Every Home’s a Stage

Another Saturday in Floyd County, another house concert. Last week, music of the mountains, sitting in folding chairs, in jeans. This week, classical music of the ages, seated in an elegant living room, in a coat and tie.

The setting: The Inn at Hope Springs Farm, almost to the Carroll County line, on 221 the other side of Willis.

We met the owners, Candace and William, a couple of years back through a friend who was filling their extensive needs for custom draperies, upholstery and such. Last night, the music also was from local talent–Mike Mitchell playing the masters on violin, with accompaniment on the grand piano.

From Floyd County, Blue Ridge Mountains, Southwest Virginia Walking in last night, we realized this was a different crowd. We recognized only the host and hostess, and our veterinarian. But from the remaining strangers, we met quite a few new couples. Some were guests at the Inn from Richmond or Greensboro. Others, like Sandra and Ken, had local ties–and connections to the Inn owners by their common interest in alpacas. Here’s their alpaca website.

And so there was some conversation that followed from my question: “So you think I could actually turn a profit on our six acres of level land with these animals?” Boy, did I ask the right question to the right folks. The tax benefits are significant. There’s even an Alpaca 101 page that seems likely to answer all our questions. Yours, too.

So we have had two Saturday house events in a row, and sampled the diversity of music and culture that is available in this wide place in the road. No, you won’t find a civic center in town. No movie theaters or streets lined with ethnic restaurants. But there’s plenty to do. It’s just that we enjoy much of our entertainment where we live: at home. And invite the neighbors.

Straight Path to the Crooked Road

This spring (oh I like the warm sound of that word!) promises to be a great season for touring the “Crooked Road”–southwest Virginia’s Music Trail that passes through Floyd.

Other stops along the way include Galax and Stanley country, the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol, the Blue Ridge Music Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Galax, the Carter Family Fold in Hiltons, the Country Cabin in Norton and the Blue Ridge Institute at Ferrum College. You can see and read a bit about them all on the clickable map.

According to Ralph Barrier writing in the Roanoke Times

“The idea came at a time when old-time roots music was undergoing a huge popularity surge thanks to the success of the “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” movie soundtrack. The album featured updated versions of Depression-era songs and sold more than six million copies and dominated the 2002 Grammy Awards. Southwest Virginia’s stake in the CD’s success came through the inclusion of Stanley and bluegrass star Dan Tyminski, formerly of Ferrum. The time was right to capitalize on the newfound popularity of old-time music.”

Cultural tourism is a growing phenomenon as traveling families want to learn more about their own heritage and roots, and that comes from the getting there as much as it is the destination.

Southwest Virginia has the greatest tradition of old-time string music than anywhere else in the world,”said Roddy Moore, the Blue Ridge Institute’s executive director. “The eight spots are just the high points. The Crooked Road is really what’s in between. I would take the sidetrips off the road and see the landscape and meet the people.”

If you’re new to traditional Appalachian music, consider a trip down the Crooked Road as the Baptist introduction: total immersion, head to toe, in “that good ol’ way”. It’s been ringing in these hills for generations, and the invitation is out for others to listen in.

Wounded Wood

Walnut Wood / Floyd County / Southwest Virginia
Back when we first moved to Goose Creek, I was chatting excitedly with a woodworking friend about my idea to grow walnuts on our land as an investment crop for our children’s future. Walnuts make exceptionally beautiful pieces of handcrafted furniture.

“I wouldn’t bother” she discouraged me. “Walnuts growing in Floyd County are often gnarled and misshappen. They can be used for some interesting small pieces, given their distorted grains, but they don’t do much as saw lumber.”

And since then, we’ve burned a good bit of walnut as firewood (culled from the edges of the wannabe-garden). A half dozen cast shadows on (and grew their roots into) where we wanted veggies to grow, and we’re burning them this winter for heat. And they have without exception have had warty-gnarly trunks with little clear grain for more than a foot or two. And my presumption now is that this might be due to genetics: our local walnuts have inherited poor wound healing genes.

You can see in this picture what I found when I unloaded the truck one day recently. I had been cutting up a walnut dropped up the valley along the old postal road that follows alongside our pasture. This tree is only about 45 years old, so the lead bullet slug I cut in half with my chain saw earlier that day couldn’t have come from Daniel Boone’s black power rifle. Shucks. I can’t say when it was shot, but long enough ago that you can see the tree has grown “scar tissue” down over the entry point; you can almost visualize the turbulence created in the layers of spring and summer wood as the bullet arked its way to a stop deep in the trunk.

And it is just this kind of swollen hump that are found so commonly on our walnuts–even those that haven’t been filled full of lead. It may be something as simple as normal limb self-pruning that leads to this unsightly wounding in our genetic population of walnuts, while others elsewhere make nice clean scars that don’t damage the quality of the beautiful purple-brown wood.

On this single-digit winter morning, I have one other observation about walnut: as firewood, it makes more light and ash than heat, and I hope not much more of it goes through the woodstove doors. My kingdom for some oak! Brrrrr! (More on tree genetics and wound healing here for the one person out of a thousand who would care to know.)

HELP! Has my sidebar disappeared in MSIE? Just checked it from work and it’s gone! If it is missing, has it been missing for days? Anybody noticed? – FF

4 PM Tuesday: Home now, and MSIE from here shows the sidebar. AND the Google Ads are more relevant in MSIE than in FireFox, which among others at this minute shows PASCO COUNTY–Florida? Common Google. RELEVANT! Surely you can do better!

This is only a test

Banjo, guitar, fiddle and mandolin / Floyd County music / Southwest Virginia

Here’s a shot from the house concert–toward the end, when the hosts are up front playing a tune or two with the featured artists-friends they hosted for the evening.

I’ve been trying to share my ignorance with Mac there with the banjo. He and his wife and singing partner are wanting to get another album out and also to set up a simple web presence for their music appearances, CDs and such.

So here I’ve uploaded directly from Picasa –which I will recommend he download, as the price is right. We’ll set him up blog, and maybe a wiki through pbwiki.com to refer to in his sidebar for pages about their albums, maybe some background on their music interests and backgrounds, and as a place to upload some music clips.

So this, dear folks, is just a test. You can see the back of Ann’s head there next the chair vacated by the photographer. There are far more people behind me than in front of me. The place was packed. And a nightmare for photography what with only the table lamp. This was shot at ISO of 3200 with the D200–grainy, but heck–we got the shot!

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Mountain Music

Mountain Music: Digital Photography from Floyd County, Virginia by Fred First
It’s a fur piece from Goose Creek to Ferny Creek–a good two-thirds the length of Floyd County. But for a house concert like last night, it is worth the drive.

Some faces were familiar: characters from around town, friends of the hosts, and some folks we’d met before only at previous gatherings like this, and in this house. And there are always a few initiates, first-timers who appreciate old-time traditional Appalachian mountain music on the close and personal stage in someone’s livingroom.

We’re hoping before the summer is over to host a house concert here, in the AnnEx. Or heck, maybe we’ll just take the lawn chairs out under the stars along the banks of Goose Creek and let’er rip.