The Final Harvest Host and Homeward Bound

Today was the beginning of the two-day drive home, and our destination was a Harvest Host winery in southern Pennsylvania. The Hauser Estates winery is situated at the top of a hill, not far from Gettysburg. The drive to the location was uneventful, and we enjoyed meeting our hosts. The evening featured entertainment on the patio from a female singer/guitarist. What a nice way to end this lovely vacation trip to the Appalachians.

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A Harvest Host, a Woodworking Exhibition, and an Old Time Jam at Virginia Tech

We learned of two events taking place in Blacksburg, VA today, and we had made arrangements to spend the night at a winery associated with Harvest Hosts. So, after a leisurely morning, we packed our camper and headed to the Whitebarrel Winery in Christiansburg, VA. As members of Harvest Hosts we agree to make a purchase at participating wineries, farms and museums, and in return we are welcome to spend the night parked in our camper without a fee. The people that run Whitebarrel winery were generous to us and let us do our business in the afternoon and then return well after dark to sleep. We didn’t ask for this, but Maria offered to let us unhitch the camper and just take the truck into Blacksburg. That made things much easier than they might otherwise have been. Maria was a wonderful host, explaining about each of the wines, and guiding us to a special charcouterie board and pizza that they had available. We enjoyed a quiet and sophisticated “lunch” on their patio before heading for Blacksburg.

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Whitebarrel Winery – A Harvest Host
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Maria

In Blacksburg, our first interest was an artistic exhibit called “From These Woods.” It featured a number of different wood products, artistically constructed, representing everything from tables, to sculptures, to paddles, to instruments. I was very surprised to find the name Mac Traynham again after having seen him first at the Feastival on Sunday. A banjo made by Mac was featured in the exhibit. Nearby were these words about Mac: “Mac Traynham is a giant in the world of Appalachian music, a towering figure who has been plying his trade as a musician, teacher, and artisan for over 30 years. Recognized as a master banjo maker by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities in 2009, Traynham’s open-backed, custom-made banjos combine expert craftsmanship with impeccable aesthetics, with each piece resulting in a sonic whirlwind of beauty.”

 

Wow. Those are words of high praise. I had no idea who we were dealing with on Sunday! His banjo on display had incredibly beautiful inlays in the fretboard:

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After the exhibit closed we had a couple hours to kill, so we chilled out in the student center at Virginia Tech. I was reflecting how unique college campuses are in that you can just go and hang out in them if you know the right places to go.

 

The second thing we had come into town for was to be an old-time music jam in a downtown park starting at 8:00. (We grabbed a super Cajun dinner at a place called Boudreaux’s. The seafood gumbo was to die for.) We were a bit late for the jam, but we joined in anyway. It was a genuine, fiddle-and-banjo old-time jam, and the pace was blistering. I had a great time, and I am finding that I recognize more and more of the tunes. This jam was the sort of thing I love joining in on. It was not the relaxed, laid-back style that made me feel comfortable, but it was the “real deal,” and I feel that I learned a lot by participating in it. We stayed until the bitter end at 10:00, which means I was playing my guitar for a solid hour and a half at breakneck speed. Wonderful!

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Then it was back down the crooked roads to our home on wheels at the Whitebarrel winery.

 

The Search for the Perfect Jam

Our strategic location of Claytor Lake State Park not only allowed us to enjoy the facilities of the park, but it also put us within reasonable reach of two different events listed in the Mts. of Music Homecoming booklet. There was an Appalachian farm market with music in the nearby town of Pulaski, and there was a traditional “old time” jam at a Mexican grill in the not-too-nearby town of Pearisburg.

 

I was able to spend about an hour kayaking around on Claytor Lake in the morning, before the thunderstorms moved in. I loved it.

 

We headed off toward the town of Pulaski to experience that Appalachian farm market with music. When we got there we found that it was … meh. There wasn’t much on offer from the farmers’ market, and the band was nothing to write home about. It was not something we wanted to spend our whole evening on. So, we did what we could. We headed for the “old time jam” at that Mexican grill in Pearisburg. Our GPS led us to … the Walmart!

