Virginia’s Mountain Magic: Music, Crafts, Lodging
In Virginia’s southwest and its Blue Ridge Highlands, toe-tapping fiddle and banjo tunes as well as blends of folk and popular music ring out against the mountains. Along the region’s back roads and main streets, discover the other kind of mountain magic: handmade quilts and pottery plus contemporary glass, fiber and wood creations.
To let visitors discover what locals always knew and loved, the area created the Crooked Road, a music heritage trail. The path zigzags and meanders for 253-miles through ten counties of the Appalachian Mountains. In The Crooked Road, a Music Heritage Trail, Joe Wilson details the venues from local country stores to festivals more than 40-years-old.
Galax and Floyd, two popular music towns, also have nearby craft centers and galleries. In Galax, the Blue Ridge Music Center, milepost 213 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, offers concerts in an amphitheater plus free, live mid-day mountain music daily, noon-4 pm from May through October.
Operated by the National Park Service and the National Council for the Traditional Arts, the Center features a museum that chronicles the development of American mountain music. The 2012 exhibit, also open May through October, details how traditional tunes played on the African banjo and the European fiddle met and merged to create the lively rhythms of the mountain regions of Virginia and North Carolina.
The Annual Old Fiddler's Convention takes place in Galax on the second weekend in August. In 2012 the town hosted its 77th gathering. At the popular event, hear bluegrass and old -time music played on mandolins, banjos, dulcimers, autoharps, and of course, fiddles, at what’s billed as the U.S.’s oldest traditional music event. Flat-foot dancers (a mountain specialty) stomp in time to the ditties.
Half the fun comes from watching the audience. They are down-home and dancing. Fans clog as performers play, and impromptu jam sessions break out in the parking lot and continue until the rooster crows. Musicians and bands compete from all over the world for prize money. Because motels book up fast, many of the spectators simply camp in town. If you plan on camping, arrive a week ahead of time.
At the Chestnut Creek School of the Arts, North Main Street, in Galax, you can admire and purchase artisan crafted items as jewelry, wooden bowls and boxes and works in fiber.
In Floyd, visit the Floyd Country Store. During the week it sells a little bit of a lot of items from hard-working jeans to bib overalls, crafts and hand-dipped ice cream. The Friday Night Jamborees draw visitors. Gospel music takes over the first hour, followed by two dance bands. Every Sunday afternoon, the store hosts a Mountain Music Jam Session.
Among the several chain hotels near Galax are the Hampton Inn Galax, the Holiday Inn Express and the Quality Inn. Floyd has the eco-friendly Floyd Hotel and several bed and breakfast establishments.
For a special kind of mountain magic, stay at the Primland Resort Lodge, Meadows of Dan. Sprawled on 12,000 acres, the luxury property features a golf course, horseback riding, fly fishing, mountain biking, kayaking, and clay shooting (plus hunting in season). The piece de resistance: stargazing at the property’s own observatory, one equipped with a high-powered telescope. The spa, although small, has an excellent staff.
The décor in the main building and its guest rooms is simple and suave. Most rooms feature sitting areas and decks from which to admire the views. The cottages, with 1-7 bedrooms, are country comfortable. Romantics should choose the Golden Eagle Tree House, a wooden structure that nests in the strong limbs of an oak tree near a ridgetop 2,700 feet above the Dan River.
It's worth the extra drive time to visit Galax, Floyd and Primland Resort Lodge.