Southwestern Virginia Home to Rich Musical Traditions
If the two of you love bluegrass, you’ll love this part of Virginia, with its regularly scheduled music shows and festivals as well as rich music heritage.

A stranger — they pity the farmers, the mines,
His struggles, poverty always there,
A man and his plow, a weathered dear brow,
A family all knitted by prayer.
The fragrance of lilacs on Jim Thomas Hill,
The meadows a carpet of green.
Appalachia, my home — all I’ll ever own.
Rare beauty, the land of my dreams.
Janette Carter, "My Appalachian Mountain Home"

Today the southwestern region of Virginia -- considered part of southern Appalachia and stretching from Roanoke southwest to the Kentucky border -- is gaining overdue recognition for its long-held traditional mountain and bluegrass music. The plaintive songs heard in the hills and hollows years ago spawned a uniquely American genre that grew into a multimillion-dollar country music industry.

Recently the success of the movie, "O Brother Where Art Thou," featuring the music of Virginian Ralph Stanley, generated a nationwide, sold-out concert series, "Down from the Mountain Tour."

Travelers from around the United States and foreign countries come to Southwest Virginia for fiddle conventions, live country music performances in down-home settings, spontaneous jamborees and flat-foot dancing. For those who love live music, whether played on the autoharp, hammer dulcimer, fiddle, banjo, guitar, mandolin or bass, this corner of the commonwealth provides an earful.

A logical place to begin a tour of the heritage of mountain and country music is in Bristol, located on the Virginia-Tennessee line. Bristol sports country music murals and monuments along its downtown streets and has been called the "birthplace of country music." In 1998, Congress made this designation official. Bristol was the location of the first countrymusic recordings made for national distribution in 1927.

The Birthplace of Country Music Alliance Museum in Bristol preserves and promotes the musical and cultural heritage of the region. It provides a forum for live performances and features collections of instruments, records and awards from country music legends such as Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs and Bristol native "Tennessee" Ernie Ford.

Permanent exhibits focus on the 1927 Bristol sessions as well as several of the radio stations that helped launch mountain music to regional and national audiences. The museum recently moved to a new location, allowing for larger exhibition space for the photographs, memorabilia and recordings of the legends of mountain and traditional music.

The Carters, a noted Virginia family, was one of 19 musical groups recorded at the 1927 Bristol recording sessions. Today, A.P. and Sara Carter’s daughter, Janette, keeps the family traditions going by operating the Carter Family Fold in tiny Hiltons, just 20 miles northwest of Bristol. Every Saturday night, musical performances -- with acoustical instruments only -- are held in the 1,000-seat concert shed built into the side of a mountain. Janette herself, now in her 70s, emcees the show, performs and brings in musicians from the region and surrounding states. Other Carter family relatives — including Janette’s brother and son -- also perform at the Fold when in town. Janette stages a large August music festival at the Fold as well, which sometimes features relative June Carter Cash and her husband Johnny Cash.

Another Virginia living legend, Ralph Stanley, makes his home in nearby McClure. Stanley and his Clinch Mountain Boys tour throughout the year, but he always makes time to appear at bluegrass festivals in the area. His own Ralph Stanley Festival is held each spring, not far from Coeburn. The 75-old singer won 2002 Grammy awards for best country male vocalist performance and album of the year.

Another ideal spot to soak up the rich culture of the region and its music is the Blue Ridge Institute and Museum in Ferrum. The institute’s website,, offers a wealth of information on the history of Blue Ridge music, the instruments and a comprehensive listing of musical events throughout the region. The museum exhibits often highlight a particular aspect of the musical heritage of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Past museum exhibits’ topics have included old-time musical instrument-making, early Virginia African American recording artists, Virginia ballads and "Southwest Virginia’s Recording Legacy, 1923-1943."

The institute’s very own Blue Ridge Folklife Festival, held each October, features three stages ringing forth with continuous gospel, ballads, blues and old-time string band music. Performers have included Janette Carter, Larry Sigmon and Barbara Poole, Wayne Henderson & Friends and numerous other regional groups. Festival-goers can nourish their souls on foods as well, all prepared in traditional ways, and watch crafts demonstrations and farm-animal competitions.

In the tiny town of Floyd, not far from the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Friday Night Jamboree attracts folks from near and far for live bluegrass music and dancing. What started out as a practice session for local musicians quickly turned into a Friday night institution attracting locals and visitors who got wind of the down-home goings on. Held in the 1930-era Floyd Country Store, the jamboree brings in a variety of bands and performers and is so popular the crowds sometimes spill out onto the street.

