Land of Music, Crafts and Nature
By Corinna Lothar
Jack Hinshelwood, Director of the Crooked
Road at Heartwood
is for lovers of bluegrass music, crafts, gorgeous scenery. and
friendly, hospitable people. Southwest Virginia offers all of the above
to a visitor, along with some tasty traditional food.
Music serves as the glue in the region. Everywhere,
be it the local diner, the craft center, a theatre, or just the street,
a group will be strumming and singing, a jam session will be taking
place. As Jack Hinshelwood, Executive Director of the Crooked Road,
explains, its what people do here; music is the every day
fabric of life.
The Crooked Road is Virginias Heritage Music Trail,
a driving route of 330 miles through the mountains of southwestern Virginia,
with 9 official major music festival sites, along with dozens of unofficial
smaller venues. Part of it is on U.S. Route 58, and part on minor roads.
There are 60 affiliated venues for country music festivals, weekly concerts,
informal gatherings and even a radio program on the road where the musical
heritage of bluegrass, gospel and mountain music from England and the
African Americans has been kept alive in families and communities for
Sign for the Crooked Road
The three principal cities in this part of the state
are Bristol, Abingdon and Marion. Bristol, situated on the state line
between Virginia and Tennessee, is considered the birthplace of country
music because the 1927 recording sessions in Bistol made country music
available throughout the United States. This is where Jimmy Rogers and
the Carter family were recorded by music executive Ralph Peer.
The Birthplace of Country Music museum opened this past
August in what was once an old car dealership. The museum has hands-on
exhibits enabling visitors to change the acoustics of a song, There
are films about the old timers, photographs, and even a karaoke booth
for the adventurous. Visitors will learn the difference between bluegrass
and country and the origin of the term hill billy were
just hill billies said a good old boy in New
York in 1925 when asked what his music was called. Originally, the
term was descriptive, rather than pejorative.
Bristol sign over Main Street
For three days every September, the Bristol Rhythm and
Roots Reunion brings together string talent from around the country.
Sound stages are set up all over downtown and music takes over for the
weekend. Music and food. You might have to wait in line for a "burger
at the Burger Bar" said to be where Hank Williams ate his
last meal but its worth the wait.
Jam session on Main Street during Rhythm and Roots
A few miles west of Bristol in Hiltons is the Carter
Family Fold, where every Saturday night, beginning at 7:30 p.m., a bluegrass
group takes the stage to entertain the folks who come to hear good music
and to do some flatfooting. Flatfooting is similar to clogging, except
that shoes, often with taps, are worn. The dancers include everyone
from four-year old children to 81 year old grandmothers. Its what
folks do on a Saturday night. The Fold is run by Rita Forrester, the
granddaughter of Sara Carter, one of the original three Carters. She
makes all the soups and sandwiches for the canteen. Visitors to the
Fold can also tour the neighboring cabin, the birthplace of A.P. Carter.
Sign over entrance to Carter Fold
The Fold has its annual festival every August and hosts
the Clinch Mountain Music Fest in June. Not to be missed by lovers of
the Appalachian sound is the FloydFest in June, when bluegrass, country,
gospel, pop and others, along with artisans and good food abound. Floyd
is a tiny town on Virginias Crooked Road.
History plays an important role in this part of Virginia.
In the small town of Marion, named for Francis Marion, the Revolutionary
War general considered one of the fathers of modern guerilla warfare,
the 1929 Lincoln Theatre, a fine example of art deco Mayan revival,
has undergone a renaissance. Six large murals, restored in 2004, represent
national and local history. Originally a vaudeville movie house, today
the Lincoln is the venue for bluegrass music. On the first Sunday of
every month, The Song of the Mountains, a stage and television show,
takes place at the Lincoln. Famous musicians, school bands, family bands,
or teen-agers with their own type of picking perform old-time music.
The show is carried on PBS stations throughout the United States.
The Francis Marion Hotel is a restored 1920s hotel with
small, but comfortable rooms, and marvelous large old-fashioned bathrooms.
One of the towns unique specialties is the Virginia
Sweetwater Distillery, where Scott Schumaker makes his award winning
War Horse Whiskey and clear, legal moonshine. Once a month, Mr. Schumaker
offers a moonshine making class, and for $5 visitors can enjoy a taste
from the still he calls Miss Kelsey.
