We are back in one of our very favorite places to be, central Virginia, along The Crooked Road, Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail. The purpose of stopping here for a few days on the journey north was to visit several venues that we missed last visit. We have visited most of the major venues on The Crooked Road to hear mountain music and we are working on a few more this trip.The music has not disappointed again! If you would like to know more about The Crooked Road, you can visit them on Facebook.
Arriving in Fort Chiswell, we checked into the Fort Chiswell RV Park which is a favorite stopping off point for snowbirds driving north. Coaches from every state pull in to layover on their journey and it has been fun chatting with fellow travelers. There is a school of thought that every person on the planet is connected with someone else through just six other people. Six degrees of separation. There seems to be some science behind the theory that supports it. Anecdotally and from our own experience, it seems likely, as we are always meeting folks who share some common people and places with us. These Chance Encounters are kind of amazing.
For example, as we were getting into the truck to head out to a concert on Friday night, Arnie noticed that the Road Trek van across from us had a New Hampshire plate on it. He called over to the couple sitting at the picnic table and asked what part of New Hampshire they were from. “Campton”, was their answer. My jaw dropped. I grew up in Campton! We chatted for a bit only to discover that Selma and Coke’s son is married to the daughter of my childhood babysitter, Ginny Dunstan. Ginny’s younger sister, Rosie Uhlman Pendoley, was my best friend all through grade school, high school and college. I could not wait to text Rosie and tell her who I was talking with at that very moment. Before they left the next morning we enjoyed some blueberry pancakes together and made a pledge to drop in on them at their son’s Campton Coffee Shop this summer when we go to visit Rosie.
After meeting the Levin’s, we headed to the art gallery of Willard Gayheart, who is renowned not only for his pencil art, but also as a major force in the preservation of heritage music in Virginia. He is commonly known as the Norman Rockwell of Appalachia for his detailed drawings of traditional musicians and mountain people. Willard’s Front Porch Gallery is a venue on The Crooked Road, Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail.
On Friday night at the Gallery, there is a very small intimate music jam and I had called Willard earlier that day to be sure we would be welcome. Willard graciously invited us to join them. His partner Bobbie Patterson is no less respected than Willard and has been inducted into the Virginia Music Hall of Fame for his recording of so many old-time mountain songs and his contribution to preserving them for generations to come. Willard and Bobbie played together for 38 years and they play with a smooth ease that reflects their friendship. It was a privilege to sit with them and chat about the history of the music that Arnie and I love so much. This was a special night for us because there were only four people in attendance and we really got a rare opportunity to know these two sweet gentlemen better.
The Washington Post did a nice article on Willard and you can read it by following this link.
Saturday night we drove over to Floyd to the Floyd Country Store, another venue on The Crooked Road, where a concert was being held. Foghorn String Band played to a full house and an enthusiastic crowd of flat foot dancers. I am not sure which we enjoyed more……the music or the dancing. This band has traveled all over the world representing traditional mountain music and aiding in the preservation of the old-time songs. The band said over and over that it was a special treat for them to play in an environment where people not only appreciate the music, but also know how to dance to it!
Sunday, we went over the mountain via the Big Walker Mountain National Scenic Byway to visit the Big Walker Mountain Country Store in Wytheville, where a mountain gospel band called Valley Grass was playing.
The road winds through some stunning farming country with many old homesteads along the route.
The store is yet another venue along the Crooked Road and it is situated on the highest point on the Big Walker Mountain National Scenic Byway. It is definitely off the beaten path and driving up the winding switchbacks is a bit reminiscent of going up Mt Washington in New Hampshire. We were eager to visit and see what it is about. After a rainy start to the day, the sun broke through and the clouds drifted away just in time for Valley Grass to start playing. This is literally “front porch pickin'” with the tight vocal harmonies backed by fiddle, bass, guitar and mandolin sent out over the mountains from an elevation of 3405 feet.
This is the view from over the fence where we sat to listen to the music.
We sat through the first half, eating homemade ice cream and then decided to set out to hike the trail that leads to Monster Rock behind the store and hear what the beautiful music sounded like from up above. The music echoed and moved through the mountains as we climbed and filled us with a gratitude for this moment in time when we were together, alone in the woods and being blessed by harmony in all senses of the word.
We’ve been spoiled by Florida’s flat hiking and climbing an incline was a reminder that Florida trails are fun and easy compared to this!
The Mayflowers and the violets are peeking through and the snow is just recently gone.
The wild rhodadendrums are in bud now alongside the trail.
Breathtaking views are all along this trail.
To learn more about Big Walker Mountain or to hear some of Valley Grass’s music:
Grammy and Grampa found you an Appalachian made sweater at the Big Walker Mountain Country Store and we are bringing it to you in just a few weeks. Looking forward to meeting you, little one, and being a part of your own unique and creative journey!