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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Blooms on the Ridge

Since we are so near to the Blue Ridge Parkway, and since we have very fond memories of our 2007 journey on the Parkway, we decided to spend today revisiting the area around Peaks of Otter, and taking some time to stop and look at things we had overlooked before. One of our hopes was that by being here earlier in the season we would find more mountain flowers in bloom. On our previous trip, which took place in July, we noted an abundance of rhododendrons, but they were well past their bloom. Perhaps in late May we could find some that were still blooming.

 

We were to learn that our expectations would be met and exceeded. We entered near the point of lowest elevation on the entire Parkway. There we saw no blooms. But some bicyclists stopped near us for a break, so I struck up a conversation with Mary Lou from Florida. She said that in the higher elevations there were rhododendrons blooming. A few minutes later we spoke with one of her friends who showed us a multitude of photos she had taken at higher elevations.

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Within a short time we had climbed 3,000 feet, and sure enough, we began to see blooms.

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We made our way to the Peaks of Otter Lodge and spent the rest of the day exploring there. We took the shuttle to the top of Sharp Top Mountain, we had dinner in the lodge, and we took a walk around Abbot Lake.

 

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The Sound of Peace and Quiet

 

We woke to find drizzle and fog covering the vineyards.

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We also found the birds and frogs to be (finally) silent, but the farm machinery wonderfully alive and well just outside our camper. When you accept hospitality from a working farm you have to accept the fact that the work starts early. That’s good, because it helped us get a relatively early start ourselves. Today’s plan was to drive about 225 miles to Cave Mountain Lake Campground in south-central Virginia.

 

We arrived not long after 2:00, and we found the campground to be rustic, clean, and overflowing with nature. Site #4, which we had reserved, looked bigger in the online photos. It’s not small, by any means, but if we were pulling a much larger trailer it would have been challenging. A stream runs through our site, and that gives a constant “babbling brook” musical tone to the location.

 

Claudia, one of the campground hosts, met up with us shortly after our arrival, to give us our car pass and present the rules to us. She told me that she retired in November and has been working here as a volunteer host since the season began in early May. She recommended that if I ever retire I should consider doing something like this. She seemed quite happy.

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There is a swimming “lake” and beach here, which I explored on my bicycle, and there are a couple of hiking trails. Mostly there is restorative peace and the beauty of nature. We had no cell service at all, so I was (sadly) unable to wish my daughter and son-in-law a happy anniversary.