It was a long, intense trip - six weeks and 9,000 km exploring the roots of American music across the Southeast states. By the end, it had been like following a serpentine music trail and we began to appreciate how the various musical genres were intertwined and cross-influenced. Craig's fingers got a workout on his guitar, as he jammed and played with the talented musicians from old-time to Zydeco to the Delta blues. We had the time of our lives.
OLD-TIME, COUNTRY & BLUEGRASS
It is said that country music – as we know it today – “was conceived in Galax, born in Bristol and went to Nashville to die.”
Best musical stops:
The Crooked Road Music Trail, Floyd, Galax, The Birthplace of Country Music Museum, Heartwood, Ryman Auditorium, Grand Ole Opry, Country Music Hall of Fame, Gruhn Guitars
Backstory: The Crooked Road winds through the Appalachian Mountains of southwest Virginia where the mostly Irish and English settlers planted their crops, brewed moonshine and reproduced the music of the old country on fiddles, guitars, mandolins and banjos (brought to the New World by African slaves).
Floyd – in Floyd County – hosts the county’s only traffic light and is the centre of a flourishing old-time and bluegrass festival scene. You can’t throw a rock in Floyd without hitting, or nearly missing, an Appalachian fiddler, mandolinist or guitarist or their music teacher. Friday nights are hopping at The Floyd Country Store where players show up and the dance floor quickly fills. Down a steep back alley in a basement warehouse is County Sales, the largest collection of print and recorded bluegrass and traditional country music in the lower 48 with customers in every part of the world.
Galax – in southwest Virginia – is a hotbed of old-time and country music where pilgrims come to bask in the sounds and textures of roots Americana at the Old Fiddlers' Convention (actor/banjo player Steve Martin is a regular). In this part of The Crooked Road, the memory of instrument builder Albert Hash is venerated: “Cut off anything,” he taught his students, “that doesn’t look like a fiddle” (or mandolin or guitar). On Main Street, Barr's Fiddle Shop carries on the tradition.
Bristol – which actually straddles the Virginia/Tennessee boundary – enters the history books as the location where the first identifiable country songs were recorded in 1927 by A.P., Sara and Maybelle Carter, “The First Family of Country Music.” The Birthplace of Country Music Museum – affiliated with the Smithsonian - opened in Bristol in summer 2014.
Nashville – Music City USA – has so many attractions that it’s hard to know where to begin. The Ryman Auditorium, right in downtown, is the “Mother Church” of country music and definitely worth a couple of hours to soak in the ambience, history and legacy. The Grand Ole Opry – no longer broadcast from the Ryman – is responsible for spreading the gospel of country music via the radio waves to the farthest reaches of the North American continent. Today’s shows are still worth attending for the stature of the guest artists and the quality of the musicianship and production. Gruhn Guitars is where one goes to either acquire GAS (guitar acquisition syndrome) or alleviate it. If you meet founder George Gruhn wandering through the store – you won’t mistake him – ask him about his snakes, then settle in for a long but fascinating monologue.
Classic artists and tunes:
Keep On The Sunny Side, Carter Family
Blue Yodel, Jimmie Rogers
I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry, Hank Williams
Walking After Midnight, Patsy Cline
Blue Moon Of Kentucky, Bill Monroe
My Cabin In Caroline, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs
Teddy Bear, Elvis Presley
Black Mountain Rag, Doc Watson