Despite easy access by road or air from Canada, and accommodation types from quaint B&Bs to historic hotels, South West Virginia is nevertheless the “road less travelled”. However, as well as the music that is ingrained in the culture here, landscapes and outdoor adventure, small town hospitality, delicious food and wine, shopping, history and more await the visitor.
You won’t go hungry in this fascinating corner of Virginia. You can expect bowls of homemade applesauce, heaping helpings of chicken pan pie and, in the morning, dishes of grits with moats of butter. Big farm breakfasts—especially biscuits and gravy—are mandatory, and tangy fried apple pies are a regional specialty.
A little known fact is that Virginia is also tied with Texas as the 5th largest wine producing state in the US. Vineyards are dotted all around the South West of the State and you can also discover distilleries (some also producing genuine Moonshine, which only became legal in the last 6 years). Plus there are some exciting craft breweries and cideries.
Explore the delightful small towns with quaint shops and handicrafts – all set against a backdrop of wonderful Appalachian scenery with lakes and mountains. The famous Appalachian Trail runs through the Region and there are many other opportunities for canoeing, kayaking, hiking, fishing and biking.
The Crooked Road is a great way to discover the history of the music in the area. If you are curious about the Crooked Road lifestyle, The Blue Ridge Institute & Museum showcases exhibits that explore all kinds of folkways from the region, with everything from old-style music making to modern-day quilting. And the Blue Ridge Institute and Farm Museum – the official State Center for Blue Ridge Folklore - highlights the folk traditions of western Virginia, old and new. The Institute's Blue Ridge Farm Museum re-creates life on a Virginia-German farmstead in the year 1800
The quaint town of Whytheville was the home of Edith Bolling Wilson – the second wife of President Woodrow Wilson. It is very rare for a US President to fall in love and marry while still in office – and the museum that preserves her birthplace gives a fascinating insight into the First Lady’s life. When Woodrow Wilson became ill it was said that Edith supported him in many of the President’s day to day tasks – some go as far as to call her the first US female President!
The charming historic town of Whytheville boasts two other museums. The Haller- Gibboney Rock House Museum is housed in a mansion built in 1823. It provides a glimpse into the life of a country doctor of the period.
The Thomas J. Boyd Museum next door is named for Thomas Jefferson Boyd who is known as the Father of Wytheville. He was an attorney, town mayor, surveyor, hotel builder and Virginia Legislator. Artifacts cover local history and civil war exhibits. Around 1950 Whytheville suffered more than any other place in the US from outbreaks of Polio – and a section of the museum also tells this story. Artifacts include a heartbreaking infant sized “Iron Lung” that allowed tiny victims of this terrible disease to breath.
And no matter what time of year you visit you are sure to find lots of festivals going on. Here are just a few of the many events celebrated in South West Virginia:
This year The Crooked Road inaugurated the Mountains of Music Homecoming Festival in June – with concerts in over 30 different communities the length and breadth of this tourist trail.
In the community of Galax you can discover the annual Old Fiddlers Convention, which has been celebrated each August for over 80 years. The Carter Family Memorial Music Festival, held at the end of July, is over 40 years old. And the Dock Boggs and Kate Peters Sturgill Music festival takes place at the Country Cabin II in September.
The Abingdon Virginia Highlands Festival in August gives the visitor the opportunity to discover more about the fine arts, history and music of the area. And then The Blue Ridge Folklife Festival in Ferrum in October gives an insight into country life and culture.
South West Virginia was a melting pot for the music of European settlers who arrived on wagon trains from Pennsylvania, African slaves, coal miners, ministers of the church and more. The foundation of today’s music is in ballads that are over 300 years old, since music traditions have been carefully preserved and handed down the generations.
You are immersed in music where you go, and the generations from old to young share a passion for playing and preserving their musical heritage. This is the music of poor people – escaped slaves and farmers and coal miners who endured hard times and who understood loss. And despite it all, they made their own instruments and they danced and sang!
You will discover linked but different music genres - old time dance music is older and simpler, whereas Bluegrass has more vocal harmonies. Both these genres strongly influenced modern day Country music. The iconic Banjo evolved from an African instrument brought over by slaves and other common instruments of the area include fiddles from Europe, the autoharp, the mandolin and the dulcimer.
Historically many poor musicians made their own instruments - and many fine musical instruments are still made in the region. You will also find lots of opportunities to buy the music of the Region.
The Crooked Road covers 530 kms with 9 Major venues where you can hear live performances by local musicians. There are also 26 Wayside exhibits (with FM radio interpretation for your car radio) and 50 affiliated venues and festivals.
Two of the most traditional venues on the Crooked Road are the Country Cabin II and the Carter Family Fold.
The Country Cabin with its descendant, Country Cabin II, is the oldest mountain music cultural venue currently operating along The Crooked Road. The original Country Cabin was built in 1937 under President Roosevelt’s WPA program as a community recreational facility and is a National and State Historic Landmark. In 2002, a larger facility was built in nearby Appalachian Traditions Village. Local musicians gather at the cabin every Saturday night to perform and carry on traditional bluegrass and country music. And if you want to explore the dance that accompanies the music - mountain-style clogging is taught at Country Cabin II.
