Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Crooked Road - Meadows of Dan Weekend

Meadows of Dan, Virginia is the only place where the Crooked Road, Virginia's historical music highway crosses The Blue Ridge Parkway, so it's a logical place to stop for several days and use for a base to explore the region.  Besides, it's the town where legendary banjo player Sammy Shelor lives and the location of the Corn Maze he and his wife Sue operate each fall.  We stayed at Meadows of Dan for five days, during which time we visited Galax (see earlier blog entry) as well as journeying twice to Floyd.  We also spent a lot of time hangin' out at the Corn Maze listening to music, and just plain enjoying the crisp autumn weather.  

Sue Shelor, Sammy's wife, operates Mountain Meadow Farm and Craft Market, in which she sells fresh produce, some bakery products, and a wide range of locally produced crafts.    Patrick, Grayson, and Floyd counties contain so many fine craftspeople that having an attractive outlet within a few hundred yards of a Parkway exit must appeal to them.  The shelves of Sue's shop are loaded with such.  Sue herself produces some of the pottery sold there.  Everything in her shop is crafted in Patrick County, and there are several other gift stores and craft outlets in Meadows of Dan, including a large candy outlet.

Sue Shelor

A Visit to Floyd

We drove about twenty miles northeast on the Parkway to the small country seat of Floyd County.  At the last census there were just under 14,000 people living in the county, or a population density of eighteen housing units per square mile.  Views from the Parkway offer frequently untrammeled vistas broken by small subsistance farms.  The frequent interference with the view from very large second homes found further south in the Smokey Mountains is most infrequent here in this part of Southwestern Virginia. 

Floyd, the county seat, was a poor, perhaps even dying rural village until about a decade or so ago.  The farm economy had declined along with the general condition of farming in this part of the world, and nothing else had come along to strengthen the economy.  The village of Floyd has a population of 432 and, according to Wikipedia has recently seen a resurgence as it has become a center of live music, particularly bluegrass and old-tim, along with a thriving counter culture movement.

What is now the Floyd Country Store was established in the early twentieth century as Farmers Supply and operated as such until the end of the century when it fell into disuse.  Throughout much of this time, even after the business there failed, musicians came together to play bluegrass and old-time music, while local people danced in front of a makeshift stage.  In recent years Woody and Jackie Crenshaw have bought the store and refurbished it as a Country Store with a flexible enough space to permit live music to be played and audiences to enjoy the scene.  During the day the store offers a wide variety of local crafts, manufactured goods suitable for country living, souvenirs, recordings, and a range of foods and candies. On the weekend evenings, the display carts are rolled out of the way to clear space for dancing and seating for the Friday night Jamboree, frequent concerts, as well as Saturday and Sunday jams.  Upcoming Saturday concerts will be given by Claire Lynch, Kenny & Amanda Smith, and Amber Collins & No Speed Limit.  These are ticketed events. Otherwise, a wide variety of old-time, bluegrass, and Americana music jams are scheduled, and a good time is had by all.  Check the schedule and the list of performers to get a sense of the range available. On Friday, we were somewhat disappointed with the music, but there was standing room only, and the dancers were enthusiastic.  A friend suggested to us that if the weather had been warmer, there would have been a good deal of action outdoors as well, reducing the size of the crowd inside and broadening the musical choices available. Admission to the Friday Night Jamboree is $5.00, Saturday and Sunday afternoon jams are free, and the ticketed events have a range of reasonable prices.

Admission and Cash Register

4:30 P.M - Music Starts at 6:30

Jackie Crenshaw Orienting a Group of Virginia Tech
Hospitality and Tourism Students to
The Floyd Contry Store 

Time To Start

Heaven's Mountain Band

Waiting for the Dancing to Start

Dancers Fill Dance Floor

The Corn Maze - 2010
Aerial Shot 
Aerial Photo courtesy of Sammy Shelor

Each year Sue and Sammy Shelor host the Corn Maze along with country crafts, good food, and plenty of music, both bluegrass and country.  The Corn Maze is planted on six acres of farm land that's been in the Shelor family for generations.  Each year it expresses a different theme; this year commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Having seen mazes from the road for some years, I had no idea how deep into the maze one could quickly get.  The paths twist and turn through the corn, and plaques with facts are placed in discreet places for children to collect corn facts.  It's all good fun for children and adults.  The details of planning, mapping, planting, and cutting to permit the maze to emerge are interesting, too, and can be found at the link above.  The Corn Maze is open Thursday - Sunday in September and October.

Sue Shelor at the Gate
Admission: Adults $5.00, Kids under 12 - Free

Into the Wilds

Which Way To Turn?

Irene's Always Helpful

Back to the Top

Sammy with Country Band on Saturday

Later in the Afternoon We Went for a Drive
on the 
Blue Ridge Parkway

 We returned to the Corn Maze on Sunday to see Sammy Play (mostly) rhythm guitar in a bluegrass band he's supporting as well as to enjoy the scene some more.  The day was somewhat warmer and the crowd felt larger.  The music was good; the vibe enjoyable.  

Ashlee Blankenship & Blades of Blue

Ashlee Blankenship & Blades of Blue is a promising young bluegrass band.  Blankenship has a pleasant voice which wraps itself earnestly around the gospel songs she sings and embraces traditional bluegrass covers, too.  Caleb Courtner on mandolin is an especially promising young picker. 

Ashley Blankenship

Caleb Courtner

Joshua Underwood

Dustin Pyrtle

Sammy Shelor

County Sales

On Monday we took a loop drive to return to Floyd for a visit to County Sales, famous for being one of the most complete sources for bluegrass and old-time recordings, books, and other material available.  Their standard price for all CD's is $13.50 a record, and they regularly send out online catalogs of special sales items.  As we drove east towards Stuart, the country seat of Patrick County over the mountain and then north west through the valley to Floyd, we were continually stunned by the vistas appearing around every turn.  It's as if the people of southwestern Virginia have designed a huge post card for people to enjoy as they drive through this marvelous region.

The Last Piece of U.S. 58 (The Crooked Road)  Still Unpaved

Lover's Leap

Sign for County Sales

County Sales "Fancy" Entry Door

County Sales

County Sales Building
Clearly a mail order operation

Mabry Mill
Along the Blue Ridge Parkway 

On Tuesday morning we headed south into the Piedmont region of North Carolina, down the steep incline off the Blue Ridge, losing perhaps 2000 feet and gaining about twelve to fifteen degrees.  We had a great time for nearly two weeks on The Crooked Road, and we'll probably be back. You should spend some time there, too.