Musicians walking into Ronnie Swaim’s Jubilee Music Store will feel a sense of homecoming. Located in the Seagate North Shopping Center in Kill Devil Hills, Ronnie’s corner of music delights is reminiscent of an age-old country store filled with an assortment of guitars, mandolins, ukuleles and other instruments.
When you talk to Ronnie, there is logic to the evolution of him owning a music store that mimics days gone by in the old South. This is a casual place where folks gather to discuss this and that. “I was born and learned to play music in the hills of North Carolina, back in Elkin,” he says. “I can play most anything with a string on it, starting with a guitar ‘bout the time I was nine years old and then moved on to the banjo and mandolin. I don’t read music but I have a lot of fun playing it.”
His skills are good, actually quite good, and he plays in a local bluegrass band called Drifting Sands. “We still play some. I play guitar with them,” he says. The reason he ended up with a music store in Kill Devil Hills includes the story of a couple of failed attempts to bring country and bluegrass music to the Outer Banks stage.
About eight years ago the Outer Banks Showcase opened in Kitty Hawk in what used to be a movie theatre. At the time Ronnie was driving a truck for a turf company, but he also found time to help with their theater shows. After four years the Showcase closed and the property sat vacant, so Ronnie and a partner began thinking about what they could do with the building.
“We said, ‘Let’s see about renting the theatre’ and one thing led to another,” Ronnie recalls. The Outer Banks Jubilee opened, local singer Laura Martier headlined in a Patsy Cline revue and some very good bluegrass and country performers came to town. “We brought people out here from Nashville,” he notes. “But, to make a long story short, we just couldn’t make it.”
About a year into the attempt to get the Jubilee up and running, a music store in Kill Devil Hills was closing its doors and Ronnie was contacted about taking it over. “I bought the music store, and I put it in the theatre. When the Jubilee closed down, I found this location. Been here about a year and a half, and it’s getting better and better,” he says.
The store is not large at all, but Ronnie’s eye for instruments is outstanding, and entry level to sought-after guitars line the walls. There are some very nice mandolins, a surprisingly good selection of ukuleles, some brass instruments, woodwinds . . . well actually, a little bit of everything.
The Jubilee Music Store is a full-service store. Ronnie is a luthier—which is a fancy term for someone who repairs stringed instruments and knows what they’re doing. “I get a lot of high dollar stuff in here and you just got to do it right. You got to do a lot of research,” he explains, “and it’s a great feeling when you do it right.”
He’s expanded beyond stringed instruments and now makes repairs on woodwinds and brass instruments too. “I’m just learning more and more every day,” he says. “If this is going to be a music store, I feel like we’ve got to be able to fix anything. If I can’t fix it, I’ll bring it to someone who can.”
Instruments are also available for rental, a service he’s noticed visitors like to use in the summertime. “They don’t need to pack their guitars,” he says. “We rent guitars and whatever else they want. If they call ahead, we’ll have something ready for them.” Ronnie seems to be a happy man surrounded by music and instruments. “I enjoy what I do,” he says. “Playin’ and workin’ on them. It’s worth a lot to just do that.”