The Carter Family Fold celebrates the “First Family of Country Music” and the music of AP Carter, his wife Sara and his sister-in-law Maybelle. They recorded 300 songs between 1927 and 1942 and were hugely influential in the evolution of Country Music. AP Carter’s old General Store is now a museum and the Carter Family Fold is a rustic, 800 seat music shed offering traditional old time and bluegrass music every Saturday night.
In keeping with the traditional music style, no electrical instruments are allowed (everything is acoustic). However – this rule was set aside when Johnny Cash played. Cash had married AP’s daughter Joan and he gave his last ever concert here. Nowadays the Carter Family Fold remains a family venue with lots of fun and dancing for all the family.
Two of the most modern venues on the Crooked Road are the Blue Ridge Mountain Centre and Heartwood in Abingdon.
The sounds of the fiddle, banjo, and guitar are likely to welcome you when you visit the Blue Ridge Music Center in the heart of the Blue Ridge Parkway National Park. Experience regional traditional music each day of the week with FREE local Mid-Day Mountain Musicians playing on the breezeway of the visitors center from Noon - 4 PM. Concerts take place in a beautiful outdoor amphitheater (capacity 2,500) at the base of Fisher Peak. They feature local, regional, and national touring performers and bands, and are presented most Saturday evenings from late May through September.
Heartwood is the home to The Crooked Road: Virginia's Heritage Music Trail. You can hear musicians play and also talk to them during concerts in the live performance area. In addition there is a huge collection of local old-time, bluegrass and gospel music on CD and DVD - so you can take some music home with you. Heartwood’s striking architecture is also your gateway to Southwest Virginia craft, food and local culture.
Bristol is one of the must-see stops as you discover the musical roots here in South West Virginia. This is where Country Music began – back in 1927 – when the Victor Talking Machine company pioneered its new “Orthophonic” recording technique to capture the extraordinary talents of musicians from all across the Region in what has become known as the “Bristol Sessions”. John Cash was quoted as saying that “The Bristol Sessions is the single most important event in the history of country music.”
Bristol is therefore rightly the home of the Birthplace of Country Music Museum – a wonderful modern museum that is affiliated with the Smithsonian. It is truly interactive you can belt out the tunes at the sing along station and mix your own music! The museum tells the story of the 1927 Bristol Sessions recordings and explores how sound technology shaped their success. Listen to the songs of the 1927 Bristol Session and discover how they have influenced later artists in their arrangements of classic songs.
Bristol was built straddling the Virginia Tennessee border and the famous Bristol sign (the oldest of its type in the US) marks the State boundary and proclaims Bristol as "a good place to live." Many generations going back over 150 years have found that to be true. Bristol is a historical and cultural hub, having played a pivotal role in the early expansion of the American frontier, the Revolutionary War, and the growth of American music.
As well as giving birth to Country Music, the Blue Ridge Mountain roads and the 1940’s Ford coupes executing “Bootleg” turns were the precursor to NASCAR. Many early NASCAR drivers cut their teeth driving moonshine around in modified “liquor cars” that could outrun the police
The architecturally stunning Heartwood in Abingdon is the fitting home of the Crooked Road organization. You can also shop for crafts made by local artisans who are members of “Round the Mountain” - Southwest Virginia's Artisan Network. They are masters of their media, carefully selected through a rigorous jurying process. Artisans appear at demonstrations to meet and talk with visitors about their work. “Round the Mountain” also publishes a series of Artisan Trails, enabling you to see artisans at work, visit craft venues, shop at galleries, take classes, and more.
Within Abingdon’s beautiful Main Street and historic district you will find the vibrant Barter Theatre. With a rich history spanning eight decades, Barter Theatre still draws patrons from around the globe to enjoy the magic of live entertainment. The theatre was started in 1933 during the Great Depression and its name comes from the fact that when it opened its doors patrons could pay in cash or by bartering local produce – ‘Hams for Hamlet” as it was known.
Barter, now the State Theatre of Virginia, helps visitors make memories through its talented cast of resident actors in shows ranging from comedies to dramas to musicals. A multitude of famous actors including Ernest Borgnine, Gregory Peck and Patricia Neal got their start in Barter plays, and today the theatre continues to launch stars from its stages.
Abingdon is surrounded by the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains, which forms a massive wilderness playground complete with rivers, lakes and trails. The famous Appalachian Trail is nearby and the Virginia Creeper Trail begins in downtown Abingdon. A “Rails to Trails” conversion from the original railroad tracks, the Virginia Creeper trail is a bikers paradise because it is mostly flat and you can also be taken by road to the start of the trail and return, almost completely downhill, to Abingdon! Local bike shops and shuttle services will get you on the trails around Abingdon quickly and easily.
Connect with Virginia on facebook
Follow Virginia on Twitter
See Virginia on You Tube
Connect with the Crooked Road on facebook