill’s Flyleaf Books, Greensboro’s Scuppernong Books, Asheville’s Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe, Charlotte’s Park Road Books, Pitsboro’s McIntyre’s Books, High Point’s Sunrise Book Shop and The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines. 

Readings, Events & Appearances

° Saturday-Sunday, June 10-11 — Charlie Poole Festival (Rockingham, North Carolina)

° Tuesday, June 27, 2023 (6:30 p.m.) — NC Humanities “North Carolina Reads” virtual event with Dolphus Ramseur.

AwardsResources | Understanding the American South

2023 North Carolina Reads selection by North Carolina Humanities Center for the Book

2021 North Caroliniana Society Book Award  

Eric Hoffer Awards, First Runner-Up, “Culture” 

Nominee, Ragan Old North State Award for Nonfiction 


Lew’s Book Reviews, by Lewis Shiner (July 11, 2022) 

The Local Reporter Review, by Laurie Paolicelli (Jan. 25, 2022) 

Blue Ridge Music Trails podcast review by Laura Boosinger (July 27, 2021) 

Saathe magazine review by Samir Shukla (June 14, 2021) — also in Noise Bliss 

“Don’t Stop the Music” review by Ursula Majorette, Cannonball Read (Feb. 8, 2021)

“We Got the Beat: The richness of North Carolina’s music,” by Stephen E. Smith, O’Henry magazine/Omnivorous Reader review (January 2021) — also in PineStraw magazine 

Musoscribe review, by Bill Kopp (Dec. 18, 2020) — also in Musoscribe’s “Best of 2020” (Dec. 31, 2020)  

The Reading Room: No Depression’s Best Books of 2020, by Henry Carrigan (Dec. 17, 2020)

The Best Books of 2020: Non-Fiction, PopMatters (Dec. 11, 2020) 

“‘Step It Up & Go’ provides entertaining, enlightening look at North Carolina music,” by L. Kent Wolgamott, Lincoln Journal Star (Dec. 4, 2020)

“‘Step It Up and Go’ Gives North Carolina Music Its Dues,” by Michael Elliott, PopMatters (Nov. 23, 2020)

“Three from the region: New books with High Country connections,” by Tom Mayer, Watauga Democrat/Mountain Times review (Oct. 29, 2020) — also in Ashe Post & Times (Nov. 18, 2020)  

“The Reading Room: Music’s Starring Role in North Carolina,” by Henry Carrigan, No Depression review (Oct. 22, 2020)

“James Taylor. Bill Monroe. Ben Folds Five. Book on North Carolina music history a good start, but misses some notes.,” by Ben Steelman, Wilmington Star News review (Oct. 24, 2020)

Bluegrass Today review (Oct. 6, 2020)

goodread reviews

Testimonials & Reviews

This is a fascinating study of musical history in North Carolina. Thorough, informative, and packed with interesting facts and surprising insights, the book is arranged into sections that focus on various genres popular in the area and, while not strictly chronological, the narrative does move through time in a generally straight trajectory. Through a plethora of entertaining anecdotes, historical recollections, and contemporary observations, Menconi weaves a vivid picture of a vibrant musical scene. Additionally, the pleasing layout and beautiful pictures serve this extensive compendium well. The discography and index are valuable resources. Compassionate, with insightful commentary, the book reveals a deep connection to the area.
The US Review of Books; Hoffer Awards, First Runner-Up, “Culture”

Menconi may not be a native Tar Heel, but he’s lived here long enough that we’ve come to claim him, and his work in North Carolina music history was already well established but is further cemented with this work. It’s a story that’s long overdue. Maybe it was just waiting for the right person to tell it.
— Michael Elliott, PopMatters review

David Menconi’s sojourn through North Carolina’s musical history is the indispensable book you didn’t know you needed…He’s your favorite cool professor teaching the most popular course on campus.
— Tom Mayer, Watauga Democrat/Mountain Times review

Sometimes the best music books are about unexpected subjects.
L. Kent Wolgamott, Lincoln Journal Star review

David Menconi’s “Step It Up and Go: The Story of North Carolina Popular Music, From Blind Boy Fuller and Doc Watson to Nina Simone and Superchunk” (UNC) tells tales as colorful as the mountain laurel blossoms in the state’s mountains and as expansive as the warm sands on the state’s beaches. With a troubadour’s heart, he tramps across the richly loamed Piedmont and the fragrant fields of tobacco in the eastern counties talking to musicians, listening to stories, sitting a spell on porches or in kitchens enthralled by the voices of artists or the plunk of banjos and scrape of fiddles in search of the musical roots and branches of North Carolina music.
— Henry Carrigan, No Depression review

David Menconi reminds us that memory is set free within time and space. “Step It Up and Go” reimagines ghosts carrying guitars crossing Jim Crow color lines that were never meant to be crossed, men who lived and died in their own instrumental universes, and resounding women wailing and weaving their gold into plain view.

