June 27, 2017

Missing the Story

So, The Roanoke Times came to Floyd on the pretense of writing about the local music scene as part of their coverage of The Crooked Road. But what did they write about? Roni Stoneman.

Roni who? For those not old enough to know, Roni Stoneman blacked out her teeth, played banjo, and became a hillbilly stereotype on the old Hee Haw television series and, at 67, she’s running around the state trying to capture some of that lost glory. According to her manager, she’s trying to “recapture her lost roots.” Where I come from, one doesn’t need a manager to recapture their roots.

Anyway, Roni was in town the same time as the entourage from The Times (no accident I’m sure) so she became the focus of their article, not the local music, the heritage or the tradition, which is the real story about Floyd. Too bad The Times missed it because they bought into Stoneman’s act. She was the lead of the story, followed by a few words about the Jamboree and the other music venues in Floyd, and then back to Stoneman. This is a story about Floyd? Besides the Country Store and the Friday Night Jamboree, County Sales is part of the Crooked Road but not a mention of that in the Times’ story either (although it was featured elsewhere). Too busy concentrating on an over-the-hill entertainer’s publicity-tour journey to her “roots.”

A few months ago, Don Harrison, a co-worker from my days at the Times in the 1960s, got caught up in the Stoneman hype in an article for Virginia Living, a glossy Richmond publication for the richer-than-thou crowd. Although it was odd to read about the girl from Hee Haw in a mag dedicated to million dollar mansions and Virginia Hunt Country, it shows the power of the Stoneman publicity machine.

Stoneman is from Grayson County. The Times could have waited until they profiled Galax and the Fiddler’s Convention to concentrate on her before allowing her to dominate what was supposed to be a story about Floyd’s rich musical heritage.

That heritage is as rich and colorful as any stop on the so-called Crooked Road. That’s the story. Not Roni Stoneman. Next time (assuming there is one), let’s hope The Times sends a reporter who knows how to cover the real story. Ralph Berrier Jr., the writer they did send, should have known better.

FOLLOW-UP: “Dude, we have done sooooooooooooooo many stories about Floyd and the Friday Night Jamboree,” Ralph says in an email. “In fact, I got a particularly nasty email Wednesday from a chemist in Blacksburg who stated unequivocally that he is sick of stories about Floyd, the jamboree, the store, old-time music in general blah blah blah — that the assignment was to come away with something that wasn’t the same story we’ve done for 15 consecutive years.”

Ralph also points out that at the time I was castigating him for his fascination with Roni Stoneman, I misspelled her first name throughout my tirade. My bad and it has been fixed (shuffle feet, look down, act contrite).

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