Scott Schumaker at Appalachian Mountian Spirits
Marion is proud of its Main Street that once was the
Wilderness Road traveled by Daniel Boone to cross the Cumberland
Gap. Marion was home to author Sherwood Anderson for several years and
he is buried in Marions Roundhill Cemetery. Marion is also the
home of Mountain Dew. The citys renovated 1908 schoolhouse has
been transformed into the Wayne C. Henderson School of Appalachian Arts.
Down Highway 81 in Abingdon, is the Barter Theatre,
established in 1933 by Robert Porterfield, a local actor who had gone
to New York to seek fame and fortune. He did well until the Depression
brought about unemployment and hunger. So he invited a group of fellow
actors to join him in Abingdon where he set up a theatre where he bartered
performances for food. Ham for Hamlet. Today, the Barter has two venues
and is one of Americas most successful regional theatres.
Across the street from the Barter is the elegant, beautifully
restored Martha Washington Hotel, originally built as a southern mansion
in 1852. Rooms at the Martha are large and well apportioned; the lovely
library is a perfect place to enjoy a late-night glass of port; and
the hotels spa offers relaxation and well being.
Abingdons William King Museum does not have its
own collection, but has been showing traveling exhibitions since 1992.
It also showcases local artists and has artists studios. The museum
is named for William King who made his fortune in the salt mines in
Crafts are an important part of the heritage of southwestern
Virginia, both folk art and traditional crafts in wood, glass, pottery,
and weaving. Many of Abingdons artists and craftsmen belong to
the Arts Depot collective, housed in a 19th century freight station,
where visitors can watch the artists at work. The Holston Mountain Artisans
shop is housed in a 1902 building, which was Washington Countys
Nancy Garretson demonstrating weaving art at the
Arts Depot in Abingdon
Heartwood, just outside Abingdon on Highway 81, is a
center for high quality craft and traditional American handmade instruments.
Its also a good place to enjoy some local cooking and local wine.
The performance area features music strummed and sung by famous and
perhaps soon-to-be-famous area musicians in the free concerts held every
Good wine from this region is available not only at
Heartwood but in many restaurants, both, for example, in the formal
Tavern in Abingdon or the informal Wooden Pickle in Marion. The Tavern,
which features sophisticated dining, is located in Abingdons oldest
building, constructed in 1779. It served as a field hospital during
the Civil War, and charcoal numbers used to designate soldiers
beds can still be seen on the restaurants third floor.
The Great Outdoors
Southwestern Virginias beautiful forested hills,
pretty hollows, its Appalachian hiking trail, and motorcycle and biking
trails are attractions for the nature lover. The Back of the Dragon
is a 32 mile drive, beloved by motorcycle riders, running from Tazewell
to Marion with more than 260 curves and elevations of up to 3,500 feet.
The route goes through the Hungry Mother State Park on the outskirts
The Park contains about 20 miles of hiking and biking
trails; fishing, canoeing and swimming in the lake; camp sites, cabins
and a restaurant.
Hungry Mother State Park
The Virginia Creeper Trail, which began as a Native
American footpath, opened in 1990 and is a must for bike riders. The
name, Virginia Creeper, comes not only from the vine of
that name, but as a nickname for the steam locomotives that crept up
the steep grades of the railroad track that ran along the trail from
Abingdon to to Elkland, North Carolina, from the beginning of the 20th
century until 1977, hauling lumber, iron ore, supplies and passengers.
(The engine and tender can be seen at the Abingdon trailhead.)
The tiny town of Damascus is the center of the Creeper
trail. There are 7 bike shops in the town, where bikers can rent a bicycle,
get a lift to the top of White Top Mountain, and then ride down the
mountain through the rugged, beautiful forests. On the weekend after
Mothers Day, the town celebrates Appalachian Trail Days with music
Wherever you go and whatever you do in this part of
Virginia, surprises await; beauty and enjoyment are everywhere in southwestern
Virginia: Mr. Jefferson's Country; Dying
in Virginian Skies; Chincoteague
and Assateague: Islands that Cling to a Colorful Past; Myrtle
Beach and Gullah Culture; NOLA:
New Orleans, Louisiana; New
Orleans: Where Anything Goes While the Good Times Roll!