Virginia's Heritage Music Trail - Driving Appalachia's Crooked Road

Spend time in Floyd or Galax watching fiddle pickers perform and fall in love with Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail. Old time, bluegrass, folk, gospel and other musical styles define the lively melody of The Crooked Road. This twisting and turning history trail through southern Virginia’s Appalachian Mountains is celebrating its 20th Anniversary in 2024.

Scenery lovers especially appreciate that roads dotted with music history highlights and performance venues overlap much of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Live music, museums, cultural landmarks and great good make Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail a great family destination.

A male musician playing a banjo.
Live music is everywhere along Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail known as The Crooked Road.

In Floyd, Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail Comes Alive

Floyd, Virginia has long been a musical outpost along The Crooked Road. After two decades of notoriety in Virginia, it remains a small town kept alive by fans of old-time (pronounced ol’ timey). The heart and soul of Floyd is the ca. 1910 Floyd Country Store. Stop and shop for for souvenirs, food and music DVDs till you discover the stage tucked behind flannel shirts and jam jars.

On any given day you’ll find farmers playing checkers, tourists sampling penny candy, or maybe a community of artisans planning the next Crafts Fair. Perhaps most important is Friday night, when this region’s cultural life is celebrated at The Floyd Friday Night Jamboree.

Doing the Floyd Friday Night Jamboree

Couples dancing to live music at the Sunday Jamboree in the Floyd Country Store, along the Crooked Road. Photo c. Floyd Country Store.
Couples dancing to live music at the Sunday Jamboree in the Floyd Country Store, along the Crooked Road. Photo c. Floyd Country Store.

Crowd into downtown Floyd at 3pm, leaving your car in one of the lots off South Locust Street or, if you’re going for the full experience, at the expansive Hotel Floyd. This down home establishment now has a cozy, quilt-draped Appalachian style wood lodge and meeting space. They were added to the original concrete block motel known for its psychedelic wall mural that decorated Main Street.

Today, families from around the world join those who linger, sharing banjo licks and acoustic guitar riffs on the porch. The ones who never return home are known by locals as “back-to-the-landers.” In fact, if you submit a demo song or two to the Floyd Country Store, and you and the kids might just find yourselves like the Carter Family, performing in Floyd on stage.

Live music events take place at The Floyd Country Store most Thursday to Sunday nights. It’s always busy in Floyd so you’ll want to buy tickets online in advance. If you missed your chance, pick up $10 tickets ($5 for kids ages 7-12) to the Friday evening Jamboree as soon as you arrive. Then shop for new jeans or work shirts, construction-quality boots or local supplies like jam, spices and bacon that make up the regional cuisine.

Explore Historic Downtown Floyd & Music Heritage With The Whole Family

Here’s a video look at our night in Floyd, Virginia back in 2014. It’s what your family — hopefully three generations of you — can expect.

Go for a walk along Main Street. Drop into the Barber Shop, where a six-piece string band has upright basses and a sax player to accompany their gospel sing-along. This might just inspire you to pick up an alto saxophone yourself.

Galleries feature arts and crafts. Browse photographs of the Blue Ridge Parkway or hand-embroidered sweaters, locally carved wood items and contemporary paintings of Bluegrass musicians.

The liquor shop stocks a large selection of micro brews and the area’s favorite wine from nearby Villa Appalaccia winery.  

Try a terrific wood-fired pizza at Dogtown Roadhouse or portobello pies, loaded nachos and more conventional fare. It all goes down smoothly with a huge selection of local draft beers. Check out the live music schedule and you might decide to stay a few extra days.

Discover Virginia’s Musical Roots At Blue Ridge Music Center In Galax

Live performers at the Carter Family Fold in Virginia. Photo c. Scott County Tourism office.
Live performers at the Carter Family Fold on Virginia’s Crooked Road. Photo c. Scott County Tourism office.

We arrived in other-worldly Galax in mid-September just as the leaves set on fire with color. At mile marker 213 on the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway, the tucked away Blue Ridge Music Center is surrounded by a thousand acres of Blue Ridge Forest. You can’t miss it Saturday nights in summer, when thousands come to hear live music at its outdoor amphitheater. (The facility is only open May to October.)

