Gone Country

Honky-tonk guitar legend Redd Volkaert traded Austin, Texas, for Galax—and loves it.

It’s nearing 6 p.m. on a Thursday night when a crowd of about 30 moseys onto the century-old hardwood dancefloor before the Floyd Country Store’s tiny indoor stage. They range from small children to 70-somethings and sip coffees and old-timey ice cream sodas in the dry venue as a big, gray-bearded man in black cargo pants, button-up shirt, and trucker’s cap, straps on a road-worn butterscotch telecaster and nods to the drummer and stand-up bassist.  

With a twangy six-string intro, they launch into a sauntering rendition of Willie Nelson’s 1961 classic, “Hello Walls”—and the crowd comes alive. The way they partner up, sway, step, twirl to the beat, hoot, and cheer after each brilliantly crafted guitar solo feels more like an Austin, Texas, club show than a freebie in a sleepy southwest Virginia town some 30 miles from the nearest city.

And there’s good reason for that. 

The all-star trio is led by legendary country and western swing guitarist Redd Volkaert. The 65-year-old Grammy winner spent most of the past 25 years as the Live Music Capital of the World’s resident guitar king. He was a Nashville staple before that and won acclaim through virtuosic leadwork that seamlessly blends chicken-pickin’ with dashes of old school blues, rock, and jazz. Volkaert has performed with stars like Merle Haggard, George Jones, Dolly Parton, Dwight Yoakam, Johnny Paycheck, ZZ Top’s Billie Gibbons, and countless others. 

edd has really shaped the way I play,” country superstar Brad Paisley told Vintage Guitar in a 2005 interview. He met Volkaert while attending Belmont University in Nashville in the mid-1990s and could often be found taking notes during the latter’s performances. The two became friends and have since played together on numerous recordings—including 2008’s “Clusterpluck,” which won a Grammy for best country instrumental. 

“He’s such a great player,” Paisley continued, you just “can’t believe the combination of [styles and techniques] he infuses into his tele-playing. It’s incredible.” 

Until recently you’d never find Volkaert playing a venue this small. But the legend adopted Floyd Country Store as his honkytonk home-away-from-home after shocking the music world with a move to Galax in 2020. 

“Some people thought I’d lost my marbles,” Volkaert chuckles in his patent gravelly baritone. But after 45 years of relentless gigs and cross-country tours, “my wife and I decided it was time to slow things down a bit and focus on ourselves and spending time with our dogs, horses, and miniature donkeys.”  

What inspired Volkaert to trade one of the world’s top musical meccas for Virginia’s rural mountains?

“I remembered touring through there in the ’80s and being amazed by how beautiful and green everything was, and how kind and sincere the people seemed to be,” says Volkaert, a Canadian by birth, who grew up in British Columbia. “I mentioned it to my wife, and next thing you know, we’d hopped on a plane and rented a car to check it out.”

The trip did more than confirm Volkaert’s previous sentiments. He was amazed by how much the area had changed, yet managed to retain its rural character. For instance, revered acoustic guitar-maker Wayne Henderson had launched an eponymous festival and School of Appalachian Arts. The Crooked Road Musical Heritage Trail brought national attention to the region’s deep-rooted music traditions and a string of mid-sized venues—including the Blue Ridge Music Center in Galax. It also boosted awareness around the city’s annual fiddlers’ convention, which is the country’s longest running music festival.  

Photography by Sam Dean

Though commonly known as a Fender Telecaster player, Volkaert’s collection also includes a Gibson Les Paul, a Collings I-35, and a Fender Stratocaster.

That Charlotte International Airport, Abingdon, and Roanoke were all within two hours driving distance sweetened the deal. Finding a small ranch just outside of town with beautiful views, fences, and stables sealed it. 

“We fell in love,” says Volkaert. After spending most of his life living in cities, tour buses, and hotel rooms, “it’s the most incredible thing to wake up every day to all this nature. I can’t get enough of it.” 

But Volkaert didn’t—and does not—have any intention of retiring. He planned to continue touring in small bursts in groups like the Twangbangers with guitar legend Bill Kirchen (nicknamed “titan of the telecaster”) and singer/songwriter Dallas Wayne. And he wanted to form a local trio. 

That quickly led him to Floyd Country Store owner, bassist, and former Jefferson Center artistic director Dylan Locke who, in turn, brought on Virginia Tech percussion professor, Adam Clark. The three now anchor a honkytonk scene at the store and are steadily expanding to other venues in surrounding areas. Meanwhile, Volkaert has been looking into teaching opportunities at centers like Henderson’s.

“What can I say? I’m nuts about the guitar and have been all my life,” he says. For good or ill, “I don’t see that ever changing. I’m as crazy about it now as I was when I started at age 13. I figure when I die they’ll probably have to pry one out of my hands.” 

Photography by Sam Dean

Redd Volkaert performs at the Floyd Country Store in 2022. Left: Volkaert’s BC Country Music Association Hall of Fame and Texas Western Swing Hall of Fame awards, plus a picture with regular bandmates Chris Gilson and Nate Rowe.

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Star Gazing and Laser Nights

Virginia Living Museum

Star Gazing and Laser Nights

Virginia Living Museum

Star Gazing and Laser Nights

Virginia Living Museum