I’m a huge fan of music and have been listening to many different artists throughout my life, but as I keep up with the latest musical trends and artists coming out, I tend to shy away from the sounds of yesteryear. But upon taking a trip to Southwest Virginia with fellow colleagues to the Crooked Road Music Heritage Trail, we found a community that pays homage to the pioneers of country music and strives to keep one of music’s most enduring genres alive.
Weaving its way through the vivid landscapes of Southwest Virginia, the Crooked Road highlights the cultural significance of the area's music spots, museums, festivals, and historic sites. The trail has become a cherished route for music enthusiasts, history buffs, and curious travelers, offering a unique journey through the roots of American musical traditions – one that we were eager to explore.
One of the distinctive offerings we found along the Crooked Road is the Ralph Stanley Museum, a tribute to the late bluegrass icon Dr. Ralph Stanley. The museum, located in Clintwood, not only houses artifacts and memorabilia showcasing Dr. Stanley's illustrious career, but also serves as a center for educational programs, workshops, and live performances. Ralph Stanley II, musician and son of Dr. Ralph Stanley, took us around the museum showing us how it aims to inspire the next generation of musicians to carry on the legacy of Appalachian bluegrass.
“This music is real. It's the beginning of all genres of music that are popular now,” he said. “You know it's pure and it sticks around. A lot of young people, even if they don't like it at first, will like it eventually when they get older.”
The roads leading to Hiltons took us to the Carter Family Fold, where for 50 years has been showcasing the enduring influence of the "First Family of Country Music." Mother Maybelle, A.P. and Sara Carter’s life and legacy are on display every week for the Saturday night concerts, where we flatfoot danced to the classic country and bluegrass music of yesterday performed by today’s artists.
Rita Forrester, granddaughter of A.P. and Sara Carter and executive director of the Fold, took us around the venue and showed us large collections on display of Carter Family memorabilia including various stage outfits, awards, and dozens of handwritten letters, each with its own unique story. We couldn’t believe all the things we were seeing. Their whole life story was right in front of us. Rita told us she was just thankful that it was all there for us to see.
We then made our way down to Bristol, which is considered the birthplace of country music. In 1927, musicians traveled here and created the first country recordings known as the Bristol Sessions. The Smithsonian-affiliated Birthplace of Country Music Museum delves into the region's musical heritage with interactive exhibits, artifacts, and immersive experiences. Putting on headphones at one of the listening stations, I heard the original scratchy, unproduced 1927 recordings. There was something raw and personal about these songs that took me back to those early days where this music came from and its far-reaching impact on American culture.
We couldn’t leave the Crooked Road without visiting Floyd and heading to the Floyd Country Store. For 40 years, the weekly Friday Night Jamboree turns the quaint general store into a rowdy night of entertainment. We saw people of all ages partake in traditional dances to authentic old-time and bluegrass music performances. The crowd spilled out into the streets, which locals told us was a common occurrence.
“People have been gathering here for decades to play music and dance. It's just a beautiful opportunity for people to come together and enjoy each other's company, play music, dance, and eat good food. And we just love it.” said Dylan Locke, head of the Floyd Country Store. “We've introduced strangers right here on the dance floor. We’ve had people from Africa, China, Sri Lanka, South America, people from the West Coast, from Hawaii, everywhere.”
There are several other music heritage spots along the Crooked Road Music Heritage Trail to explore and experience including places like the Lincoln Theatre in Marion that presents the monthly award-winning “Song of the Mountains” concert series, the yearly Old Fiddler’s Convention in Galax, and the Southwest Virginia Cultural Center and Marketplace in Abingdon. We needed more time to visit them all, but every stop along the trail offers a new and unique experience that any music lover will enjoy.
Exploring the unique sounds of the Crooked Road reminded us that even as the world changes, there are places here at home where music history continues to resonate and how much influence it has today.
“I think people are just out and about checking out the world and what makes me proud is I think they really fall in love with what we've got here,” Locke said. “And I think people have spread the story [of the Crooked Road] and it's something people want to come experience.