Blue Ridge Backroads, Rex Theater, Galax, Virginia.

Historic clout aside, Virginia for us meant music, old-time Appalachia mountain music. A present-day legacy of Celts – displaced from Britain and Ireland in the 17th century, they filtered into the Appalachians, mixed with the locals and created a genre of folk mountain music – today old-time music and 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.

The Rex Theater, Galax, Virginia, home of Friday night Blue Ridge Backroads on 98.1 WBRF. September 23, 2016.

The Appalachian Mountains & Bluegrass
The Appalachian Mountains, occupying the whole western portion of the state of Virginia and 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 and 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.

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

Bluegrass, in its earliest forms, seeped out of the Appalachian hills – those Pioneers who migrated from Ireland, Scotland, & 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 #bluegrasshistory as we know and 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 #Countrymusic spread out of the mountains of #Appalachia & into the homes of people all over the US thanks largely to the invention of the phonograph & the onset of the radio in the early 1900s. #musichistory

Galax, Virginia
Just one of dozens of regional towns claiming to be A gateway to the #BlueRidgeMountains, #GalaxVA is a quiet, quaint & prototypical #oldtime music -lovin’ #Appalachia town of simple living, friendly locals, strong accents, & a rich musical heritage #VAMusic #LoveVA – 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.

A regional staple, the Friday night Rex Theater gig is broadcast live on Galax’s very own Classic Country 98.1 WBRF to portions of Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Tennessee as part of Friday night’s long-running Bluegrass and Old Time music show, Blue Ridge Backroads.

Rex Fest Eve
We had tickets for the following day’s Rex Fest bluegrass musical bonanza, but on its eve we got a taste of what is to come by attending a performance by Galax resident and banjo picker Stevie Barr (& Friends) in the town’s historic Rex Theater. The 100-mile-an-hour performance of premier pickin’ was awesome, but we still managed to resist the urge to do some front and centre dancin’ with the locals.

Stevie Barr & Friends — (L-r) Daniel Greeson (fiddle), Stevie Barr (banjo), Jeanette Williams (bass & vocals) & Johnny Williams (guitar & vocals) — performing in the Rex Theatre for Blue Ridge Backroads on 98.1 WBRF. Galax, Virginia. September 23, 2016.

Band introductions as they close out the set.
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