Within the Music Center’s modest museum is a priceless collection of historic artifacts, instruments, interpretive  exhibits and the music itself. Minstrel songs, hillbilly, old-time and bluegrass are the parts of Virginia’s musical heritage preserved in recordings and wonderful videos. There’s always somone making live music, too. At our visit, we heard a woman do a stunning rendition of “Drunken Hiccups” on her handmade fiddle.

Historian Joe Wilson (author of A Guide to the Crooked Road: Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail and producer of its CD) is credited with creating The Crooked Road and designing and executing the museum’s interactive and multimedia exhibits.

Stop & Learn Along Virginia’s Heritage Musical Trail

Take the kids through the permanent exhibit “The Roots of American Music.” It carefully follows the story of banjo-playing slaves who encountered European music and instruments of the 18th and 19th centuries. From the town of Round Peak, North Carolina to the backwoods of Virginia, there are vintage photos and stories of the men, women and children — both black and white — who played together and created a sound that would be uniquely American.

Visitors interact with displays to play the instrument or type of music highlighted, then use a fun mixing board to assemble their own musical style.

Historians acknowledge that it was in 1843, when a group of blackface comedians in New York went out on tour as the Virginia Minstrels, that “old-time” music with its gospel and Irish influences began to spread. “Backwoods music” became popular in households all over America when Sears Roebuck started selling cheap guitars in 1865. Hybrid folk music known as Bluegrass today did not originate till around 1945.

Visitors will have many opportunities to hear all sorts of music at a site managed by the National Park Service. Take advantage of the Junior Ranger program in which kids earn badges for identifying which instruments make which sounds, and other aspects of Blue Ridge Parkway heritage. 

Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail Spans The Blue Ridge Parkway & More

The restored cabin of A.P Carter was moved to the Carter Family Fold in Hiltons, along Virginia's Musical Heritage Trail. photo. c. Carter Family Fold
Restored cabin of A.P Carter moved to the Carter Family Fold in Hiltons, along Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail. photo. c. Carter Family Fold

The region is bursting with music and musicians and even instrument builders. Each August, thousands come to the annual, five-day Fiddle Fest. It has taken place in nearby Galax for more than 40 years.

If fiddling’s not your thing, maybe traditional country music is. The Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol, Virginia focuses on the evolution of a genre that now numbers Taylor Swift in its ranks.

Fans of Johnny Cash and his wife June Carter-Cash pay homage at the home of music royalty in Hiltons, the Carter Family Fold. This house and museum sit on the ancestral land of the 1920s country music pioneers, the Carter Family. The performing Carter Family group included “A.P.” Carter, his wife Sara Carter, and her sister-in-law Maybelle Carter.

A.P.’s daughter founded the museum and home site, where Johnny Cash and June (A.P’s niece) performed. The Carter Family Fold website notes that Ricky Skaggs, Marty Stuart and John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin have also performed there.

Trip Planning Details for A Crooked Road Adventure

Scenic roadway along the Blue Ridge Parkway of Virginia near Shenandoah National Park.
The scenic Blue Ridge Parkway near Shenandoah National Park makes the miles fly by along Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail.

Drive the blue roads of the Blue Ridge Parkway to experience the origins of American music. The Crooked Road, Virginia’s 330-mile Heritage Music Trail, actually spans dozens of sites in several states. (The Blue Ridge Music Heritage Trails are in North Carolina.) Distant families can most easily fly into Roanoke or Charlottesville, Virginia, rent a car and begin their explorations of Virginia’s Music Heritage Trail there.

Look for the best rental car rates with the top Rental Car brands at Priceline

We began our autumn journey in Abingdon, Virginia (reviewed here) a great, small town family getaway. We loved the town’s small town charm, rolling horse country, flaming red and gold leaves and good Southern dining. Stop into Abingdon’s famous Southwest Virginia Cultural Center & Marketplace. They display the region’s top artisans and craftspeople, their wares and their stories in interactive displays. Go the first Thursday of the month for the Crooked Road jam (music, not jelly!).

Carve out your own route from Abingdon with the richly detailed Guide to the Crooked Road: Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail in hand. As a regional destination, it comprises 19 counties, four cities and more than 50 towns and communities in Virginia alone. Slow down and enjoy.

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