Bluegrass music, broom dances, cake walks, clogging and other performances take place each Saturday night in the new Country Cabin II near Norton. This new log structure seats approximately 200 and also serves as the site of the annual Doc Boggs Festival, held the second Saturday in September. Owned and operated by former bluegrass musicians, the Country Cabin II attracts performers from a four-state region.

Galax is officially called the "world capital of old-time mountain music," and a visit to this scenic town in the Blue Ridge Mountains proves why. Galax is well-known worldwide for its Old Time Fiddlers Convention, held each August in Felts Park. Tens of thousands of musicians and onlookers flock to the convention for performances, impromptu jam sessions and flat-foot dancing.

The renovated Rex Theater in downtown Galax, built in 1938, holds "Blue Ridge Backroads Live" every Friday night, featuring traditional string, bluegrass and old-time music performed by local and regional musicians. The show has continued to attract nationally known bluegrass and old-time musicians such as The Kruger Brothers from Switzerland and Grammy winner Dan Tyminski, who appeared in June 2001. A favorite local musician, world-renowned for his guitar-picking and craftsmanship, Wayne Henderson, performs regularly throughout the year at the Rex. Since 1999, radio station WBRF-FM has broadcast "Blue Ridge Backroads Live," one of only just three live bluegrass and old-time radio shows in the country.

Just 10 miles outside of Galax on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the new amphitheater at the Blue Ridge Music Center holds Saturday night concerts featuring bluegrass and traditional artists as well as some top-name country music performers. The 300-seat amphitheater is phase one of the complex that will include a museum, an instrument-making shop and interpretive center where classes in musicianship and instrument-making will be held when completed in 2004.

Visitors to southwestern Virginia will be awed by the rugged beauty of the Allegheny and Appalachian mountains. Natives and those who’ve moved here provide a warm welcome accented with genuine hospitality. The venues for pure bluegrass and mountain music reflect the simplicity of the music and the acoustic instruments that produce it. Following the musical trail through these parts is a journey of discovery of the real America.

Janette Carter, in her autobiography "Living with Memories," could be describing any number of musicians nurtured in the hills of southwestern Virginia who sang, strummed and performed their music for the love of it: "The Carter Family never realized what an impact they had on the music world. All they were trying to do was to provide for their families, but they brought happiness beyond measure to millions of people, both here and the world over."

For more information and for a free "Virginia Is for Lovers Travel Guide," contact the Virginia Tourism Corporation by calling (804) 932-5827 or visiting

Virginia Mountain/Country Music Fact Sheet

For musical events information in Southwestern Virginia, contact:

Blue Ridge Travel Association
468 East Main Street, Suite 300A/P.O. Box 2589
Abingdon, VA 24212
Tel: (276) 619-5003
Fax: (276) 619-5004

Heart of Appalachia
P.O. Box 207
Cloverleaf Square, Suite G3
Big Stone Gap, VA 24219
Tel: (276) 523-2005
(888) 798-2386
(866) MTN MUSIC [(866) 686-6874]
Fax: (276) 523-1565

Galax Tourism Department
111 E. Grayson Street
Galax, VA 24333
(276) 238-8130

Grayson County Tourism
P.O. Box 336
Independence, VA 24348
(276) 773-3711

Birthplace of Country Music Alliance Museum
500 Gate City Highway
Suite 140
Bristol, VA 24201
(423) 990-2262

Blue Ridge Institute & Farm Museum and Blue Ridge Folklife Festival
Ferrum College
Route 40
Ferrum, VA 24088
(540) 365-4416

Fourth Saturday in October
Rex Theater
109 East Grayson Street
Galax, VA 24333
(276) 238-8130

Blue Ridge Music Center
Milepost 213
Blue Ridge Parkway
(276) 236-5309

A Sampler of Major Bluegrass Music Events in Southwest Virginia

Friday Night Jamboree
Floyd Country Store
Floyd, VA 24091
(540) 745-4563

Every Friday night

Carter Family Fold & Museum
Highway 614, Route 1
Hiltons, VA 24258
(276) 386-9480
Every Saturday night
Carter Family Traditional Music Festival is held the first Saturday in August and the preceeding Friday.

