I love music….all kinds of music. Sometimes I am in the mood for the heavy drum beats in rock ‘n’ roll. Sometimes I like to relax to smooth jazz. Sometimes I like the stories in country songs. This past weekend I heard something new with instruments called bagpipes…Celtic I think it was. I have a special dance for each kind of music that mama likes to watch me do. Bluegrass is no different…it suits its own mood because it has its own sound. And there is a lot of it to be heard here, in the heart of Virginia.
Bluegrass music has its roots in Irish, Scottish and English folk music, as well as containing jazz elements obtained through African influence. It allows for improvisation by individual instrumentalists to showcase skill while some roles are reserved for accompaniment. Traditional bluegrass includes only acoustic instruments, while more progressive musicians incorporate electric instruments and covers of songs from different genres. My favorite instruments are the fiddle and banjo, but you’ll also hear guitar, mandolin and bass.
Joel Sweeney, developer of the modern banjo, was from Appomattox. Originating in Africa, the banjo was formally made with a gourd as a resonating chamber. Sweeney redesigned it with a drum-like chamber and was the first person known to perform with the banjo on-stage. He traveled the state, then the East Coast and then across the Atlantic showcasing his talents and became the standard against which everyone judged their skill on the banjo. Today, Appomattox Courthouse National Historical Park commemorates him by holding a Joel Sweeney & Banjo Festival on September 9th and a season-long concert series in celebration of all kinds of local music.
On November 4th, Patrick Henry’s Red Hill offers another celebration of bluegrass music at their annual Bluegrass, Barbeque & Brew Festival. With three bands, six food vendors, eight local breweries, craft vendors, what’s not to enjoy? Music, food, Virginia beer….sounds like a great day to me!
Of course, great bluegrass music can be found all over our fair state. The Crooked Road is Virginia’s Music Heritage Trail, located in southwest Virginia with major venues, affiliated sites and wayside stops. In Bristol, you can check out the Birthplace of Country Music Museum showcasing ninety years of Virginia music history. You can visit A.P. Carter’s old general store in Hiltons, now transformed into an 800-seat music venue in honor of the Carter Family. Personally, I cannot think of bluegrass with thinking of Dr. Ralph Stanley; his song “Angel Band” is ethereally lovely. His museum resides in Clintwood with much of the memorabilia donated by Ralph himself.
All this writing about music makes me want to go get my guitar tuned up. We have been so busy here at the inn that it’s easy to set aside our leisurely pursuits in the hum and bustle of everyday life. Maybe my next day off, I’ll pull it out and play around with some of my old favorites, maybe even learn something new! In the meantime, I’ll make plans to attend some our local festivals until I get a few consecutive days off to go drive the trail. Happy pickin’, y’all!