Galax, Virginia | September 24 2016



“Galax… it’s a quiet, quaint & prototypical old-time music-lovin’ Appalachian town of simple living, friendly locals, strong accents, and a rich musical heritage… And for one day in September 2016 the town was cordoned off to facilitate Rex Fest, a day-long celebration of regional music & dance. The Queen was even in town for the occasion.”

Part of the mygrassisblue.com Bluegrass Trails series, on the trail of bluegrass history & its pioneers/early protagonists.

Festivals have been central to bluegrass music since the 1960s. Many Americans with enough leisure time, pocket money, and good cars and RVs, drawn on by the lure of a great Interstate highway system, hit the road in search of their music. During the good-weather months, one can almost always find a bluegrass festival within driving distance, in almost all parts of the country.

– Reproduced from text on display in the International Bluegrass Music Museum, Owensboro, Kentucky

It was our first road trip into prototypically rural Appalachia. And while there’s undeniable & heavy-hitting history here in Virginia, the misty hills of western Virginia for us meant music. Old-time Appalachia “mountain music”. A present-day legacy of Celts – displaced from Britain & Ireland in the 17th century, they filtered into the Appalachians, mixed with the locals & created a genre of folk mountain music – today old-time music & bluegrass festivals are as linked to the Virginia hills as the dark strands of dogwood and fir trees. The state even honours this legacy via its very own Heritage Music Trail along its so-called Crooked Road, a 300-mile-long regional route connecting 19 counties, four cities and over 50 towns and communities where heritage music is celebrated year-round (although mostly in the warmer months). And to partake in an Appalachian musical celebration is what we did in the Crooked Road town of Galax, Virginia.

Rex Fest. Galax, Virginia. September 24, 2016.

The Appalachian Mountains & Bluegrass

The Appalachian Mountains occupying the whole western portion of the state of Virginia & commonly referred to as simply the Appalachians, are a system of mountains stretching for some 1,500 miles (2,400 kilometres) in a northeast to southwest direction in eastern North America, from Belle Isle in Canada to northern Alabama & northeast Mississippi. Formed some 480 million years ago, they once reached heights similar to those of the Alps and the Rocky Mountains before the onset of natural erosion knocked them down a peg or two. A long series of alternating ridgelines and valleys divided into various mountain subranges, these are ancient lands steeped in history, cool and misty hills carpeted in blue-green hemlock, pine, and oak trees, a picturesque ecosystem that is home to an abundance of wildlife including cougars, deer, black bears, wild turkeys, and great horned owls. A nirvana for hikers and the outdorsey type, the region is criss-crossed by craggy mountain trails, many of which combine to form the famous Appalachian Trail, the country’s longest amble – measuring 2,150 miles (3,460 kilometres), it traverses no less than 6 National Parks, 8 National Forests and a whopping 14 states.

My Grass Is Blue. Off Georgia State Route 180 of the Russell-Brasstown National Scenic Byway near Soapstone Creek, Georgia, southern Appalachia. September 22, 2016.

Bluegrass, in its earliest forms, seeped out of the Appalachian hills – those pioneers who migrated from Ireland, Scotland, and England to America in the 1600s brought with them the basic styles of a musical genre that is generally considered to be the roots of bluegrass music as we know & love it today. As the Jamestown settlers began to move west into the Carolinas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia, they wrote songs about day-to-day life in the new land. Since most of these people lived in remote areas, the songs reflected life on the farm or in the hills. Eventually this type of “mountain” or “country music” spread out of the mountains and into the homes of people all over the United States thanks largely to the invention of the phonograph and the onset of the radio in the early 1900s.

Galax is just one of dozens of regional towns claiming to be a gateway to the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s a quiet, quaint & prototypical old-time music-lovin’ Appalachian town of simple living, friendly locals, strong accents, and a rich musical heritage – beginning in 1935, the town is home to world’s oldest and largest competition for old-time music musicians, the Old Fiddlers’ Convention. And for one day in September 2016 the town was cordoned off to facilitate Rex Fest, a day-long celebration of regional music & dance. The Queen was even in town for the occasion.

The Queen’s chariot, a.k.a. The Bluegrass Express. Galax, Virginia. September 24, 2016.

Rex Fest was headlined by Rhonda Vincent, The Queen of Bluegrass, and her awesome band The Rage. After years – decades even – of being fans from afar, it was our first time seeing them live. Their set was an obvious highlight, as was meeting the band. No pretentiousness here, just god-given, foot-tappin’ talent.

Rhonda Vincent & The Rage. Rex Fest, Galax, Virginia. September 24, 2016.

Rhonda made a point of posing for us front and centre during the last song of the night. Mickey seemed happy to see us too. How can you not love this band? Rex Fest, Galax, Virginia. September 24, 2016.