The Crooked Road
by Kara M. Bachman
The Authentic Road of Virginia Music
When it comes to getaways for bluegrass fans, few things beat a music heritage tour that takes visitors across natural landscapes to different venues, historical sites, and cool little places where natural jam sessions happen regularly. Travelers who take on the 330-mile path through southwestern Virginia that follows Route 58 are sure to find all that and more.
In 2004, the Virginia Assembly designated this stretch of highway as The Crooked Road: Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail. It traverses 19 counties that bring visitors through four cities and over 50 towns and highlights the music venues and music history of one of the epicenters of American roots music. For fans of artists such as The Stanley Brothers, Jim & Jesse McReynolds, and The Carter Family – all of whom hailed from this area – there’s no better route for a day or two—or three—of hitting the road.
From the Blue Ridge Institute & Museum at Ferrum College to the old-timey nostalgic feel of the Floyd Country Store, the drive hits the high points for lovers of music, history, and culture.
Carrie Beck, director of The Crooked Road, explains what she thinks makes the drive special.
“It is a literally crooked road,” she laughed, describing the twists, turns, and hills drivers will experience. “There’s wayside exhibits where people can pull off and read about notable musicians from the area.”
The path promotes major venues in the region and over 60 affiliate venues and festivals. The goal is to support the work of current musicians while showcasing the history of the past. Both things are important.
While The Crooked Road does receive some funding from the state, Beck said it operates as a 5013c nonprofit. Much of the funds used for its work come from donations, ticket sales, merchandise, and other such sources. It’s all turned around and used to better the lives of the people of the region.
“The goal is to preserve the traditions of heritage music… bluegrass, old-time, gospel, even blues…we really have a melting-pot of musical styles that would be associated with the region,” Beck said.
The Crooked Road harkens back and does much forward-thinking to help local communities and promote the arts and artists who reside there. While the main goal is preservation, The Crooked Road has grown in its work over the years. It encompasses traditional music education and programs to foster regional and local economic development. There are music training resources for teachers and aspiring musicians and initiatives such as partnerships with junior Appalachian musicians, and it hosts a youth music festival.
“Last year and this year, we have really unrolled some new stuff,” Beck explained. For instance, a new Artist-in-Residence program started. Beck said the inaugural artist selected – Andrew Small, a multi-instrumentalist from Floyd County – serves as a “Crooked Road Ambassador” at events. A curated “Heritage Artist Directory” has been created, which Beck said is “vetted by a musicians’ advisory board, a committee of eight to 10 working musicians.”
“It’s almost like living history; it’s just a unique region,” she said, of this functioning world that is as authentic as any could get. “I’m a huge advocate for the people who live in these communities. We have this real dynamic core of legacy families. I love where I live because I love the people.”
Major Venues of The Crooked Road Include:
1 – Blue Ridge Institute & Museum at Ferrum College – Ferrum
2 – Floyd Country Store – Floyd
3 – Blue Ridge Music Center – Galax
4 – Galax Old Fiddler’s Convention – Galax – first week in August
4 – Rex Theatre – Galax
5 -Southwest Virginia Cultural Center & Marketplace – Abingdon
6 – Birthplace of Country Music – Bristol
7 – Carter Family Fold – Hiltons
8 – Country Cabin – Norton
9 -Ralph Stanley Museum – Clintwood