This assemblage of interviews and other primary and secondary sources present a wide range of music genres, backstories, and sociological and cultural data that informs, texturizes, and continues to deliver what feels like a seamless space between long ago and now. Celebration and nods of regret remain wonderfully accessible and vulnerable, bearing witness to the power of the everydayness and ordinariness of music makers who call us neighbor, family, and community.

Over and over again, this story of North Carolina music is a righteous invitation. We are drawn to listen to the depth of historical call and response across generations between Rhiannon Giddens, Etta Baker, and Elizabeth Cotten, the slick dance of whoops and hollers of Sonny Terry when 9th Wonder or J. Cole drops the microphone, or to lean in and feel the breath of the shadow spirits of Doc Watson and Charlie Poole swaying in between Chatham County Line.

This is David Menconi’s real métier. Hopefully we can look forward to more chronicles of many other musicians who call North Carolina home.
Jaki Shelton Green, North Carolina Poet Laureate 

David Menconi has been in attendance or helped with coverage of every meaningful music event, concert or festival in the piedmont of North Carolina that I can remember over my 20-year career. He deserves to be the one to deliver this comprehensive look into North Carolina musical history.
— Woody Platt, Steep Canyon Rangers

Music is one of North Carolina’s greatest calling cards to the world, and David Menconi is an unmatched ambassador for that music. Weaving together the genres, artists, and songs that feel like the fabric we all wear, Menconi showcases a keen ear for a story, and a journalist’s sense of history.”
Joe Newberry, musician & Kindness Ninja ™

At long last, David Menconi has given us the musical overview the Tarheel State truly deserves.
Jon Wurster, Superchunk

“Step It Up and Go” stands alone as a comprehensive, thought-provoking narrative detailing a century’s worth of the entire North Carolina music scene, from the bravado of Charlie Poole and his banjo-driven string music to the wildly creative 9th Wonder and his shepherding of a vital North Carolina hip-hop scene. Menconi’s writing gifts, years of journalism, and direct contact with many of the state’s music figures makes the stories sing from inside and out. North Carolina has needed this book and all its music lovers should celebrate its arrival.
— Thomas Goldsmith (author, “Earl Scruggs and Foggy Mountain Breakdown: The Making of an American Classic”)

Menconi has written a history of North Carolina music that is as lilting as a Piedmont ballad, as pleasurable as a Libba Cotton pick-and-strum, and with all the forward drive of a Fulton Allen solo. That is to say: you should read this book.
— Osha Gray Davidson (author, “The Best of Enemies: Race and Redemption in the New South”)

“Step It Up and Go” is a landmark publication that tracks the state’s rich musical history. David Menconi eloquently introduces early musicians like Shirley Caesar, Elizabeth Cotton, Blind Boy Fuller, Clyde McPhatter, Theolonius Monk, Charlie Poole, Earl Scruggs, Nina Simone, and Doc Watson, as well as contemporary performers like the Avett Brothers, Phonte Coleman, Rhiannon Giddens, Mandolin Orange, Megafaun, Tift Merritt, the Red Clay Ramblers, Southern Culture on the Skids, Superchunk, and Mike “M.C.” Taylor. Menconi delivers a long overdue salute to North Carolina as an unending source of musical talent that has defined the fields of old time country, bluegrass, gospel, blues, jazz, rock and roll, and hip hop.
William Ferris, UNC professor and Grammy winner 

Interviews & Features

“Spotlight Conversations” interview with Donna Reed (Nov. 24, 2021) 

Rockin’ the Suburbs’ “Book Nook” (May 28, 2021) 

Radio interview on WCHL/ (Feb. 22, 2021)

Q&A on Music Journalism Insider (Feb. 22,2021)

Craig Havighurst, “The String” interview on WMOT-FM, Nashville (Feb. 17, 2021)

WFAE-FM “SouthBound” host Tommy Tomlinson newsletter Q&A (Jan. 14, 2021)

Book Feature, The Laurel of Asheville (Dec. 18, 2020)

