When Steve Masterson got his first real glimpse of the hilly property in Blount County, he felt right at home.
"I walked up on it, and it seemed sort of magical," says Masterson, 63. "It just fit."
The thickly forested land -- with its limestone outcroppings, hardwood trees, carpets of wildflowers and abundant wildlife -- seemed perfect to him in 1994, when this nature lover was in search of privacy, peace and a place to call his own.
Masterson bought about 40 acres that year, and added 20 more in 2008. Now, he's the master of a 61-acre domain in Hayden that's ideal for hiking, hunting and critter watching.
"I walk up here a lot, and I'm just stunned that I own it," Masterson says during an interview with AL.com. "It's like a state park. People go on vacation to places like this. To be able to walk out the back door and see this ..."
He admits, however, that taming the impressive expanse required hard work, planning and determination. Masterson cleared the land, built a house, did the landscaping, planted a garden, constructed a driveway and much more. With the help of some handy friends, he made his vision for the property a reality.
"I had the chance to fly one time, from Birmingham up to here, to look over the property, and there's not much wilderness property left," Masterson says. "Most of it is pine tree plantations and subdivisions and that sort of thing. It's still the woods. It's still natural. I think the property has 300 feet of elevation, when you go from the driveway to the top of the field. Places like that are not good for anything else but beauty."
Well, and one more thing.
As Masterson built a life on this spot -- first with his wife, then on his own -- he launched a music festival in his backyard, calling it The Acoustic Cafe. The event featured quick-picking musicians, some of them famous, who performed on a pine stage surrounded by strings of twinkling Christmas lights.
Sam Bush played there. Doc Watson played there. So did Vassar Clements, John Hartford, Norman Blake, Tony Rice, Edgar Meyer, Robin & Linda Williams, Peter Rowman, Dread Clampitt, the John Cowan Band, the Redstick Ramblers and many others.
For 14 years, 1995-2009, visitors spent festival weekends at primitive campsites on Masterson's land -- pitching tents, parking campers and staking temporary claims to more remote locations in the woods. Masterson welcomed crowds that ranged from 100 to 1,000 people, sharing his property until parking arrangements became problematic.
In 2010, The Acoustic Cafe moved to a 220-acre spread in Marion County, producing seven festivals there until its demise in 2016. To say goodbye properly, Masterson welcomed regulars back to his home in 2017, bidding farewell to The Acoustic Cafe in the place where it started.
"People were so glad we came back and did one more here," he says.
Tour the land with him, as two visitors from AL.com did on a fall morning, and you'll hear pride in Masterson's voice as he ticks off the names of trees -- hickory, poplar, oak -- and tells stories about his encounters with owls, deer, armadillos, possums, turkey buzzards and rattlesnakes.
He mentions larkspur that flourishes in the spring, and points to a handmade bench that offered a picturesque vantage point when Blount County experienced three inches of snow.
"This could be a special place for someone who appreciates it," Masterson says. And he would know.
It's a bittersweet time for Masterson, who recently put the property up for sale. He was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2014, and says he no longer has the necessary stamina for rigorous chores.
"I'll miss this, but I'm getting to where I can't do the work to keep this up as much," says Masterson, a retired accountant. "I don't have the energy. And I'm getting to where I don't like to travel at night as much, and there's things I want to do in Birmingham."
He's placed an ad in Field & Stream magazine (asking price: $620,000) and plans another ad in an Alabama hunting magazine.
"I know it's going to take someone with unusual desires to live here," Masterson says. "The right person needs to come. It'd either have to be a hunter, because there's a lot of deer, or some well-off hunter who just wants a place for the weekend."
For now, Masterson is enjoying a pretty autumn on the property, walking often with his dogs, Jed and Lucy, and keeping company with a resident cat, Tinkerbell.
He's prepared his house for visits from prospective buyers -- it's one room with 900 square feet of space and an enclosed porch -- and touts features such as a modern kitchen with granite countertops, gleaming hardwood floors, a wood-burning heater and of course, lovely rural views.
"The best thing, aside from the location, is the efficiency of it," Masterson says. "It's easy to heat, easy to cool. And there's the openness of it; you can sit here and see the whole house, and have people over. It's got a lot of windows, especially with the front porch glassed in. People brag about their vacation, that they sat on the porch like that. It's just real comfortable."
Conventional wisdom dictates that owners exit the premises when people come for a look-see, but Masterson believes he can present the property and explain its virtues like no other. This, after all, has been his home for 23 years.
He knows the acreage. He's worked the land. He's made some of his dreams come true. And as Masterson will tell you: "I've been happy here."...Read more