Blue Ridge Music Trails: Finding a Place in the Circleby Fred C. Fussell, Cedric N. Chatterley
The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and Virginia are the heart of a region where traditional music and dance are celebrated as nowhere else in America. This book is a comprehensive traveler's guide to discovering the many places where this unique music-making legacy thrives. The book leads readers to more than 160 venues and events filled with bluegrass and
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The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and Virginia are the heart of a region where traditional music and dance are celebrated as nowhere else in America. This book is a comprehensive traveler's guide to discovering the many places where this unique music-making legacy thrives. The book leads readers to more than 160 venues and events filled with bluegrass and string band music, ballad singing, fiddling, shape-note singing, gospel music, clogging, and other traditional forms of music and dance.
Vivid descriptions bring the mountain music scene to life in all its diversity. Nearly 150 color photographs are partnered with the moving words of musicians themselves, allowing readers a glimpse into the hearts and minds of the bearers of this enduring folk legacy. Concise driving directions and up-to-date maps accompany the entries for the events covered, which range from small, local jam sessions to well-known festivals that draw thousands of fans.
An engaging and essential resource for music lovers, this guide invites everyone to experience a great American musical tradition.
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Blue Ridge Music TrailsFinding a Place in the Circle
By Fred Fussell
The University of North Carolina PressCopyright © 2003 University of North Carolina Press
All right reserved.
Chapter OneEntering the Circle
The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and Virginia form the heart of a traditional music-making legacy that is unique in America. This is a region where traditional music and dance are performed and celebrated as in no other place in America. Regular weekly square dances featuring live music are still popular in mountain communities. Many local radio stations throughout the Blue Ridge broadcast live performances of traditional music by local musicians. An annual fiddlers' convention featuring local players is probably taking place somewhere nearly every weekend during the summer, and homemade music competes favorably with the popular commercial offerings that dominate the music scene in most other regions of the United States.
A dozen musicians from western North Carolina and western Virginia have been awarded the National Heritage Fellowship, our nation's highest honor for traditional artists. Doc Watson, who has become a kind of national father figure for Southern Appalachian roots music, is among this group.
Traditional mountain music is an integral component of community celebrations and holiday festivities throughout the Blue Ridge. Fiddle bands play at molasses makings and at small-town festivals; singers gather to perform shape-note hymns and have dinner on the grounds; and residents of small communities gather at a hundred or more local venues to enjoy traditional music played by their friends and next-door neighbors.
All of this musical activity flourishes in a region that is one of the most popular tourist destinations in America. Tens of thousands of outsiders visit the Blue Ridge every year to enjoy mountain vacations. In springtime visitors hike the winding hillside trails, enjoy the grandeur of high-country vistas along the Blue Ridge Parkway, or fish for trout in the cold, clear waters of mountain streams and rivers. In summer residents of warmer climes come seeking relief from the lowcountry heat. Visitors crowd the narrow mountain roadways in autumn to enjoy the spectacle of colorful foliage. In winter families and church groups arrive by the busload to ski and to play in the snow at mountain resorts.
While they're in the area, many tourists stop to have a look at one or two of the numerous roadside attractions that vie for their attention. Some pan for gold and jewels near Spruce Pine and Marion, North Carolina, sifting carefully through buckets of mountain dirt in search of semiprecious stones and anything else that glitters. Others search for and select that perfect Christmas tree from among the many thousands that dot the high-country hillsides. Still others watch woolly worms climb up lengths of cotton twine or shop in the quaint mountain gift shops and craft galleries.
Yet, down deep, most visitors sense that there's something more to this beautiful place than the superficial traces of community that they find on their own or with the aid of tourist brochures. And even though they may long for a more meaningful connection with mountain people and authentic mountain culture, they're often at a loss as to how to achieve it. It's not easy-or at least it doesn't seem to be-for strangers in an unfamiliar community to meet local residents and experience the essential life of the place they're visiting.
The problem is compounded by a lingering and misguided notion that the people of Southern Appalachia are actually akin to the many insulting comic-strip and TV-sitcom representations of them. Those exaggerated stereotypical images of mountaineers live on, especially in the minds of some who are visiting the mountains for the first time. Visions of encountering Snuffy Smith, Li'l Abner, Daisy Mae, Jed Clampett, Ernest T. Bass, and those half-witted, dentally challenged, perverted, mean-as-a-snake characters in the movie Deliverance invade the minds of many who go there. More recently, the popular movies Songcatcher and Oh Brother Where Art Thou? have added more characters to the list. On the other hand, there's no denying that the soundtracks of these and other such popular motion pictures have introduced mountain music to multitudes of people who might otherwise never have heard it.
