On the Road: Getting Here From NY

Hardware store in Floyd, Virginia at the main ...
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JAMBOREE WARNING: Expect music in the street tomorrow evening, February 18–the first warm-ish Friday of the Musical Year! Stop over at The Station, visit the Floyd Artist’s Association Gallery. I’ll be there from 6 to 8, with the digital photography display, books and note cards, and maybe a few short readings. Stop by, say howdy, then get back to the music!

Honestly, we didn’t quite know what to make of it when an outfit from NY called “Bigfuel” called and requested some local grounding in what to expect, who to interview and where to go in Floyd–a destination they’d already planned to come for filming in late January.

How was Floyd to be “sold” for marketing purposes, and to which target audience?

We are understandably vigilant against any depiction of Floyd town or county that makes its citizenry out to be stereotyped “country persons” or town to be a cultural backwater model of HeeHaw. In the end, our concerns were put to rest.

But when I got word yesterday that the feature video was now out, I of course popped right over and give the three minute piece a look and listen

as Travel writer Mike Barish from NY gets a quick intro to downtown Floyd culture and hospitality. The Bells got some love, and there were flashes of Buffalo Mountain and a dash around Main Street. But mostly, it is a Jamboree feature. I’ll be happy when some film-and-story group chooses to come to look deeper into what’s going on here beyond town on Friday night. That will happen eventually. There’s quite a story growing in Floyd. But that’s for another time.

The travel piece, it turns out, is on a site promoting the Chevy Cruze. I’d have been more satisfied, given Floyd’s focus on sustainability, if the auto got better gas mileage. But hey–the feature could have been for a site singing the praises of McDonalds, WalMart or Monsanto.

Here’s how they bill the episode:

Floyd, Virginia is the quintessential small town with one traffic light and a neighbor-friendly atmosphere. For years, their Friday night Jamboree has brought together neighbors and tourists alike to dance the night away to some of the best bluegrass music in the country. Mike swings through Floyd to meet the locals and cut a rug.

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Valentine’s Day Concert: About the Players

Floyd County House Concert 2007
Floyd County House Concert 2007

In addition to yesterdays announcement about the Valentine’s Day ‘House Concert’ in Floyd County, Mac Traynham sent along a bit more detail about his association and history with the individuals that make up the Hearld Angels. Thought you might be interested in some background that will enrich your experience on February 14. Click image to enlarge.

Serving suggestion: check out the links to some great albums by these ladies, and come prepared to be blown away by the quality of the entertainment and community!

Some background info:  Alice Gerrard began a now successful magazine called the Old-time Herald almost 20 years ago. Hence the name ‘Herald angels’.

She eventually bowed out and Gail Gillespie took Alice’s position as Editor-in-Chief for a number of years and has recently retired from that position.   I have worked with each of them at one time or another in my musical jaunts other than with Jenny.

I was part of a quartet that went to perform at the 21st Alaska Folk festival in 1995 which included Kay Justice and her then singing partner Ginny Hawker along with Tracy Schwarz.

I have helped in some vocal workshops with Alice Gerrard at a summer music camp held on the campus of Mars Hill College near Asheville NC.  In more recent times,  I have been musically involved with Gail Gillespie playing in band contests at some local Fiddler’s conventions.

Alice has been a professional musician since the 60’s having made a name for herself as part of a acclaimed duo ‘Hazel & Alice’.  Hazel Dickens and Alice were some of the first ‘women in Bluegrass’ blazing the trail for other women to enter and make names for themselves in the higher profile ‘Bluegrass’ music world.

During the 1980’s Alice was involved in preserving the music of this region. She performed with and brought greater recognition to several traditional music masters. She has numerous recordings as a google search will show.

House Concert Opens Doors to All


UPDATE: just got word the concert will be at Zion Lutheran Church (I assume the one in Floyd) with more details to follow. 02-06-2009 615AM

Because of the limited number of chairs you can get in the average Floyd County parlor, the typical “house concert” has been limited in the number of folks who can be invited. Mac and Jenny Traynham, good friends and local musicians of some reknown, have held such an event at their place about this time of year for the past couple. This year, as in the past, they are hosting other musicians for the event, and want to open up the opportunity to more than can park on the Traynham’s lawn.

So in a nutshell: February 14 at 7:30 at the Burks Fork Church of the Bretheren, hear the Herald Angels sing. Details from Mac follow…

Mac and Jenny Traynham
Mac and Jenny Traynham

On Saturday night February 14th we are aiming for a special evening of old-time country music by a talented group of  3 women known as the Herald Angels.  Members are Alice Gerrard, Gail Gillespie, and Kay Justice–all of whom are accomplished musicians and vocalists.  They generally draw their material from deep rooted sources in the music of the Southern Appalachians and rural South.

