History Of American Mountain Music To Be Told At Blue Ridge Parkway

The story of American music will be told in a permanent exhibit at the Blue Ridge Parkway. Photo via Blue Ridge Music Center.

Take a fiddle or three, add in a banjo, a guitar, and perhaps a standup bass and you have the key ingredients for a rich, traditional American artform: Bluegrass. The story of how this uniquely American musical genre came to be will soon be told at the Blue Ridge Music Center along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The exhibit, The Roots of American Music, has been decades in planning. This permanent, interactive exhibit will officially open with a celebration on May 27.

This exhibit will tell the compelling story of the region's rich music heritage and serve as the perfect match with informal music that is performed throughout the season as well as the weekly concerts in the outdoor amphitheater. Visitors will have the opportunity not only to listen to and enjoy music, but to learn about the development and national significance of this part of our regional heritage.

In the mid-1980s, discussions began among the National Park Service, National Council for the Traditional Arts under the leadership of Joe Wilson, and the City of Galax for development of a traditional mountain music facility that would complement the musical heritage of the counties surrounding Fisher Peak. Out of those discussions came the generous donation of 1,000 acres of land from the City of Galax (Virginia) to the National Park Service for construction of such a facility. Former 9th District United States Representative Rick Boucher was an early supporter and booster of the project and remained so throughout his tenure in Congress.

The outdoor amphitheater was the original piece of the facility and has hosted regional, national, and international musical groups, always tied into the music of the mountains. The visitor center and indoor theater were then constructed and the new exhibits will provide the entire experience for visitors who come to this area of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The new exhibition will provide children the opportunity to mix and match song lyrics, mix their own version of mountain music, and hear personal stories of how music has influenced generations of Blue Ridge families. Visitors will see examples of the many stages of the evolution of the five string banjo since its arrival in America with enslaved Africans. They will also see the relatively few changes made in the fiddle, brought with Europeans who migrated here. The blending of these two instruments was the beginning of virtually all forms of American music and was the ensemble that came to frontier Appalachia. Oral history audio programs of those who collected the music of the mountains in the past will be a delight to many. How the recording industry and radio popularized and changed mountain music is also part of the story.

Visitors can now better understand and appreciate the complexity and richness of this part of our regional culture. The Roots of American Music exhibition is an addition we can all learn from and be proud of. It will be another part of the Parkway experience for millions.

The official ribbon-cutting ceremony will take place on Friday, May 27, 2011, followed by a weekend of musical celebration featuring Dan Paisley & Southern Grass, the Stonemans, and The Roots of American Music Tour Show. Details on the weekend concerts and the entire season's schedule can be found at www.blueridgemusiccenter.org.