 

We were a bit mystified. There was supposed to be a Mexican grill here, with jamming, but we didn’t see one. I drove around the parking lot, and lo and behold – a Mexican grill. We entered with some trepidation, because there were only a few cars in the parking lot, and we couldn’t hear any music. But when we got inside we found three gentlemen and a lady off to one side singing and playing instruments. They welcomed us warmly, and immediately asked if I had an instrument. When they heard that I had a guitar they enthusiastically encouraged me to bring it in and join the fun.

 

The songs they were doing were all over the map. Some folk music, some country music, some bluegrass, an occasional gospel song, and some originals that one of the fellows had written. These folks were salt-of-the earth people who were simply gathered together for a fun night of making music together. I contributed quite a few songs, which is really not what I usually do. I just felt comfortable doing so, and it was easy to do. They brought us right into the circle. During the course of the evening I got them to introduce themselves and tell me a bit about who they were. Here are two of them: T-Baby Reed – the guitar man and Earl Thornton with the baritone uke:

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And here is Addison Dobbs with his mandolin (He’s really the only one who consistently lead bluegrass tunes):

 

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And here I am joining in:

 

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It was a really unusual evening, and much different than I had anticipated. But it was a great, authentic, Appalachian music experience. This is what we came here to find.

I Finally Learn (Some) Flatfooting!

The Mts. of Music Homecoming event that was close to us today was a flatfooting workshop at the Blue Ridge Music Center. Even though we have been to this location a few times now, the prospect of learning flatfooting was an irresistible draw. I’ve been watching people dance for the past couple of weeks, and I really want the mystery of what they are doing to be removed. (I tried a flatfooting workshop at a festival a couple years ago and got absolutely nothing out of it. But hope springs eternal, and I once again thought it would be worth trying.) So we headed out to the Blue Ridge Music Center again, prepared to learn dancing, and prepared to enjoy music by the Buck Mountain Band.

 

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The teacher of the workshop, Mary Ann Kovach, was excellent. She convinced us that we couldn’t do it wrong, and she broke down several of the steps into their essential elements so that we could imitate her. The band provided great music, and I managed to “get” a couple of the steps. I also took notes on the steps that were a bit beyond me, and maybe I will be able to figure them out on my own.

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We also did some square dancing, and we thoroughly enjoyed having a couple of pre-adolescent girls as our square partners.

After the dancing lesson we headed north to camp at Claytor Lake State Park. This park is in the vicinity of several Mts. of Music Homecoming events, and we thought it would be a good place to locate ourselves for a couple of days.

Feastival!

At this point in the trip we faced a fork in the road, and we took it. Our original plan had us heading to the Asheville area and focusing on non-musical interests. There were no more Blue Ridge Music Trail events closeby. However, a few days ago E discovered that Virginia’s Crooked Road (which we explored pretty thoroughly in 2015) was holding a 10-day, Mts. of Music Homecoming celebration. There were all sorts of events going on all over southern Virginia from June 9 through June 17. We found that we would be able to catch quite a few of these events if we headed back up to Virginia at this point. This decision was a no-brainer.

 

The first event we decided to attend was billed as a “Feastival.” It was a catered church-picnic type of event, with a bluegrass/gospel band, a couple of highly accomplished musicians, and talks by two local authors who have written books about the food in Appalachia. E had already heard of one of these authors, and had recently placed a hold on her book at the library, so when she saw that we would be able to meet this lady and hear from her, it seemed like a great opportunity.

 

The event was being held at the Dinwiddie Presbyterian Church, outside the town of Hillsville, VA. A couple miles short of the destination our GoogleMaps directions brought us to a dirt road with a dark, forbidding entrance, low-hanging branches, and prospects of hills and switchbacks that I just wasn’t willing to face. I phoned our contact person at the event, and with some help, we were able to come up with a better route. The only problem was, now I had to turn the trailer around on this crooked road. With E’s help, and our pair of walkie-talkies, we made it happen. We arrived at the Feastival about 20 minutes late.

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Fortunately, the eating hadn’t started yet. We missed some music, but there would be much more of that later.

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The authors (Ronni Lundy and Libby Bondurant) told interesting stories, and they helped us understand more about the culture of Appalachia. I have become more and more convinced that the people of this area are judged very unfairly by outsiders. The stereotypes are hurtful, and for the most part very untrue.

