Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Virginia's Crooked Road: A musical destination

The cover story for the Sunday New York Times travel section was about the so-called (that is, officially designated by the state of Virginia since 2004) Crooked Road in far southwest Virginia, a thin slice of territory surrounded by West Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina and Kentucky. Sarah Wildman observes that, "where the economy has faltered, the local music culture is thriving." She describes the phenomenon--the "old-time" and blue grass music that originated in this area, and which still flourish:
The heritage of the path can be found in this dance, in that tune, learned by ear from house to house and passed down through generations. The Road isn’t one single highway — it’s a roughly 300-mile series of interconnected two-lane byways and long stretches of Route 58 ... . The sound here is Appalachian: mountain music. Joe Wilson, who wrote a book on the Crooked Road, calls the area the “pickle barrel” of American music. “You know you can’t make a good pickle by squirting vinegar on a cucumber,” he said. “You have to let it sit.”
Wildman touches on the musical influences of the region--specifically the dulcimers, fiddles, and tunes that the Scots-Irish and Germans brought with them when they settled this area.

Wildman's descriptions of the musical gatherings remind me of those my mother recalls from her childhood in the Arkansas Ozarks--and, indeed, which still take place there. Wildman writes of the Crooked Road, "Every night you’ll find pick-up jams on front porches, performances in theaters and quartets that pack storefronts, an old courthouse and even a Dairy Queen." This, in turn, reminded me of one of few happy scenes from "Winter's Bone," the one in which the heroine visits a home where a music party is taking place.

The photos accompanying this story are vivid and well worth a look, and a multimedia feature is available, too. This story last week also touched on the Appalachian appreciation for music. Another story about mountain music--this one from 2008--is here.

1 comment:

D'Arcy said...

I truly love Appalachia music and, in fact, wonder that anyone might not like it. My hometown if far from Appalachia but also high in the mountains. We have a lively musical community and host many passing musicians. Sometimes they play Appalachian folk and it both feels foreign and at once so comfortable.