They each have mastered the subtleties of true mountain singing and as a group play banjo, fiddle and guitar in the older styles before bluegrass music was defined in the 1940’s. With over 100 years of experience collectively, their expertise is as honed as any group that we have had for house concerts before. They are each highly respected for their contributions to the appreciation of true American old-time and country music.

In light of the aforementioned facts and  the powerhouse nature of this group  this year we have decided to have this program in a special larger venue that we now have access to. The Burke’s Fork Church of the Brethren is a 100+ year old  wood structure located about 10 miles from the Town of Floyd.

This is a well-maintained structure with padded bench seating for over 100 people. With a certain ‘old-time’ charm about it, the acoustics are exceptional. Heat for the space is provided by a pair of wood stoves which do amazingly well.  Bring a sweater anyway and ‘Please’…. no small children. We will hold the break for the ‘goodies’ in a side room where there are adequate kitchen and bathroom facilities.

In addition to the $10 per person donation for the music we ask that you bring a $2 donation  that will go to the church for the use of the building.

As usual, the concert will start at 7:30.   We  will give you a reminder as we get closer to the 14th of February but we would like a RSVP from you so we can get a feel for the attendance. Email traynham@swva.net  or call (540) 789-4201

More background details on the group from Mac Traynham will appear here tomorrow.

Music in the Mountains


I am hesitant to point to anything that points toward Floyd County, not wanting to be accused of being the Pied Piper of the area. (There are plenty of realtors who wear that red cape and floppy hat.)  As I have told folks who rightly point out the dangers of saying too many nice things about an area prone to the same excessive development that has sadly and inexorably lead to the strip-mallification of other small towns, at this time in my life, I’d be looking for, finding and writing about the good and the beautiful–promoting life and sense of place in general rather than any place in particular.

It just turns out that what I write about where I chance to live is widely available via the blog to those whose interest in the area is high well before they discover the bloggers of Floyd.

So with that preamble and caveat, I’ll tell you that back about six weeks ago, I spent some time with a couple of young fellas (more and more fellas are thus) from Smithsonian magazine, our meeting coming about by way of the weblog.

I introduced them to Doug Thompson and Mac Traynham and others. They spent the weekend in Floyd, and from their time here has come a Smithsonian.com People and Places article, Blue Ridge Bluegrass and a short video specifically about the music environment in Floyd.

Several of the people in the video and article comment gratefully that the growth and improvements in Floyd have not been at the expense of its scale and authenticity and pedestrian-friendliness. Keeping this balance will be a challenge in the decades ahead.

There’s no putting the genie back in the bottle. But I’d like to believe with a certain level of care, respect and vigilance to maintain what is precious about this place, both those who come here to visit, dance and sing, and those of us who live here can love the rhythms of Floyd without loving it to death.

We (Still) Owe Our Souls…

…to the Company Store. Read Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s Coal’s True Cost

“Last evening’s GOP CNN/YouTube debate and the Democratic presidential debate on November 15 were jointly sponsored by a coal industry coalition (read this link!-ff) comprised of mining, railroad and utility interests.

Their high profile civic involvement is designed to further confuse American voters about coal’s true cost to our society. Many of the Republican candidates have endorsed massive new subsidies for King Coal and dutifully parrot industry talking points including earnest promises of cheap “clean coal.” Given that climate change is the most urgent threat to our collective survival, it is shocking that no debate moderator has pressed the candidates to clearly state their positions on “clean coal.”

In fact, there is no such thing as “clean coal.”

Coal mining’s legacy is long, dirty and sad. And yet coal has been a way of life for many Appalachian families in this short burst. With them, we’ve exploited 100 million years of summer’s sunshine and turned it into electricity that powers our computers this very moment. It generates atmospheric CO2 and smog, warm winter mornings and black lung.

For all its ills, coal, coal mining and coal-based communities and miners have produced some powerful music over the past decades. So even though our species will hopefully outlive the memories of coal and move on, we should remember those who have sacrificed lives and health to bring it to the surface.

If there is a way to celebrate this black rock, it is through music. Jack Wright, a fellow writer I met at the Hindman Appalchian Workshop this summer, has compiled a marvelous 2-CD collection of songs from and about coal. Hearing the words from real lives touched by coal gives the current situation of mountaintop removal a whole ‘nuther twist.

Giving a lump of coal has a long tradition this season–for bad little boys and girls. Thinking about giving the gift of coal–in the form of the Music of Coal this Christmas–for naughty and nice alike.