Despite that, mountain residents are puzzled, angered, and wounded by the way they are, time and again, unfairly perceived by outsiders. They see themselves in a completely different light. They are rightfully proud of their musical heritage and proud of the cultural characteristics that distinguish them from other Americans. Many are very much aware, both as individuals and as members of traditional communities, that they have inherited an unparalleled and precious cultural legacy, and that it's their responsibility to maintain and to transmit that legacy forward to subsequent generations.
Some of them continue to sing traditional ballads that have been handed down for generations, ballads that reach far back into history. And even though those ballads may speak of people they've never seen and places they've never been, the traditional singers hold on to them. They're aware of the rarity and the importance of such songs. And, furthermore, they simply like to sing them.
Many Blue Ridge music makers play stringed instruments using techniques they learned from family members and neighbors. Making music is a vital social function for many people who live in the region. Some have grown from infancy to old age knowing traditional music as an integral part of their everyday lives-not just through CDs or radio or television, but as living music played by living people, both at home and out in the community.
And do they evermore play music out in public! The traditional music makers of the Blue Ridge-farmers, teachers, postal workers, barbers, architects, pharmacists, students, nurses, merchants, technicians, and other ordinary folks-love nothing more than to get together, socialize, tell corny jokes, eat good food, and make music. They play in community centers, coffee shops, barbecue restaurants, music stores, fast-food joints, shopping malls, community festivals, street fairs, barbershops, school auditoriums, and town parks. They play traditional bluegrass, old-time, country-and-western, gospel, and blues, and they play with gusto, enthusiasm, and energy.
They will generously share their time-honored traditions and practice-honed skills with any who want to listen, all the while swapping tunes, techniques, and lyrics with their fellow players. They make their music with a fine humor and with light hearts, but at the same time they're serious about it. They pick, strum, frail, and bow strings of steel pulled tight across instruments of spruce, ebony, walnut, cherry, rosewood, mahogany, and maple. They beat pairs of metal or wooden spoons together in the palms of their hands, and they scrub their fingers across the ribs of metal or wooden washboards. They blow harmonicas. They tap out a rhythm with their dancing feet. They unabashedly sing out with high-pitched tenor voices, creating the distinctive harmonies that are the backbone of American country music. They know that their music is distinctively southern, distinctively Appalachian, distinctively American, distinctively theirs-and theirs to share.
The circle, both literal and symbolical, is important to traditional Blue Ridge musicians, who gather naturally in a circle when they come together to make music. The greater the number of players, the larger the circle grows. Local dances often begin with a circle or round dance. Everyone present can participate in a round dance, and the joining of hands within the circle reinforces the sense of community.
It is my hope that the information provided in this book-tips, leads, directions, maps, and images-will help people discover traditional mountain music. In the process, visitors will learn more about Blue Ridge communities and perhaps-if they are fortunate-find their place in the circle. The music is there. The music makers are there. Hear the music. Dance the dance. Gather round, folks, and listen up. You'll be glad you did. ...
About This Guidebook
The Blue Ridge Music Trails project focuses on a geographic region of the Southern Appalachian Mountains in western North Carolina and Virginia. Although the area encompasses five major mountain ranges, the project takes its name from the largest of these, the Blue Ridge Mountains, and from its close association with the Blue Ridge Parkway, the 469-mile scenic route that both traverses and links the region.
The Blue Ridge Music Trails connect traditional music venues and other resources to one another, to the Blue Ridge Parkway, and to major roads and byways of the region. The more than 160 sites included in this guidebook are public venues where traditional music is presented to general audiences; no new sites were created for this project. Sites were nominated by residents of the region or by folklorists who conducted fieldwork there between 1998 and 2001. The final selection of sites for inclusion in the project was based on criteria listed below, contingent upon written permission from those who own or run the venues.
Living traditions are not frozen in time, but change constantly to meet the needs of the local community. Traditional music is no exception. Music events in the Blue Ridge sometimes alter their schedules or locations, lose vitality, or even disappear altogether. New sites emerge when informal or private music gatherings move to public spaces, or when one or more determined individuals decide to create something new in their communities.
