Every four or five years, a writer for The Washington Post ventures out of the bowels of Northern Virginia and heads for the Southwestern end of the state to discover the Blue Ridge, mountain music…and Floyd.
The Post has written about Floyd a number of times, featured the town on the cover of their Weekend Magazine, and included stories about the town in tours of The Crooked Road.
This time, writer Melanie D.G. Kaplan ventured down into our area of the Old Dominion to discover life beyond the megapolis of Northern Virginia.
I arrive at the Marathon gas station in Stuart, Va., just above the North Carolina border, to find a man eating beans out of a can and a collection of animal heads peering down at an understocked convenience store. I am at my first stop on the Crooked Road: Virginia’s Music Heritage Trail — a 250-mile path of music venues in the Blue Ridge and Appalachian regions of southwestern Virginia — and I don’t see anything that resembles the jam session I expected.
Hmmm. She missed the first real stop on the Crooked Road by the time she got to Stuart but what the heck.
The Crooked Road mostly follows Route 58, the longest roadway in the state; this part of it is a two-lane mountain route that passes idyllic farms, moseying cows, sparkling rivers. The trail covers 10 counties, three cities and 19 towns, including Floyd, Galax, Damascus, Abingdon and Bristol along the North Carolina and Tennessee borders, then Norton and Clintwood bordering Kentucky. In every spot, nearly every day of the week, you’re bound to find a concert, a festival, a square dance or a jam. Take it slow, and keep both hands on the wheel. The route looks like an intestine on my GPS device, and, as a local says, "The roads are so curvy, you can almost see your taillights ’round the bends." As I leave the jam Thursday night, after 9, G.C. gives me a stern warning about deer on my hour-long mountain drive to a B&B in Floyd. "They’ll jump outta nowhere, right in front of your car," he says. "Be careful."
Friday night in Floyd (home to Floyd County’s one stoplight), there’s no question that I’m in the right spot for music. I show up early at the Floyd Country Store for the Friday Night Jamboree. The store, celebrating its centennial next year, sells everything from Carhartt overalls to sweet potato biscuit mix and still records sales in a steno notebook. The show is held in the back of the store, but when the weather’s nice, pockets of music (and some nights, as many as 1,000 people) spill out onto the street. An hour before the first band, always gospel, I find seats saved, some with tap shoes.
Woody Crenshaw, the store’s owner, welcomes everyone. "We have two gallons of blueberries picked in Floyd County this week, and we’re making fresh blueberry milkshakes!" he announces. After gospel hour, another band takes the stage, and flat-foot dancing, which looks a lot like Irish dance, begins. The crowd is largely "down-home folk," old-time regulars who come every week. But there are also Floyd transplants who have moved here recently for the music and the farming, a handful of students from nearby Virginia Tech and visitors from as far away as Denver and Edinburgh, Scotland.
Well, at least no one here was eating beans out of a can. She went on to visit Galax and Hiltons, which she said was "the middle of nowhere."
To Nothern Virginians, any place more than 60 miles south of the District of Columbia is usually "the middle of nowhere."
Such is life down here in the sticks…which is the way we like it.