Mountains of Music Homecoming

Celebrating the musical traditions of Southwest Virginia along the Crooked Road.

Photo by Tom Fitzsimmons

You don’t have to be near the ocean to enjoy beach music, and you don’t have to go to Vienna to hear a good waltz, but there is something special about experiencing music where it was born. It is, Jack Hinshelwood says, “the difference between having someone describe ice cream to you and eating it.

“There’s something more there to latch on to. There’s an opportunity to understand how places shape people and shape their culture and shape their music … It’s an opportunity to become immersed.”

Hinshelwood is executive director of the Crooked Road, an organization that connects 19 counties, four cities, and more than 70 venues and festivals in Southwest Virginia dedicated to traditional Appalachian music. Something happens along the Crooked Road every day, but the annual Mountains of Music Homecoming is the big hootenanny, a nine-day celebration of the region’s music and culture held at theaters, music centers, and public fields—from Ferrum toBreaks Interstate Park.​

One of the most exciting events this season will be the Galax Best All Around Performers Concert, featuring musicians who were named top artists at the Galax Old Fiddlers Convention—one of the biggest fiddlers’ conventions in Appalachia, first held in 1936. 

Among those performing this year are Jake Krack from Nicut, West Virginia, and Eddie Bond from Galax, who has won the honor twice. National Heritage Fellow Wayne Henderson, from the tiny mountain community of Rugby, is another.

The theme for this year’s Homecoming is Songs in the Key of Blue. That’s meant to evoke the Blue Ridge and bluegrass, but it’s also a nod to the blues and to African-Americans’ influence on the region; each year, the Homecoming features artists from a musical tradition that has had an impact on Appalachian music.​ 

Read about them in the Mountains of Music Homecoming Guide—80 pages of schedules, photos and information about everything from how to get there to stories about the region’s cultural traditions. Award-winning poet and Virginia Tech professor Nikki Giovanni, who has two historical markers dedicated to her, wrote a poem for this year’s guide, which also features essays about black Americans’ influence on mountain cuisine, music and culture. For 2018, that’s Beltonia, Mississippi, bluesman Jimmy Duck Holmes along with National Heritage Fellow and blues harmonica master Phil Wiggins and his Piedmont blues-playing House Party.​

Some big deal bluegrass names will be at the festival, too, including Del McCoury, Sammy Shelor, Doyle Lawson and others.

Fittingly, cover art on the guide,designed by Chilhowie native William Fields Way, includes a sign over the doorway to a barroom with a biblical invitation to those who labor. “Come unto me,” the verses begin, “and I will give you rest.” It is a homecoming, after all—even if you’ve never been there before.

This article originally appeared in our June 2018 issue. For more information on the Mountains of Music Homecoming and other summer music festivals around the state, click here.

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