For these reasons, it is wise to contact sites in advance to verify the accuracy of the information presented here. A companion website, www.blueridgemusic.org, also supplements this guidebook. Website entries will be reviewed and updated on a regular basis and will therefore contain the most current information on sites. New music venues not included in this book will also be added if they meet the selection criteria.
Both the guidebook and the website are organized in a similar fashion. Western North Carolina and southwestern Virginia are divided into nine subregions, beginning with the counties that lie along the border between the two states. This area is home to the strongest and most visible musical traditions within the Southern Appalachians. From here the trails flow outward, alternately northward and southward, to the borders of the region.
As a matter of fact, no matter where he or she enters the region, a traveler cannot move systematically from one music venue to the next in order. Even though all of the events listed here occur on a regular basis, some are staged weekly, some monthly, and some annually, and some happen at the same time as others.
Each subregion corresponds to a chapter in this guidebook and a separate page on the website. The music and dance venues within each subregion are grouped under the counties in which they take place, and maps illustrate the locations of the communities where sites and venues are located. Note, however, that these maps do not show all secondary roads in the region. The website includes a link to Mapquest, which provides more detailed directions to many, though not all, of the sites.
The voices of musicians in the region occupy a prominent place in this publication. Through transcribed interviews, fourteen of these musicians tell the stories of their lives and explain what traditional music means to them and to their communities. These individuals speak on behalf of the thousands of residents who play and support traditional music in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Criteria for Site Selection
1. All the sites listed here are located in Southern Appalachian communities of North Carolina and Virginia where traditional music has been practiced for generations. Generally, the sites listed lie within twenty-five miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway or are situated within counties traversed by the Parkway. Certain exceptions to this rule were made where compelling reasons existed for doing so.
2. The music venues listed in this book are public sites that welcome visitors and have restroom and parking facilities.
3. All the venues display identifying signs or other recognizable means of site identification.
4. The selected venues present programs of traditional music and dance that have been handed down in the region over generations, are characteristic of and deeply rooted in communities, or are practiced by recently settled immigrant communities.
5. The following types of music resources were deemed eligible for inclusion in this guidebook: performances and events that significantly feature traditional music and dance; public jam sessions and performances; traditional music and dance instruction workshops and demonstrations; traditional music and dance displays, exhibits, and archival resources; local radio stations and programs that broadcast regional music; instrument makers and music shops that retail locally handmade instruments; shops that specialize in traditional music publications, recordings, and videos that are available for purchase; and landscapes and landmarks that are significant to traditional music and dance within the region.
Excerpted from Blue Ridge Music Trails by Fred Fussell Copyright © 2003 by University of North Carolina Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
What People are Saying About This
Yes, the Blue Ridge Mountains are alive with music, but you need to know when to go, and where you will be welcomed. The answers are here, and I hope you are ready to be called 'Old Buddy' or 'Honey Bunch.'Joe Wilson, National Council for the Traditional Arts
A good introduction to a remarkable regional musical culture. . . . If you're not much for guitars, fiddles and banjos, forget about it. But if you are, y'all come.Los Angeles Times
Featured articles on every aspect of this music, profiles of musicians and photos that depict the region's lifestyle add to the richness of this text. It's a keeper for any traveler interested in the musical heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains.Atlanta Journal-Constitution
A fascinating and innovative travel guide to the music and dance of the Blue Ridge Mountains in western North Carolina and Virginia. . . . Informative, exhaustive, and compelling, this guidebook will make any reader head directly to the Blue Ridge musical community to experience fiddlers' jamborees, gospel songs, and shape-note singing. Highly recommended to anyone interested in travel and the American musical tradition.Library Journal
Blue Ridge Music Trails is to Appalachian music what Rand McNally is to highway travel. . . . Bravo to all involved for bringing this publication to an anxiously awaiting music-loving public.Sing Out!
Meet the Author
Fred C. Fussell is a writer, curator, and documentary photographer whose work focuses on the study and interpretation of the traditional folk culture of the American South. His recent professional activities include creating exhibits for the Gertrude "Ma" Rainey House and Blues Museum in Columbus, GA; serving as exhibits consultant for The Carter Family Memorial Music Center (Carter Family Fold) in Hiltons, VA; and co-curating an exhibit for the Alabama Humanities Foundation on the Roots Music of Alabama. Fussell is an independent folklorist who currently is working on a guidebook to traditional music venues in Alabama. He lives in Columbus, Georgia.
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