Whitetop Mountain Maple Festival
Mount Rogers School
Whitetop, VA 24292
(276) 773-3711
Last full weekend of March

Fairview Ruritan Club Fiddlers’ Convention
Fairview Ruritan Club
Independence, VA 24348
(276) 773-3711
Fourth Saturday in March

Festival in the Pines
Tripple Creek Park
Rocky Mount, VA 24151
(540) 483-9839
Second weekend in May

Ralph Stanley Bluegrass Festival
Route 643, Smith Ridge
Box 576
Coeburn, VA 24230
(276) 523-2005 or
Thursday-Saturday of
Memorial Day weekend

Memorial Day Gospel Singing
Breaks Interstate Park
P.O. Box 100
Breaks, VA 24607
(276) 865-4413 or
(800) 982-5122
Memorial Day weekend

Memorial Day Gospel Sing
Dominion Valley Park
Stuart, VA 24171
(276) 694-7009

Whitetop Mountain Ramp Festival
Mount Rogers Fire Hall
Independence, VA 24348
(276) 773-3711
Third Sunday in May


Bluegrass in the Park
Breaks Interstate Park
Breaks, VA 24607
(276) 865-4413 or
(800) 982-5122
Each Saturday throughout June, July and August

Galax Leaf & String Festival
Downtown Galax and Blue Ridge Music Center
(276) 238-8130

Chautauqua Festival
Elizabeth Brown Memorial Park
Wytheville, VA 24382
(276) 228-6855
Third weekend in June

Scott County Old Time Fiddlers Convention
Scott County Vocational Center
Gate City, VA 24251
Third Saturday of June

Wayne C. Henderson Music Festival & Guitar Competition
Grayson Highlands State Park
Mouth of Wilson, VA 24363
(276) 579-7092
Third Saturday of June

Grayson County Fiddlers’ Convention
Elk Creek School, Rt. 658
Elk Creek, VA 24326
(276) 773-3711
Last Weekend in June


Bluegrass Extravaganza
Breaks Interstate Park
Breaks, VA 24607
(276) 865-4413 or (800) 982-5122
Fourth of July celebration.

Fire on the Mountain
Fourth of July Celebration
Poor Farmer’s Farm
Vesta, VA 24177
(276) 952-2560

Fourth of July
Independence Fourth of July Celebration
1908 Courthouse
Independence, VA 24348
(276) 773-3711

Virginia Highlands Festival
Abingdon, VA 24210
(800) 435-3440 or
(276) 623-5266

Wayside Bluegrass Festival
Wayside Park
Stuart, VA 24171
(276) 694-7718

Summer Gospel Sing
Dominion Valley Park
Stuart, VA 24171
(276) 694-7009
Last weekend in July


Fries Fiddlers’ and
Bluegrass Convention
Fries Town Park
Fries,VA 24330
(276) 773-3711
Third weekend in August

Cabbage Festival
Poor Farmer’s Farm
Vesta, VA 24177
(276) 952-2560
Fourth Saturday of August

Tazewell County Old Time Bluegrass and Fiddler’s Convention
Historic Crab Orchard
Museum & Pioneer Park
U.S. Routes 19 and 460 at Crab Orchard Road
Tazewell, VA 24651
(276) 988-6755

Old Fiddlers’ Convention
Felts Park
Galax, VA 24333
(276) 238-8130 or

Fries Fiddlers Convention
Fries Town Park
Fries, VA 24330
(276) 773-3711
Third weekend in August

Labor Day Gospel Sing
Dominion Valley Park
Stuart, VA 24171
(276) 694-7009

Tri-State Gospel Singing
Breaks Interstate Park
(276) 865-4413 or
(800) 982-5122
Last weekend in August

Labor Day Gospel Sing
Dominion Valley Park
Stuart, VA 24171
(276) 694-6012 or
(276) 694-7009

Guest River Rally
Main Street
Coeburn, VA 24230
(276) 395-3323 or
Saturday-Monday of Labor Day weekend

Adwolfe Old-Time and Bluegrass Fiddlers Convention
Adwolfe Community Center
Marion, VA 24354
(276) 783-3161

Old-Time and Bluegrass Music Festival
Troutdale Fire Hall
291 Ripshin Road
Troutdale, VA 24378
(276) 579-2265
Second Saturday in September

Dock Boggs Festival
Country Cabin II
State Route 58 Alternative
Norton, VA 24273
Second Saturday of September

Festival by the New River
Fries Town Park
Fries, VA 24330
(276) 773-3711
Third Saturday in September

Mountain Fest
Natural Tunnel State Park
Duffield, VA 24244
(276) 940-2674
Fourth Saturday of September

Autumn Festival and
Farmer’s Day
Farmer’s Market
Rocky Mount, VA 24151
(540) 482-9211
Last Saturday in September

Grayson Highlands Fall Festival
Grayson Highland State Park
Mouth of Wilson, VA 24363
(276) 579-7092
Fourth Weekend in September


Baywood Fall Festival
Baywood School
Independence, VA 24348
(276) 773-3711
First Saturday in October

Mountain Foliage Festival
Historic 1908 Courthouse
Independence, VA 24348
(276) 773-3711
Second Saturday in October

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