Music fills the streets of Floyd, Virginia — Photo courtesy of Harold Rail
Whether you’re lit by blues, gospel, folk, Celtic or Cajun music, a musical stew has been set ablaze in Southwest Virginia and continues to simmer through the region’s soaring ridges and lush valleys. .
Bristol: birthplace of country music
Although you can launch your musical adventure on the road anywhere along Virginia Heritage Musical Trail, Bristol is a logical place. Known as the “birthplace of country music”, this city is 29 km from the Tri-Cities airport. Fly, rent a car and let the music play!
You can learn all about historic recordings of the 1927 Bristol Sessions at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum (an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution), which is packed with interactive exhibits, artifacts and even a radio station. The museum is also home to monthly bluegrass jam sessions and the annual Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion Music Festival.
You can easily spend a few hours in the remarkable Birthplace of Country Music Museum — Photo courtesy of Harold Rail
Country musician AP Carter and his wife, Sara, and sister-in-law, Maybelle, were part of the 1927 sessions in Bristol. Travel back in time and visit the Carter Fold Family, about 20 miles from Bristol. Considered country music pioneers, the Carter family lived here at the base of Clinch Mountain. AP’s General Store now serves as the Carter Family Museum, which hosts live music every Saturday night.
The Carter Family Fold presents early music every Saturday night — Photo courtesy of Virginia is for Lovers
Hungry motorists can feast on classic soda fare at burger bar, where country music legend Hank Williams Sr. may have had his last meal. The food is cheap and the servers are as nice as the milkshakes. Bristol locals say the best barbecue is served at Southern artisanal barbecuelocated at Sessions Hotel, a refined boutique property with a rooftop bar and indoor and outdoor live music venues. Hotel Bristol is another good choice in the city center, where you can walk to the museum, breweries and restaurants.
Known as the last place Hank Williams Sr. was seen alive, Burger Bar has been flipping burgers since 1942 — Photo courtesy of Harold Rail
On the way to Abingdon
Abingdon offers outdoor adventures and great food, as well as music history. Be sure to stop at Southwest Virginia Cultural Center and Market on your way to this Appalachian frontier town. The center offers insider information about the Crooked Road area and holds open jams on the first Thursday of the month. You will also find exhibits on roots, old-time, bluegrass and gospel music, as well as on regional artisans.
Keep your ears open for live music at Abingdon haunts such as Tumbling Creek Cider, Bone Fire Smokehouse & Musictorium and Wolf Hills Brewery. Buy tickets for a musical at barter theatre, Virginia State Theater. When it was created in 1933, customers could pay with products!
When the Barter Theater opened in 1933, the admission price was 40 cents or an equivalent amount of produce – Photo courtesy of Harold Rail
Satisfy hunger pangs at a range of Abingdon restaurants, from the quirky to the sublime. Restaurateur and chef Lukas Patterson pursues two passions, playing guitar in a touring band for more than a decade and earning his culinary degree single-handedly. At Luke’s. Expect an eclectic menu of appetizers, salads, sandwiches, burgers and tacos.
Try the Tour Bus Shrimp or Mom’s Meatloaf Sandwich — Photo courtesy of Harold Rail
You can burn off the calories by walking, running, or biking along the Virginia Creeper Trail, which begins in downtown Abingdon and has a reputation as one of the best biking trails in the country. The Abingdon Visitor Center will direct you to bike shops and shuttle services that will take you to the highest point of the trail, then it’s all downhill for 17 miles of scenic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and Virginia farmland.
The Virginia Creeper Trail intersects with the Appalachian Trail at various points – Photo courtesy of Harold Rail
After a long day of fun, you can choose to take a nap in Colonial style cottages at the foot of the Virginia Creeper Trail, opt for a more modern aesthetic at a Scandinavian loft guest room or relax at Martha Washington Inn & Spa. This stately property oozes southern vibe, especially when you sip a complimentary glass of port every night from one of the rocking chairs on the grand porch.
More fun to Floyd
Your next destination on Crooked Road is Floyd, a small town with a colossal heart atop the Blue Ridge plateau. En route to Floyd, be sure to take in the epic views at Big Walker Lookout in Wytheville. There’s an old-fashioned country store filled with trinkets and snacks. The same family has operated the gazebo and store for over 75 years and occasionally hosts live music on the porch.
When you arrive in town, remember to register at Hotel Floyd, green accommodation right in the middle of Floyd’s musicians and artisans and friendly people. The staff will tell you about all the festivities, from drumming workshops to live music in the courtyard.
Open since 1909, the Floyd Country Store is a must to experience authentic Appalachian music, clogging and flat feet. Count on dancing to live honky-tonk tunes on Thursday and Americana on Saturday afternoon. The store also hosts open jam sessions on Sundays and the weekly Friday night Jamboree.
The Floyd Country Store is an incubator for local heritage music and dance — Photo courtesy of Harold Rail
Walk around the Galax
Pencil in a stop at Blue Ridge Music Center on the way to Galax. The center features a state-of-the-art amphitheater and an impressive visitor center with the interactive “The Roots of American Music” exhibit. Some call Galax the “Old Mountain Music Capital of the World”, and it’s certainly that time when fiddlers gather every August (since 1935) for the Old Fiddlers’ Convention. Musicians in the mood for shopping can step into Barr Violin Shopwhich boasts a history of over 40 years and offers an extensive inventory of stringed instruments.
Can’t leave before summer? You might want to visit Galax when the city hosts the annual meeting houston festival, the second weekend of June. Held in memory of local musician Houston Caldwell, the festival features artisans, local cuisine and more than 30 bands, performing old-world mountain music, bluegrass and gospel.
Mark Handy and Roger Stamper are ready to play bluegrass at HoustonFest — Photo courtesy of Harold Rail
Make music to Marion
Then go to Marion to rest your musical neurons at Hotel General Francis Marionbuilt in the 1920s and revitalized in 2006. It is a short walk from the 1929 Mayan Revival style Lincoln Theaterwhere “song of the mountains“, an award-winning concert series from PBS, is taped monthly in front of a live audience.
Don’t miss Wayne C. Henderson Appalachian School of Art, which emphasizes traditional Appalachian heritage. Henderson is a world-renowned guitarist and luthier, who has built instruments for Eric Clapton, Gillian Welch and Doc Watson. The school offers workshops for making dulcimers, violins, guitars, textile art, pottery and much more. Everyone is invited to the Monday Night Jam.
Get tickets to the monthly Song of the Mountains at Marion’s Lincoln Theater — Photo courtesy of Harold Rail
Depending on how much time you have, you can continue east to visit the Blue Ridge Institute in Ferrum, home to October’s Blue Ridge Folk Festivaland Rocky Mount, known as the “Moonshine Capital of the World”.
It’s true: Virginia is for lovers of live music, American history, and lots of friendly people along Crooked Road.