Yesterday afternoon in Abingdon, VA, the The Crooked Road held a press conference at their Heartwood Center to announce the details of the 2017 Mountains of Music Homecoming. The Crooked Road is a public/private partnership between the state and local communities and businesses to boost tourism in western Virginia, using mountain music as the hook.
This will be their third annual celebration of the traditional music and folk arts of the Appalachian region, occurring in communities across southwestern Virginia over 8 days next summer (June 9-17). The idea is to give fans of mountain music an opportunity to sample all that this region has to offer during a prime vacation time, combined with events centered around cuisine, dance, academics, film, jam sessions and other aspects of Appalachian culture.
By spreading these events over 8 days in various different communities, visitors are encouraged to discover parts of the state they mightn’t otherwise, boosting local economies and businesses, and giving these smaller cities and towns a chance to spruce up and shine for folks from all over the country. Tying these venues to important figures in bluegrass and old time music also presents an occasion to share more about the history of the art form and the people that created it.
John Kilgore, President of the Crooked Road, discussed the survey they conducted during the 2016 Homecoming, where they interviewed over 500 attendees at various venues along the Crooked Road last June. They found that more than a third of the visitors came from outside southwest Virginia, and that nearly half of them had come specially for the Mountains of Music events. Of those, 96% spoke favorably of the event, and would recommend attending to their family and friends.
This, of course, is what tourism officials love to hear! People had traveled in from all over the US, both from neighboring states like North Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Kentucky, and from far greater distances as well. And by hosting the many concerts, festivals, and other cultural experiences in out-of-the-way locales, people are more likely to explore the towns they visit, finding even more to cherish along the way.
Crooked Road Director Jack Hinshelwood led the conference, introducing dignitaries and sponsors from all across the region who were proud to see their communities featured in a celebration like this, which will be widely marketed and promoted all over the country. He identified the theme of the 2017 Mountains of Music Homecoming as The Year We Sang, celebrating the many fine singers who have emerged from this part of Virginia. Most particularly, they will recognize and celebrate the music of Ralph Stanley who passed away earlier this year.
Ralph’s son, Ralph Stanley II, spoke about a pair of Stanley Legacy Concerts that will be held during the Homecoming. Ricky Skaggs and Larry Sparks, two popular entertainers whose careers started with Ralph will perform, along with Ralph II who is continuing with his father’s band, The Clinch Mountain Boys. These shows will be held June 11 at the Moss Arts Center at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, and again on the 12th at The Country Cabin in Norton, where there will also be a panel discussion with many former members of the Clinch Mountain Boys. Bluegrass historian Gary Reid will film the discussions for an eventual DVD release.
Deb Wells from Lays Hardware in Coeburn spoke about their Homecoming concert with Jesse McReynolds & the Virginia Boys, one of two shows that are scheduled at their Lays Hardware Center For The Arts. For Jesse, it will be a true homecoming as he and his brother Jim were born and raised there in town. The store will also be leading tours to the McReynolds homeplace, where Jesse will greet visitors. It’s a great opportunity to learn more about these iconic artists.
Ted Olson, from the Appalachian Studies department at ETSU, discussed a concert lauding the Ballad Tradition at Emory & Henry University with Sheila Kay Adams, Archie Fisher, and Elizabeth LaPrelle. Roddy Moore from the Blue Ridge Institute at Ferrum College shared information about their show honoring the American Ballad Tradition featuring Aoife Clancy, John Roberts, and Norman Kennedy on June 9. The Ferrum event will examine how the music of the British Isles has influenced American folk music. Ms. Clancy is the daughter of Bobby Clancy of the famous Irish folksingers, The Clancy Brothers. Ferrum will also host an exhibit of Appalachian artists during Mountains of Music.
Details were also shared about three culinary events billed as Feastivals, at which Appalachian food writer Ronni Lundy will speak. Noted chefs will share the haute cuisine of Virginia’s mountains, paired with traditional music and new creations from artisans of the region. These will be held June 11 in Hillsville, June 13 in Meadows of Dan, and June 17 in St Paul. All will feature locally-sourced, farm-to-table offerings.
Larry Yates, Mayor of Haysi spoke with pride of holding a Doyle Lawson concert on June 9 with the Haysi Kiwanis, and Richard Emmet, program director at the Blue Ridge Music Center near Galax, announced a western swing show with The Quebe Sisters. Debbie Robinson and Mike Ayers with HostonFest talked about their Galax festival (June 9-10) which remembers the life of young bluegrass musician Houston Caldwell who died tragically in 2010. Their lineup next year will include The Earls of Leicester, Flatt Lonesome, The Church Sisters, Volume Five, Carson Peters, and many others.
Many more events are scheduled for Mountains of Music Homecoming in 2017, with more still to be added. Full details are expected to be posted online by December 20 and you should keep checking back from time to time as more are listed.
As a Virginia native, I can think of many reasons to visit our lovely Commonwealth, but for lovers of Appalachian music and culture, this is perhaps the best we have to offer. Come for a weekend in June and see some of your favorite performers in a variety of settings, or plan a week in our mountains to explore and experience all they have to offer.
Or as Jeff Hess of Virginia Tourism put it, “Dinner is ready, the table is set. Come see what we have in Southwest Virginia.”
Congratulations to The Crooked Road and all the people who work hard to showcase our region in this way.