The Crooked Road is what the Commonwealth of Virginia calls its roots music tourism agency, established in 2004 to promote the folk and roots music heritage of the Blue Ridge region. It really is a road, set up as a driving tour, winding 330 miles through the southwestern part of the state, with interesting musical and historical sites along the way.
Venues along the road include everything from quaint, mountainside cabins to modern museums. To be accepted as a recommended stop on the Crooked Road, an attraction must have significant appeal to serious students of Appalachian culture; the world’s largest washing machine won’t make the cut.
The newest stop to be added to the list is a barn. The Little River Bluegrass–Gospel Barn in Radford, VA. Many people know the town for the university located there, but there is also a large rural area that receives mail at that address. The Little River makes a sharp bend coming down Christiansburg Mountain just near Radford, and the Bluegrass Barn is located on a farm owned by retired real estate auctioneer Carl McNeil, on Little River Dam Road.
When he bought the property about 7 years ago, he found an old barn with two large silos, filled with wood and old junk. Carl had the idea to restore the barn and host bluegrass and Gospel music shows. He had been promoting bluegrass shows since the 1960s, and he figured a rustic barn was the perfect setting for a permanent home.
First he had to clean out the barn, and then bring the building up to code for public accommodation. Then he started filling it up again with the many odd and unique pieces he has collected over the years, from farm implements to antique teller machines and and old covered wagon. The milking barn was converted to modern restrooms, and a stage and green room area was built for artists.
He booked in Ralph Stanley, which got everyone’s attention, and other national and regional acts. Once word got out, the locals started calling it Carl’s Bluegrass Barn, the Little River Dam Barn, or just The Bluegrass Barn.
This weekend, when Ralph Stanley once again appears at the barn, McNeil will be presented with a banner acknowledging The Little River Bluegrass–Gospel Barn as an affiliated venue on The Crooked Road.
Jack Hinshelwood, Crooked Road executive director, said that it’s people like Carl who are really keeping the music alive.
“Going to the Barn and seeing all the interesting items Carl has collected over the years as an auctioneer is a big part of the experience. It’s a great thing when these venues are operated by people like Carl who have a real love of the music and appreciation for the people who make it.”
The Little River Bluegrass–Gospel Barn is located at 7800 Little River Dam Road in Radford, VA. They can be reached by phone at (540) 320-6145 or by email.
While there are concerts, festivals and events year round along the Crooked Road, they have something special planned for June of this year. From the 12th to the 20th, they will hold the Mountains of Music Homecoming, with more than 200 old time, bluegrass, and film music artists performing in 50 communities across southwest Virginia. It is being billed as the Ultimate Road Trip for lovers of traditional music, and you can find more details online.