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The music was provided by a band named Changing Lanes, and they were joined by a guitarist named Mac Traynham and a banjo-player named Edwin Lacy. Evidently these two fellows are well-known mountain music “sages.” (Keep that name, Mac Traynham in mind as you read future posts in this trip of ours. We were to learn more about him later.) The music was good, and most of what they played was gospel. I love the fact that gospel music plays such a big role in traditional mountain music.

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Oh! We found an RV park just a couple miles down the road from the Dinwiddie Church. Good thing, because it had been a very full day!

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A Warm Embrace

Back in the summer of ’96 the US Forest Service had decided to permit clear-cutting of the lumber on Bluff Mountain, just above the North Carolina town of Hot Springs. What the Forest Service did not take into account was how the local people would react to this decision. When the locals found out about it, they staged a protest. The protest took the form of a fund-raising, old-time music and dance festival. A year later a lot had happened. The Forest Service changed their plans and suspended consideration of Bluff Mountain for clear cutting. The folks in Hot Springs held a celebration. The celebration turned out to be the Second Annual Bluff Mountain Festival. Everyone had such a good time that they decided to do it again the following year, and every year since then. We attended the 22nd annual Bluff Mountain Festival on Saturday.

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The Bluff Mountain Festival is still a fund-raiser, but now it is a fund-raiser for the Madison County Arts Council. There were performances all day long from bluegrass and old time bands, a storyteller, cloggers, ballad-singers, and others. One of the performers was a band that included a fiddle-player named Laura Boosinger. I had become acquainted with this woman a few different times during my preparation for this trip. Most recently, we had learned that she was one of the 2017 inductees in the Blue Ridge Music Hall of fame (in the Wilkes Heritage Museum that we had visited briefly on Wednesday.) I was surprised to see her here today, because today is the induction ceremony in that hall of fame. When they introduced her they said that she would be leaving immediately after the performance to drive to Wilkesboro for the induction. I was able to snag her for a photo and a brief congratulatory “Thank You” for the work she is doing to promote and preserve Appalachian culture.

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The performances at the festival all day long were wonderful. I sat back and let myself feel completely embraced by the warmth, hospitality, and art of the people of North Carolina.

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Class I and II???

Today was to be a transition day; a day between musical events. We had to drive a bit more than a hundred miles west, to the small, high-mountain town of Hot Springs. The campground is on the French Broad River, a river known for its whitewater rafting. I learned that the “wild” class III and IV rapids are upstream from the campground, and the section downstream from the campground has several miles of flat water with “some class I and class II rapids.” I felt that this would be ideal for me and for my level of skill with the kayak. I begged E to help me out with the driving so that I could put in at the campground, paddle down stream to a park several miles down, and have her pick me up there. (Since she hadn’t yet driven our pickup truck, this was a BIG sacrifice on her part to be willing to do this. I greatly appreciate her for doing this.)

I put the kayak in the water just outside the campground, and I immediately found myself in white water. It was “whiter” than I’ve experienced before. I’ve been in class I and class II rapids before, and really enjoyed it, but this seemed more … exciting … than I remember. There were some pretty sizable waves, and some of them did manage to find their way inside the boat. When I got through this section of rapids, I pulled in to shore and beached the boat. I took a walk back upstream to take a photo:

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Is this Class II rapids?

The rest of the paddle was pretty exciting too, because during the stretches of flat water I could hear the sound of rapids that I was approaching. After my first experience, I was unsure of just what I would find in the next set of rapids. It was an experience made for a Hollywood movie: moving downstream with the increasingly loud sound of an approaching area of rapids. All that was missing was the dramatic musical background score. If the people who recommended this stretch of river considered what I had just been through to be mild and friendly (which is what they said), then would I be riding rapids like that all the way down to the park? The answer is, yes. Almost every set of rapids was just a little bit more than I had bargained for. By the end I was getting more comfortable and more confident. I guess the only way to learn something like this is to experience it, but I probably would have benefitted from doing it with a guide. In any event, this experience was one of the highlights of this trip for me, and again, I greatly appreciate my wife’s willingness to drive the truck for the first time and pick me up when I completed my run.