Buttoned-up engineering, unbuttoned.
BRZ Limited shown
takes the stage, and the sounds of a fiddle, guitar, banjo and stand-up bass ring
through the night air. dancers begin clogging – what some might call “flat-footin’”
– to the bluegrass and old-time music.
Every Friday night, the Floyd Country Store in Floyd, Virginia, hosts the Friday Night Jamboree. The music kicks off at 6:30 p.m., and generally four bands – one per hour – play during the course of the evening. Dancers young and old and every age in between hit the floor as many in attendance remain in the folding chairs set in rows to watch the action. It’s not unusual for the store to be at standing-room-only capacity. And, if you’re especially lucky, you could be a winner of the night’s drawing and take home a canned ham.
The Crooked Road
The music being played in Floyd is not unusual in southwestern Virginia. You’ll hear it played throughout the heart of Appalachia, particularly along The Crooked Road – Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail. Much of that trail is U.S. Highway 58, which winds through the Virginia mountains.
However, not until recently did Virginia’s Department of Tourism connect the incredible amount of music happening along this highway or in the tiny towns and rural enclaves nearby. Today, highway signs and promotional materials for tourists delineate the rich cultural history and natural-born talent of area musicians.
Highway 58 is a fun drive, too. Truly a crooked road and extremely crooked in some spots – for instance, between White Top and Damascus – all four wheels need to be gripping the road. The area’s hills and mountains feature tight S-curves and steep inclines up and down.
Your trip down The Crooked Road might begin at its eastern end, in Ferrum, where the Blue Ridge Institute and Museum is a repository of rural and mountain culture. It’s a good place to learn about Virginia’s music history and to pick up a few CDs for your journey. The institute’s Web site called “Blue Ridge Music Trails” charts more than 400 music events along the Blue Ridge Parkway (www.blueridgemusic.org). It’s a great source of information before starting on The Crooked Road.
To the west, string bands are a mainstay in the area around Floyd. In addition to the Floyd Country Store, Oddfellas Cantina offers music Wednesday through Sunday.
If you’re inspired to pick up an instrument yourself, try The Pickin’ Porch, a small instrument store opened a half-dozen years ago by musician Scott Perry. Homemade fiddles, banjos and dulcimers hang on the walls along with a selection of guitars and various music accoutrements.
More great instruments can be found in Galax, at Tom Barr’s Fiddle Shop, which is located on Main Street. Barr, famous in the area for his fiddles and banjos, sells some of his own instruments in addition to a variety of others. His son, Stevie Barr of the band No Speed Limit, is sometimes found picking banjo in the store or giving lessons. The younger Barr said the promotion of The Crooked Road has been a boon to the area as far as getting national and international attention. No Speed Limit is one of the acts playing a nine-date tour of Scotland to promote The Crooked Road.
One reason Galax is billed as the World’s Capital of Old-time Music is its weekly radio show broadcast live from the Rex Theater. Every Friday night, WBRF-FM (98.1) broadcasts “Blue Ridge Backroads.” Tickets to the show are usually free. Galax also hosts a world-famous Old Fiddler’s Convention at Felts Park every year during the second week of August. While in town, be sure to visit the Galax Smokehouse on Main Street for the best barbecue in southwest Virginia.
Blue Ridge Music Center
Just down the road from Galax on the Blue Ridge Parkway, summer concerts abound at the Blue Ridge Music Center, which features an interpretive center. Still farther, after winding through the mountains, is the Mount Rogers Combined School in Whitetop, which is known for its old-time music program.
The Birthplace of Country Music Alliance was formed in 1994 with the mission of bringing recognition to the area’s musical heritage.
On Saturday nights, the hills around Hiltons, Virginia, resound with the sound of bluegrass and old-time music at the Carter Family Memorial Music Center. The Carter Family and June Carter stories were part of the movie “Walk the Line.”
The Carter Fold, as it is better known, was established to honor the original Carter Family and preserve the music that made them famous. The rustic and homey theater at the Fold hosts live music along with cloggers dancing near the stage. Next to the Fold, the old A.P. Carter Store is now the Carter Family Museum.
Before the 2000 movie, “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” many people were not aware of the mountain music that is popular along The Crooked Road. One of the artists on the movie’s soundtrack was the legendary Ralph Stanley. The Ralph Stanley Museum and Traditional Mountain Music Center located in Clintwood mark the western end of The Crooked Road.
Mountain music and mountain roads make this road trip a must! America’s musical heritage can be experienced by touring U.S. Highway 58 in southwest Virginia.
Tim Jackson is a freelance writer and music lover from Radford, Virginia.