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.
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.
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.
When you make plans for a trip like this one, there are certain days and places that are like keystones in a stone arch. They hold a lot of pieces together. Today was to be one of those days. I selected our overnight campsite destination (for two nights) on the basis of its location mid-way between two music venues that we wanted to see. The campsite was expensive, but because of its central location I was willing to pay for it.
On our drive to the campground we found ourselves in Wilkesboro, NC. I had read that there is a small museum there with a Blue Ridge Music Hall of Fame. We thought it might be worth a few minutes to take a look, even though we were on a tight schedule. We found our way to the museum and explained to the attendant what we were interested in. She took our money for admission to the museum, and told us that the admission includes a guided tour of the Wilkes County Jail. This is the jail where the legendary Tom Dooley was imprisoned before he was hung. (Tom Dooley; of the folksong “Hang down your head Tom Dooley.”) Well, we had to see that! The only thing is, this was a guided tour, and our tour guide also wanted to tell us about every historical event that ever happened in Wilkes County. We got to see Tom’s cell, and we got to hear the whole story of his crime (or supposed crime; there is some ambiguity about whether he was truly guilty). But when all was said and done, this stop cut about 2 hours into our tight schedule. We were destined to be late getting to the music events that we planned for later in the afternoon. Ah well. At least we saw some interesting stuff.
We got to the campground and almost immediately headed for today’s music destination. The Orchard at Altapass was billed as having Wednesday afternoon jamming and free live music Wednesday through Sunday nights. We planned on staying for both the jamming and the live music. After the 45-minute drive, we arrived at the orchard, to find… no musicians. No one was jamming! Even though we arrived about an hour after the jamming was supposed to start, there was no one there. I asked, and was told that usually no one shows up. And they don’t have any musicians on hand to lead the jam if no one shows up. Well. That’s disappointing. But what about the live music on Wednesday evenings? What time does that start? “Oh. that’s not going on now. We close at 5:00 today.” What? No jamming and no music in the evening? So all our efforts to get to this destination were for nothing? I guess sometimes you just have to accept defeat and move on to the next thing.
Since we had to use the Blue Ridge Parkway to drive back to the campground, we resumed our quest for mountain wildflowers. The Mt. Laurel was everywhere. We also saw some flowers that we couldn’t identify.
We took a short hike near Linwood Falls, and we saw some flame azaleas.
So. No music today, and a lesson in how to handle disappointments.
Our original trip plan itinerary showed us doing a lot of nothing today. All we had to do was pack up from the festival and move about an hour down the road to the Stone Mountain State Park. The relaxing “down time” in that plan sounded good. But when I realized that we were less than an hour from the Blue Ridge Music Center, and that there was old-time jamming there on Sunday afternoons, the temptation to abandon the relaxing day in favor of more music was too great. So, we headed out of town on route 89, climbed the mountains, and found our way to the Blue Ridge again. This would be our third time here, and our second time joining in on the jamming.
This style of jam suits my abilities perfectly. It is relaxed, open to uninvited participants, and the musicians are non-judgmental. They even slowed down Fisher’s Hornpipe enough to enable me to play it on the mandolin. It’s just a relaxed good musical time. I found myself picking up the structure of the old time fiddle tunes better than I had ever been able to do before. The Blue Ridge Music Center was designed to attract tourists, so all sorts of people stop by to listen during any live musical event. Today was no different. E was struck by how thoroughly one woman seemed to be enjoying the music. (I find it kind of ironic that I was a part of the “band,” as far as this lady is concerned, but I was as much a tourist as she was. Different strokes for different folks.)
After we left the music center, our next challenge was to find our way down to Stone Mountain State Park without mishap. The GoogleMaps directions wanted us to turn off the Parkway at a road named Mountain View Road. When we got there I thought it looked too dubious. With its low-hanging tree branches and dark entrance, all I could think of was impassable switchbacks and the nightmare of having to back the trailer up a long, winding road in the face of a too-low underpass. No, Thank You, GoogleMaps. I kept going, and the GoogleMaps voice was nice enough to re-route us. We left the Parkway on route 21, and found our way down, and down, and down, and around, and around, and around, until we eventually reached our destination: Stone Mountain State Park.
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.
Within a short time we had climbed 3,000 feet, and sure enough, we began to see blooms.
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.