Along The Crooked Road
Driving along the backcountry of southwest Virginia, the road is long and the cushioned walls of the path are green and high. Curvy ways carving into the Blue Ridge Mountains make me queasy as we near the town of Floyd, home of the Floyd Country Store. It is exactly what it says to be: a store with farm clothes, old-time medicines, candies, recordings of local historic musicians, cookbooks, tee-shirts with the store’s logo and other related bands, and a food counter with homemade pies, ice-creams, barbecue sandwiches and pimento cheese. Next door is the Floyd Barber Shop, and on the other side of the store’s entrance is a deck with tables and chairs, inviting its customers not only to peruse inside, but also to stay a while and enjoy the company it provides. It’s a Friday night, and the town is congregating at the store’s fairway; old-time bluegrass bands keep sprouting up every 30 feet, creating little pockets of hushed music that is shared with clans of 10-15. Everyone is getting ready for the Friday Night Jamboree.
As I continue my journey attempting to learn dance and music from foreign cultures around the world, I realized that the not-so-distant land of Appalachia in rural Virginia is just as foreign to me and just as rich with information. The Crooked Road, Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail was created as a way to promote this part of the state where American music was born. Old-time bluegrass music stemmed from the second and third generations of Irish immigrants who settled in that region and diluted their brogue, changed their way of life, and revamped the music of their grandparents. This was a full-on musical evolution that formed exclusively in this part of the country; it took its fruition in the mid-late 1800’s and was fully cultivated by the last decade of the 19th century. With the reformation in music also came the reformation in dance – Irish Step Dancing (or as this particular style is now called the Old Style back in Ireland) soon changed just as much as its musical counterpart. Clogging and flatfooting soon became the product of this transatlantic metamorphosis, and later in history would continue to evolve with more African-American influence to then become tap dancing.
To me, it is like seeing Darwin’s chart of embryos, gradually showing his theory come to life. When I visited Ireland in late 2011, I could finally hear the roots of where our country’s music spawned from – it was right there, in every pub, on every street. And with the right mix of Scottish, African, and nature’s beautiful influences, we got Americana bluegrass music. Amazing. So I digress. It was a Friday, and every week, the Friday Night Jamboree is held at the Floyd Country Store, attracting hundreds of visitors from all over the world (there were people from Italy, Ireland, and even Australia the night we happen to stop by). My husband, a fan of old-time bluegrass music and musician himself, was my partner-in-crime in discovering the magic of the general store’s own transformation.
In preparation for the Jamboree, customers line up hours in advance to purchase seated tickets – after less than 30 minutes, the seats are completely sold out and what remains is standing room only: that isn’t too terrible if you decide to dance the entire evening, which was my plan. I came prepared with tap shoes, and as the back area of the store shuts down, the displays and racks are pushed to a side room and chairs of every design with various homemade cushions are moved in to create a general seating area. A 20 ft. x 20 ft. dance floor is kept empty directly in front of the stage, and two areas along side of the dance floor are reserved for the ‘Friday Night Fixtures,’ the regulars to the Jamboree that religiously come to enjoy the evening’s celebrations. Most of the ‘Fixtures’ are in their mid-late 70’s, while their younger counterparts are working their way up the ladder, paying their dues by watching on their feet, eventually moving to general seating, and then maybe one day being a card-carrying member of the coveted ‘Fixture’ club.
The Jamboree started over 30 years ago, while the store itself has been in business for over 100 years. David Wood, general manager of the Floyd Country Store said, ‘Think about the old days when you used to go to town on the weekends and such – well you go, be seen, be a part and participate…this is what happens here…these are folks where music runs deep in them.’ And it does. My time at the Floyd Country Store is unforgettable, and the full video with dancing, interviews, and music airs Thursday, August 9th, 2012 on our site. Be sure to tune in for the full experience!
1. The Floyd Country Store: The Floyd Country Store is right in the center of Floyd, VA – you can’t miss it! Take your time around the store and be sure to try their homemade goodies. Big plus: they carry a lot of old time bluegrass music and jingle taps for clogging shoes! Located on 206 South Locust Street, Floyd, VA, 24091.
2. The Friday Night Jamboree: The Friday Night Jamboree is held every Friday from 6:30pm-10:30pm at the store. Gospel music begins at 6:30pm (no dancing) and then old time music with dancing at 7:30pm, including clogging, flatfooting, two-stepping, waltz, and square dance. Don’t worry if you don’t know the dances, there are plenty of ‘Friday Night Fixtures’ there to help you.
3. Jamboree music: This past Friday Night Jamboree included performances by Janet Turner & Friends, The Friday Night Old Time Band, and The Snow Creek Old Tyme Band – great music, available on their sites!
4. The Crooked Road: The Crooked Road is a wonderful destination to learn about America’s musical roots with stops along the way in Bristol, Floyd, Galax, Abingdon, Hillsville and more – all towns with charm, history, fun, and of course music and dance!
5. Floyd Fest: Floyd Fest is a romping music festival that happens every July in Floyd, VA – some of this year’s performers included Michael Franti & Spearhead, Matisyahu, David Wax Museum, and more! Be sure to check out next summer’s festival!