March 16, 2003

Making a Joyful Noise

Making a Joyful Noise: The Floyd Country Store Friday Night Jubilee

The downtown Floyd enterprise currently known as the Floyd Country Store is a local landmark little changed, visibly, since its construction in 1913. Situated a hundred yards from the county's only traffic light, it served for a half-century or more as a dry-goods general store, selling everything from horse shoe nails to wringer washers and scrub boards. In 1983, the building was purchased by a local farmer and businessman, Freeman Cochran, and the name was changed to Cochrans Store and bore that name for twenty five years. Mr. Cochran, himself a musician and a self-promoting businessman, had a vision for turning the country store into a paying enterprise capitalizing on the local musical talent in the county.

A group of middle-aged country gentlemen were already playing together regularly but privately next door to the store in the back space of the Southern States Feed and Seed. Soon they moved to the larger store for their practice. Most any time business was slow, there was music and a small crowd gathered around the Warm Morning stove with their banjos and fiddles. This regular gathering of amateurs soon went public, encouraged in large part by Mr. Cochran's interests, both musical and financial. Best as anyone can recollect, it was along about 1986 when the Friday Night Cochran's Store Jamboree first became a regular feature in downtown Floyd.

Some things have changed in the store's appearance since it was a general store. The interior of the store is now mostly bare of merchandise, except for some dusty remnants that are more like props of 'authentic' rural economy lining the walls -- old bonnets and small farm implements, a few handmade baskets, and Prince Albert in a can -- and you can still get a decent hotdog, 'made fresh daily' but only on Friday and Saturday nights when the store opens to the public. The shelves that used to cover the main floor have been removed, and there is now an empty space that will accommodate 150 folding metal chairs, row jam packed on row, and most seats filled come Friday nights. Push a few of the front rows to the side, and there is a 100 square foot section of resonant wood flooring that bears the marks of a million heel clicks from ten thousand cloggers on a thousand Floyd Friday nights.

Many of those middle-aged men who jammed with Freeman Cochran in the back of the Feed and Seed are now in their middle and late 70's. They still come every Friday night (and a few women-folk musicians with them) although they mostly leave early. They would no more think of missing a meeting than of neglecting the gathering of themselves together at the Baptist Church on Sunday mornings. The Jamboree, in a sense, is Friday night praise and worship, and the faithful of an earlier generation always turn out. With them and their instruments, they bring that old time religion in their demeanor, by their barely audible banter with the audience. And of course, they unashamedly spread the good news prominently in their music. The crowd is quieted by the telling of a couple of 'good clean jokes' and then hushed with bowed heads, led in prayer for God's blessing in the offering of the musical faith of their fathers, played on the very instruments their fathers played. As much a social gathering as musical, the Jamboree attracts visitors from all over the region and the world. They come to be part of an Appalachian cultural experience that in it's unchanging quality stands in contrast to the fast-moving impermanence of the larger America outside the Floyd city limits.

The Country Store changed ownership last in 1999, and is now owned by two music-loving, enterprising attorneys from North Carolina. They have maintained continuity of the old traditions by virtue of Mr. Roberson's participation as the general manager. He was one of the original owners and has played music in the store since before it became a public event. He has carried over everything as it always has been on Friday nights, even if there are now some benign structural changes to serve the growing crowds of visitors. And now, Saturday nights too, the store is open for music, for a higher ticket price and to a generally younger audience. On a Saturday night, guests from all over the southeast have come to hear out-of-town musical groups with well-known names who will play from the stage, where the night before, the diety was invoked to bless a less refined but unmistakably genuine joyful noise from a former chapter in Floyd's long history of music and community.

Read the piece about the Country Store from the Washington Post, Friday, November 2, 2001

Posted by fred1st at March 16, 2003 06:29 AM | TrackBack

Isn't it great? Our equivalent is "Papa Joe's" out on our one main street and a stone's throw from my cottage.

"And the night shall be filled with music,
And the cares that infest the day
Shall fold their tents like the Arabs
And as silently steal away."
-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Posted by: Anne at March 16, 2003 01:33 PM

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