Just as the Blue Ridge Parkway winds 469 miles down the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains through Virginia and North Carolina, so too does an Appalachian tradition of mountain music run deep in the history and culture of the people whose ancestors settled the region and gave it its special character.
The sounds of the guitar and the fiddle and the banjo, the bass, the ukulele and the dulcimer have rung out in the hills and hollows of the Blue Ridge longer than anyone alive can remember. Those sounds reflect the music of such old-time fiddlers as Uncle Norman, Jimmie and the Edmonds family of Carroll County. Then, too, there's the music of African-Americans such as the Foddrell family, whose ancestors were uprooted from their homes in Africa but who have kept the roots of country, rock and pop music alive in their instruments, and the harmonies of DaCosta Woltz and the original Southern Broadcasters, who wowed radio listeners and vaudeville audiences across the land nearly a century ago.
The names of these old-time bands – the Hill-Billies, the Buck Mountain Band, the Bogtrotters – find their modern counterparts in groups like the Roan Mountain Hilltoppers, the Buckstankle Boys and the Crooked Road Ramblers, all of whom will appear on the Blue Ridge Music Center stage over the next three months.
For generations, performers played in barns and school auditoriums and festivals all along mountain routes, and now at the Blue Ridge Music Center, milepost 213 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, where Mid-Day Mountain Music and the Roots of American Music Museum are highly entertaining and free of charge. There are weekly concerts for a modest $10 to $20, a great rate to see such exhilarating performers. Children 12 and under are admitted for free.
In addition, as many longtime concert-goers at the BRMC have learned, a season pass for the 14 events in the concert series is available for $125 – a savings of $30 on the season. For tickets call (276) 236-5309 or visit www.blueridgemusiccenter.org online.
The concert schedule for the rest of June shows a program June 14 that features music royalty with Rosanne Cash, John Leventhal, and Wayne Henderson and Friends. Ms. Cash has made her mark in so many fields it’s not enough to call her a musician. She’s a published author and a thoughtful writer whose essays have appeared in national publications. She has produced 11 No. 1 singles, but may be best known in pop culture for her 2009 award-winning album The List, based on a list her father, the late Johnny Cash, made of 100 essential country songs she’d have to know if she were to become a country singer.
Rosanne has succeeded wildly in several genres of music, which surprises no one familiar with her extended family’s place in American and especially old time music. Her stepmother was June Carter Cash, who hailed from one of the most famous families in early recorded music, the Carters of southwest Virginia’s Poor Valley at the foot of Clinch Mountain. The extended Carter family included A.P. Carter, Sarah Carter and Mother Maybelle Carter, surely the First Family of Old Time Music.
Appearing with Rosanne Cash and John Leventhal is musician and craftsman Wayne Henderson, as much a gem of mountain music as anyone in America. Henderson hails from the little community of Rugby, Virginia, on the North Carolina-Virginia line. He builds guitars that even the biggest stars must wait for years to acquire. Rocker and bluesman Eric Clapton had to wait for seven years for his Henderson guitar because, after all, Clapton already had some good guitars and there was no rush, Henderson explained.
Those who hear Henderson’s picking cannot wait to hear his flatpicking style in person - only to discover that he uses thumb and finger picks to produce the fast and fluid cadences that have dazzled audiences everywhere.
The June schedule continues on the 22nd with the Hot Pickers Show ($15 tickets) featuring the Kruger Brothers and the Buckstankle Boys, and on June 29 with a Glorious Gospel afternoon concert ($10 tickets), featuring the Primitive Quartet and The Easter Brothers and The Easter Family.
Performances in July feature a Holiday Concert and Square-dance on July 6 ($5 tickets) with the Slate Mountain Ramblers and the New Southern Ramblers; a Tar Heel Hoedown on July 13 ($10 tickets) with Riley Baugus and dancer Ira Bernstein and the Stuart Brothers; a July 20 Whitetop—Passing It On program ($10 tickets) featuring the Crooked Road Ramblers and the Whitetop Mountaineers, and a July 27 Real Deal Bluegrass show ($10 tickets) with Big Country Bluegrass and the Marshall Brothers and High Road.
The August concerts feature Music on the Mountain on Aug. 4, (a Sunday, with $15 tickets) with Balsam Range and Cullen’s Bridge – the week that the Old Fiddlers’ Convention in nearby Galax begins. On Aug. 17 the Sundown Blues program featuring John Dee Holeman, Williette Hinton &Lightnin’ Wells ($10 tickets) will be preceded by a workshop on how to play the ukulele. On Aug. 24 the Bluegrass Gospel Show ($10 tickets) will feature the Gospel Plowboys and Travis Frye & Blue Mountain. And on Aug. 31, the Virginia Stringbands ($10) will perform with the Wolfe Brothers and Skeeter & the Skidmarks.
The Blue Ridge Music Center is part of the Blue Ridge Parkway, a unit of the National Park Service, and musical programming is operated by the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation as part of its mission to preserve and enhance the Blue Ridge Parkway today and for future generations.
Click here for more information and a full concert schedule.