Inn the news October 18, 2010

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Oct 7, 2008
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Not sure if this will post, but here goes an excerpt from Blue Ridge Country Magazine current issue, article here.
The image at the bottom is our folklife festival - same weekend as NASCAR and NASCAR book in advance, so none here for this - it is unique and fantastic fun! When our CA guests asked about where to go to hear music I told them a slew of places and they can even sit on the porch, no one did, no one walked to the local wind dings, their loss, it is quite unique here. :)
Crooked Road, Sweet Music[/h2]WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 1, 2010 TIM THORNTON
Musicians such as David Davis and the Warrior River Boys – performing here at a Ralph Stanley Festival – keep mountain music alive along the Crooked Road.
For about 200 miles of Virginia roadway, at about 23 different stops, the idea is the same: Take part, one way or another, in the music of these old blue mountains.It was past seven on a Tuesday evening. The streets of Galax, Va. weren’t quite deserted, but they didn’t miss it by much. The man and woman started toward me from across Main Street, almost a block away. I had barely pulled the black case that held my guitar out of the car when they walked right up to me. The man took a step closer.
“Where’s the jam?” he said.
Like every Tuesday, the jam was down at the Stringbean Coffee Shop. And, as that perceptive stranger guessed, that was where I was headed. Things had already begun when my beat-up Martin and I pulled up a chair way down at the far end of the sort-of-circle from the folks who seemed to be calling the tunes. I’d been to the Stringbean jam once before, but that was a couple of years earlier and that time I’d come without an instrument. The bass player, whom I’d met years before when we were both reporting on some kind of political gathering at Mount Rogers School, wanted a break. So I stepped in and thumped along for a while. But the bass player wasn’t there this night. I didn’t know any of the 11 other folks up there on the Stringbean’s little stage.
There’s at least one jam just about every night of the week on The Crooked Road – plus Sunday afternoons inFloyd and Thursday mornings at a Rocky Mount Dairy Queen. The Crooked Road was conceived as a tourism and economic development tool, but it’s also a genuine attempt to preserve Appalachian culture, primarily through that culture’s music.
While some people might think of it as hillbilly music, the strumming and plunking and sawing that comes out of the mountains is really a multicultural stew. Old ballads and fiddle tunes from Ireland, Scotland and England ran into Africa’s banjo and a new kind of music was born. Over time, the band grew. Guitars joined with the post-Civil War industrial revolution. Mandolins came from Italian immigrant coal miners. Dulcimers came from Sweden or Germany, or were invented right here, depending on who you listen to. Autoharps generally came from Sears & Roebuck.
It’s more complicated than that, but you get the idea.
The Crooked Road is also an actual road (several really, but mostly U.S. 58), that meanders for more than 200 miles through 10 counties between Rocky Mount and Breaks Interstate Park on the Virginia-Kentucky border. The music it celebrates exploded into the consciousness of people who live outside these mountains in 1927 with the Bristol sessions – 12 days of recording that Johnny Cash called the Big Bang of Country Music.
Some stops along The Crooked Road, such as the Carter Family Fold in Hiltons and The Birthplace of Country Music Alliance in Bristol, commemorate those old times. Some, such as the Ralph Stanley Museum, pay tribute to stars who are still performing. Some, such as Ferrum College’s Blue Ridge Institute, bring an academic cast to the preservation of traditional mountain music. But nearly every stop along The Crooked Road is a place to hear traditional mountain music – and maybe dance to it.
Readers of The Washington Post, USA Today and The Houston Chronicle are among the people who know about the playing and dancing that goes on every Friday at The Floyd Country Store. Stay home and you can hear regional bands on Blue Ridge Backroads, the show broadcast from Galax’s Rex Theater. Veer off The Crooked Road proper and drop by the Blue Ridge Music Center at milepost 213 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. In addition to exhibits that’ll teach you something about the music, somebody’s playing there every day. And if you need to learn how to dance to this kind of music, teaching that is one of the things they do down at the Country Cabin near Norton.
We don’t have time to talk about all the festivals and hiking and canoeing and history along The Crooked Road. But there are 23 little kiosks along the way where you can stop and tune your radio to the appropriate channel and learn about Pop Stoneman’s 23 children – “Momma and Daddy liked each other a lot,” their daughter Roni Stoneman likes to say. You can hear about Pop’s big hit with a song about the Titanic and how that led to the Victor Talking Machine Company sending Ralph Peer down from New York for the Bristol sessions. You can hear about the connections among old-time and blues and country and bluegrass. And you can hear the music.
If you want to, you can do more than just hear it. Old-time mountain music was never really meant to be performed for an audience. It’s always been more about participation. A person can participate by dancing or clapping or singing along – or by picking up an instrument and joining in.
That’s why I was sitting in the Stringbean between Richard Smith, who I’m pretty sure has been fiddling longer than I’ve been alive, and Brandon Nester, who’s not old enough to drive. Nester built the banjo he was playing. I was just trying to keep up.
Each jam has its own rules and culture. Some are well-regulated, with a leader calling out tunes. Some are musical circles, with each person calling out a song in turn. Some mix those styles, with the leader occasionally pointing to someone and asking him or her to play or sing something. At the Stringbean, the head fiddler would say something to the banjo player on his right, the guitar player on the fiddler’s left would hear it and off they’d go. The rest of us had to figure out what was being played and jump in whenever we thought we’d found a handle. We rolled through “Sally Ann” and “Soldier’s Joy” and “Kitty Clyde” and “Sweet Marie” and a few I didn’t know and couldn’t catch the names of. But there I was, soaking up the old tunes in the old way, seated between an old master and a talented youngster. It was just like the olden days.
Except for that fellow who kept looking down from his banjo mid-song so he could do some texting.
Ferrum College’s Blue Ridge Institute is home to a repository of mountain culture and music, as well as its annual folklife festival.