Road trip! Did you know that the first-recorded bluegrass music came out of southwest Virginia? And that June Carter Cash’s roots are there as well? And that June comes from country music royalty?! The Crooked Road Music Trail is a 330-mile driving trail through the mountains of SW Virginia, along which are many live bluegrass venues, from the neighborhood Dairy Queen that hosts jam sessions, to regular Friday night jamborees at the 100-year old Floyd Country Store, to the 100+ seat Carter Family Fold in a beautiful hollow, where the man responsible for the first recording of bluegrass music used to host Saturday night performances of local musicians behind his general store.
Southwestern Virginia is rich in culture. In addition to its wonderful music, you can find beautiful, high-quality woodwork (turned-wood bowls, furniture, etc.), well-executed, artistic pottery, and more. Plus, driving along the country roads in the Blue Ridge Mountains is sooooo relaxingly beautiful.
FLOYD, VA–a nice, small town in the mountains
SEE THE SIGHTS
- Floyd Country Store–Friday Night Jamboree, Americana Afternoons, Sunday Music Jam, and the Floyd Radio Show–take your pick! You are guaranteed an authentic experience of traditional Appalachian music and dancing (clogging, anyone?) in this 100-year old country store…a real country store. At the Friday Night Jamboree, to which I have been twice, everyone gets up to dance, from the young to the old to the toothless to the graduate student. It’s fun! No drinkin’ or cussin’ though, as Granny’s Rules apply.
Here’s a little background from the FCS website: “The Floyd Country Store is renowned as a place to experience authentic Appalachian music, and is home to a group of musicians, flatfoot dancers, and cloggers who are carrying on the tradition of their families, who’d pass the time playing music and dancing together. Everywhere they could, these folks would gather with their friends and families from their front porch to the neighbor’s kitchen. In the 1980’s, folks in Floyd took to coming out to the General Store and began the Friday Night Jamboree tradition that continues today.”
- After watching the bands at the FCS’ Friday night Jamboree, wander along Floyd’s main street and you will find impromptu jam sessions, small groups of people playing banjos, etc. and gently singing. I have never been to a more musical town, except Vienna, Austria (no exaggeration!).
- Blue Ridge Wine Trail–While I haven’t done this so cannot personally vouch for it, click through to the web site to see what you think.
- Blue Ridge Parkway–lovely drives along gently curling roads with pastoral views of mountains and countryside
- Crooked Road calendar–check it out because my guess is that Floyd and the other little towns along the Crooked Road would be at their most charming to visit when there are no music festivals going on; on the other hand, those music festivals might provide great people watching!
- Hotel Floyd (Floyd, VA)–This hotel really hits the spot. Why? Because it is right in downtown Floyd and as such, a two-minute walk to the Floyd Country Store. It is nice to come “home” to Hotel Floyd’s spacious, comfortable, clean rooms. I stayed here last year and highly recommend it. It is not fancy but neither is Floyd. Rocking chairs outside of many of the rooms, two of which are pet friendly. (40 rooms)
- Mountain Rose Inn (Woolwine, VA)–This 100-year-old country house B&B is my second choice only because it is 14 miles from Floyd. I stayed here three years ago and the ride back from Floyd after the Friday night Jamboree along the winding mountain roads seemed a lot longer than 14 miles. The Inn is charmingly decorated and has the softest sheets in the world (Comfy brand). It accurately describes itself as “country elegance in the shadows of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.” Its 100 acres offer hiking as well as hammocks strung along the banks of its creek…very country and relaxing. Lovely front porch! This is a nice place. No dogs allowed inside the Inn/no on-site kennel for overnight pets. (5 rooms)
EAT, DRINK & BE MERRY
- Chateau Morrisette Winery–While I cannot personally attest to this, the Mountain Rose Inn recommends it and the photo looks nice, doesn’t it?!
- Floyd Country Store–it’s cheap, it’s fun, and you’re right in the heart of the action before the bands start performing
- Pine Tavern Restaurant–This may be a dump or it may be great. I haven’t been here but it looks loaded with potential! Check it out and let me know.
- 16 Hands–Recommended by a close friend with very sophisticated taste in pottery, as well as by several travel articles, 16 Hands is an artisans’ collective, featuring potters and woodworkers from the Blue Ridge region.
- Farmers Market–Saturdays 9-1, May to November-lovely, low-key with good products
ABINGDON, VA–charming small town (pop. 8,000+), with some lovely old houses
SEE THE SIGHTS
- Carter Family Fold–Now THIS is a memorable-in-the-very-best-way experience! The CFF is in tiny Hiltons, Virginia, a beautiful 45-minute drive through rural “hollers” (i.e., valleys) dotted with farms and cows. You can hear live bluegrass and “old-time” bands every Saturday night and watch the locals dance, uninhibited, clogging the night away, alone or with a partner. It is so much fun! We also ate here at the little carry-out: $11 for two.
Per Wikipedia: “The Carter Family Fold is dedicated to the preservation and performance of old time country and bluegrass music. It is named in honor of the original Carter Family (A.P., Sara, and Maybelle), who were among the earliest recording artists in country music, with their first records on RCA Victor being released in 1927. The Fold was founded by Janette Carter, daughter of A.P. and Sara Carter, in 1979. Most of the participating performers at the Fold are not famous outside the communities of bluegrass and old-time country music. However, Johnny Cash performed at the Fold many times, and played his last concert there on July 5, 2003, a few months before his death. Cash’s wife, June Carter Cash, was a daughter of Maybelle Carter.
The concert venue, the “Fold,” is the centerpiece of the Carter Family Memorial Music Center, Inc., a non-profit organization. This includes the 1880’s cabin where A. P. Carter was born.” Bonus: The CFF also has a wonderful museum of Carter family memorabilia.
- Heartwood –A 10-minute drive from Abingdon, Heartwood has good gift shop showing off the crafts of SW VA, including rocking chairs, turned-wood bowls, pottery, and lots of good CD’s and DVD’s on bluegrass music; we saw an excellent and fun band here, despite the somewhat antiseptic environment
- Abingdon–lovely, small town (incorp. in 1778), with charming old houses and the mildly interesting Barter Theater
- beautiful biking trails
- The Martha Washington Inn–Located in Abingdon, this hotel is red brick with white wood trim, long, deep porch with rocking chairs along the front of the building, like a cross between a low-key version of The Homestead and a really nice girls college of old–which “The Martha” actually was for over 50 years; no pets allowed though the MWI can recommend a local kennel & told me that the Holiday Inn Express (charmless) accepts pets for an additional fee; this is a very comfortable, nice place but the restaurant is uninspiring, so ask the front desk for restaurant recommendations in Abingdon (63 rooms)
DVD Traveling Companion: “The Winding Stream” contains much info about the Carter family, including the establishment of the Carter Family Fold. There are interviews with Rita (A.P. Carter’s granddaughter), who now runs the Fold and emcees performances. “The Winding Stream” shows how huge the Carter Family’s place in music has been ever since the 1930’s or so (country, folk, blues, rock ‘n’ roll).
Literary Traveling Companion: “Gray Mountain,” by John Grishom
–posted June 2016