Thursday, June 19, 2014

Bluegrass Heaven

We live in Bluegrass heaven.

Any weekend May-September there is a festival to attend someplace in North Carolina and Virginia. In 2013 we launched the season with the Ralph Stanley Festival held on top of Clinch Mountain in southwest Virginia. 

Dr. Stanley, now in his mid-eighties is about at the end of his performing career. Last year he held an honorary position in the Clinch Mountain Boys rather than be the driving force he was formerly. His grandson now keeps the group going.

His home and the site of the festival is near Coeburn, Va. It is really out in the boonies. Wikipedia describes it as in the "ridge-and-valley section of the Appalachian Mountains." As an old-fashioned relief map it would look like the folds of skin on a Shar-Pei.  The one-and-a quarter-lane county route 652 twists and winds up and around to a more or less flat place at the top of the mountain. How those RVs made it up that road I don't know. 

On the way we passed a beautiful garden. I knocked on the door to ask permission to take pictures, but no one was home. I took pictures anyway. 

As festivals go, the crowd was small, and diverse. It was chilly, and everyone was trying to keep warm with jackets, quilts, and even sleeping bags. One middle aged woman wore a camaflouge jacket and a Busch beer baseball hat. On the other hand, some of crowd looked like serious hikers who had stopped on their way over the mountain, wearing well-worn Columbia or Eddie Bauer outerwear. 

The music ran the gamut from very traditional old-time ballads to contemporary songs performed by the song-writers. I liked "Get "Em Up", a rough, bluesy gospel number,  performed by Dave Adkins and Republik Steele. The group disbanded later, but I sure enjoyed hearing them.

The local flavor of mountain speech added a rich cultural layer too. Using grammar that would make a school teacher cringe, the Master of Ceremonies introduced one group. "These old boys is real good friends of mine."  

Between songs a banjo player retold a story about "John seen the bar (bear) coming down the RR crossing." I enjoyed his style so much I forgot the punch line.

The trip back down the mountain was even steeper than the way we came in. We agreed that we'd "rode around these hills," another phrase used by a performer.

We stayed at a the Sleep Inn in nearby Clintwood. At breakfast the next morning several of the guests were pick' and jammin' among the diners. We chatted with one couple who had come from Boulder, Colorado for the festival. Another gentleman had traveled from Belgium.

I wish more Americans would explore the heritage being carried forward by the generations succeeding Doc Watson, Dr. Stanley and the Carter family. We enjoy a national treasure with each concert. 

Add to that the opportunity to step back into the mountain experience, far removed culturally from our overly-homogenized cities, and we have the opportunity to experience another era in our history. 

Next week we'll be taking in day one of the Red, White & Blue Festival at Catawba Meadows Park in Morganton, NC.  I can't wait to sample more local flavor. 

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