Southwest Virginia's hills and valleys have long reverberated with the sounds of fiddles, banjoes, mandolins, and acoustic guitars. Scotch-Irish settlers brought these sounds with them, and for the generations before radio and television, front-porch gatherings and community dances entertained local families isolated, geographically and culturally, from the rest of civilization.
Virginia has designated a 250-mi route snaking through the hills as The Crooked Road: Virginia's Music Heritage Trail. What connects the communities and sites along this route is a passion for traditional mountain music—bluegrass, gospel, roots, and old-time country. Many people point to this region as the birthplace of the country-music industry. In 1927 talent scout Ralph Peer set up a makeshift recording studio in the Virginia-Tennessee border town of Bristol. From these sessions came such seminal acts as the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers. For more information, go to www.thecrookedroad.org. Sites are listed here from west to east.
Ralph Stanley Museum and Traditional Mountain Music Center. The Ralph Stanley Museum opened in 2004 to preserve traditional mountain music. Focusing on the life and career of local legend Ralph Stanley, the exhibits allow visitors to hear the music of Stanley and other artists. 249 Main St., Clintwood, VA, 24228. 276/926–5591. www.ralphstanleymuseum.com.
Carter Family Fold. At this 1,000-seat auditorium, live music is performed on Saturday night; a two-day festival is held each August. A museum in an adjacent building displays memorabilia from the Carter Family; descendants often perform in the shows. U.S. 58/421, 19 mi west of Bristol, Hiltons, VA, 24258. 276/386–6054 or 276/386–9480. www.carterfamilyfold.org.
Old Fiddlers Convention. Hundreds of musicians and thousands of fans gather at Felts Park the second week of August for performances, contests, and jam sessions. 601 S. Main St., Galax, VA, 24333. 276/236–8541. www.oldfiddlersconvention.com.
Rex Theatre. Bluegrass, country, and gospel music is broadcast from here each Friday night on WBRF, FM–98.1. 113 E. Grayson St., Galax, VA, 24333. 276/236–0329 or 276/236–0668. www.rextheateregalax.com.
Blue Ridge Music Center. The center's outdoor amphitheater is the site of an ambitious concert series of regional and national musicians that has included the likes of Ricky Skaggs and Doc Watson. Impromptu jam sessions often break out in the center's plaza area. 700 Foothills Dr., Galax [Blue Ridge Pkwy. milepost 213, near NC line], Blacksburg, VA, 24333. 276/236–5309. www.blueridgemusiccenter.net.
Floyd Country Store. What were once just sessions have evolved into a Friday Night Jamboree attended by local folks and visitors from far off. In summer, music often breaks out all around the store as well. "Granny Rules" are in effect—"no smokin', no cussin', and no drinkin'." But clogging on the dance floor is fine. 206 S. Locust St., Floyd, VA, 24091. 540/745–4563. www.floydcountrystore.com. $3.