“Raleigh journalist publishes a history of North Carolina music,” By Evren Centeno, Chapel Hill High School Proconian (Dec. 7, 2020)

“Step It Up & Go Is ‘The’ Book on NC Music,” By Brian Turk, NC Music Magazine (Dec. 2, 2020)

Chapel Hill Library “Tracks” Program

“The Bryan Hanks Show” on WRNS “The Bull,” 960-AM/Kinston (Nov. 13, 2020)

“Podcast Raleigh” interview (Oct. 23, 2020)

“The Road to Now” Podcast interview with Ben Alexander and Dolphus Ramseur (Oct. 19, 2020)

Author Interview, UNC Press Blog (Oct. 19, 2020) — also in Watauga Democrat (Oct. 28, 2020)

“North Carolina Bookwatch” interview with D.G. Martin, UNC-TV (Oct. 18 and Oct. 20, 2020)

News & Observer excerpt and interview/feature (Oct. 18, 2020) — also in Charlotte Observer, Greensboro News & Record, Houston Chronicle, Bryan (Texas) Eagle, Carolina Coast Online, U.S. News &  World Report, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Westport (Calif.) News and The Island Packet

“David Menconi, the Dean of North Carolina Rock Critics, Pens a Loving Landmark History of Our State’s Popular Music,” by Brian Howe; Indy Week (Oct. 14, 2020)

“Tom Kearney Show” interview on WPTF-AM, Raleigh (Oct. 12, 2020) 

“‘Step It Up and Go: The Story of North Carolina Popular Music’ highlights musicians from across the state,” by Eddie Huffman; Winston-Salem Journal (Oct. 3, 2020) — also in Greensboro News & Record and NotiUlti

WRAL “Out & About” podcast — Sept. 30, 2020

Bookin’ podcastSept. 28, 2020

Walter magazine featureSeptember 2020

343 Collection podcast interview


“The Best Music Books to Come Out of North Carolina,” on (April 24, 2023) 

“Rock ‘n’ Read: Checking out the season’s music books,” by Gary Graff, Oakland (Mich.) Press (Dec. 29, 2020)

“Give the gift of Dolly, NC music knowledge, Vivian Howard recipes and more this holiday,” by Brooke Cain, Raleigh News & Observer (Dec. 3, 2020)


“D.G. Martin: Books for holiday giving — a checklist,” Ashe Post & Times (Nov. 23, 2020) — also in Morganton News & Herald, Richmond County Daily Journal,, Fayetteville Observer, Coastland Times, Stanly News & Press, Chatham Journal and 

Raleigh Philosophical Society 2020 Gift Guide (Nov. 23, 2020) 

The Page 99 Test (Oct. 20, 2020) — also at Campaign for the American Reader

Carolina Alumni Review (September-October 2020)

No Depression wrapup of upcoming Fall 2020 books (July 23, 2020)

“25 Ways to Experience the Arts This Fall,” Chapel Hill magazine (Sept. 3, 2020)

“Religion is everywhere as four important books point out,” by D.G. Martin, Statesville Record & Landmark (Sept. 28, 2020) — also in Morganton News Herald, Independent Tribune, Spring Hope Enterprise, Laurinburg Exchange, Hickory Record, Coastland Times and Up & Coming Weekly

Doc Watson playlist for The Bluegrass Situation (June 5, 2020)

North Carolina busking history and overview for Our State magazine (September 2020)

Related playlists
“Southern Accents” radio show playlist on KMRD in Madrid, New Mexico (Feb. 25, 2021)
Largehearted Boy
Songs from “Step It Up and Go” (on Spotify)
Raleigh playlist (also on Spotify)
Orange County playlist (also on Spotify)
“Step It Up and Go”: The YouTube playlist

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Past Events

Saturday, June 3 (11 a.m.-1 p.m.) – NC Humanities “North Carolina Reads” discussion, Warren County Memorial Library (Warrenton, North Carolina)

Sunday, March 12 (2-4 p.m.) – Hub City Writers Project’s “Delicious Reads” (Spartanburg, South Carolina)

Friday, Nov. 18 (8:30-10 a.m.) – “CreativeMornings/Raleigh” discussion at North Carolina Museum of Art, (2110 Blue Ridge Road in Raleigh).

Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022 (7 p.m.) – Discussion with “Her Country” author Marissa R. Moss at North Carolina Museum of History (5 E. Edenton St., Raleigh) as part of “The Power of Women in Country Music” exhibit.

Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022 (12:30-1:30 p.m.) — “Meet the Authors” panel and book-signing, Workshop Legends stage of Earl Scruggs Festival at Tryon International Equestrian Center (25 International Boulevard in Mill Spring, North Carolina).

Sunday, May 22, 2022 (2-8 p.m.) – Onstage host, “Legends of NC” tribute show at Doodad Farm (4701 Land Road in Greensboro). Featuring performances by Laurelyn Dossett, Secret Monkey Weekend, Jon Shain & FJ Ventre and more. On-site book sales by Sunrise Book Shop, High Point.

November 19-21, 2021 — North Carolina Writers Network Fall Conference, Sheraton Imperial in Durham, North Carolina.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021 (6:30 p.m.) — In conversation with “Have a Little Faith” author Michael Elliott, Zoom event via Page 158 Books, Wake Forest, North Carolina.

Monday, November 15, 2021 — Women of Weymouth meeting in Southern Pines, North Carolina.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021 (7 p.m.) – With M.C. Taylor of Hiss Golden Messenger at Horse & Buggy Press in Durham, North Carolina.

Thursday, November 4, 2021 (7 p.m.) – With Let’s Active 40th Anniversary Concert, The Ramkat in Wilston-Salem, North Carolina.

Monday, October 18, 2021 (11 a.m.-7 p.m.) — “Step It Up and Go” Stage at the North Carolina State Fair’s Homegrown Music Fest with Kate Rhudy, Alex Lawon, Wes Collins Trio (Waterfall Stage at the State Fairgrounds in Raleigh, North Carolina).

Saturday, July 17, 2021 (2:45 p.m.) — Record Store Day with Backsliders and Jeffrey Dean Foster, Schoolkids Records in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Tuesday, July 6, 2021 (7 p.m.) — “Step It Up & Go: A Talk with Author David Menconi,” Earl Scruggs Center in Shelby, North Carolina

Wednesday, May 12, 2021 (6 p.m.) – “The Story of North Carolina Music,” virtual event via Wake County Public Libraries

Friday, April 30, 2021 (8:45-10 a.m.) – “CreativeMornings/Raleigh” discussion

Thursday, April 29, 2021 (7 p.m.) — “From Combo Corner to the World: The Diaspora of the Winston-Salem Sound,” virtual event with Chris Stamey and Peter Holsapple via MUSE Winston Salem

Friday, Feb. 26, 2021 (10 a.m.) — Virtual event, Wonderland Book Club 

Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020 (7 p.m.) — Virtual event with Tift Merritt via McIntyre’s Books, Fearrington Village, Pittsboro.

Monday, Nov. 30, 2020 (7 p.m.) — Virtual event with Harry Teuting (Harry’s Guitar Shop) via Page 158 Books, Wake Forest.

Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020 (3 p.m.) — Interview on Gimme Country.

Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020 (6 p.m.) — Virtual discussion with Jon Wurster and Tom Maxwell via Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill.

Friday, Oct. 23, 2020 (7 p.m.) — Virtual event with Eddie Huffman via Scuppernong Books, Greensboro.

Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020 (6:30 p.m.) — “UNC Press Presents” virtual event with David Holt via Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe, Asheville.

Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020 (7 p.m.) — Virtual event with Scott Avett via Park Road Books, Charlotte.

Monday, Oct. 19, 2020 (7 p.m.) — Virtual event with Scott Huler via Quail Ridge Books, Raleigh.

Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020 (4 p.m.) — “Secret Monkey Weekend” interview.

Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020 (7 p.m.) — Virtual event with Jaki Shelton Green via The Regulator Bookshop, Durham.

Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020 (noon) — “History @ High Noon: Breaking Color Lines at the Beach” talk on beach music, virtual event via North Carolina Museum of History, Raleigh.

Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2020 (2:30 p.m.) — Interview with Charlie Brown on WHUP, 104.7-FM, Hillsborough.

Monday, Oct. 12, 2020 (8:20-8:40 a.m.) — Interview with Bob Burtman on WHUP, 104.7-FM, Hillsborough.

Monday, Oct. 12, 2020 (9-10 p.m.) — Interview with Tom Kearney on WPTF, 98.5-FM/680-AM, Raleigh.

Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020 (10 a.m.-noon) — “Lawn Darts Radio” interview on Little Raleigh Radio.

Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020 (7 p.m.) – Virtual event with novelist David Goodwillie and writer/musician Kelly Crisp, via Page 158 Books, Wake Forest.

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