Monday, October 17, 2011

Bill & Maggie Anderson Find Bluegrass Paradise

Bill & Maggie Anderson, upon their retirement, he from an administrative position at Cornell University's School of Agriculture and she from a career in public school teaching, cast about for what to do next. For years they had sung and played together at festivals and jams throughout the northeast and wanted to connect more fully with a vibrant, living bluegrass and traditional music community. In the hills above Galax, Virginia near the Blue Ridge Parkway they found a piece of land along a gravel road looking out over the hills and fields where they built their comfortable and cozy Little Cabin Home in the Hills.  Bill, a luthier and certified Martin repair technician set up his shop and, in the bluegrass way, the played their way into jams and began performing locally and regionally. Seven years later, they play out nearly 100 times a year, jam with their friends, and lead a life other bluegrass pickers can only dream about.

View from the Anderson's Front Porch

Bill's Shop
Bill with his Current Playing Guitar
Bill and Maggie on their Front Porch
On Wednesdays during the season, Bill and Maggie play music at the Blue Ridge Music Center at Mile 213 on the Blue Ridge Parkway as part of the Mid-Day Musicians.  From noon until 4:00 PM they play, sing and greet visitors who stop into the small building beside the museum where they're set up. Bill & Maggie are volunteers, but their CD's are available for sale at a table in the room.  They greet visitors, who, on the day we were there, came from three foreign countries as well as from California to Louisiana, to our home in New Hampshire within the U.S.  They interpret the local music as well as explaining the larger world of acoustic, old time, and bluegrass music.  The Center features a fine, small museum describing the growth of traditional music in the Appalachian region, its roots in Scots-Irish mountain culture as well as the contributions of African strains to American music. There are fine displays of instruments as well films of bluegrass and traditional greats in performance.  A careful examination of the museums displays would take, perhaps, 90 minutes. There's also an outdoor amphitheater where paid performances are held regularly. The Blue Ridge Music Center is a must see venue for travelers on the Blue Ridge Parkway, whether they're knowledgeable about music or have a more general interest in the region. It is an important stop along the Crooked Road for those coming to the region to explore our traditional musical heritage.

The Blue Ridge Music Center

In the Museum

 Intimate Setting for Mid-Day Mountain Musicians
Bill Anderson
Maggie Anderson

Mt. Airy, NC - The Autumn Leaves Festival
Fall colors, usually balmy weather, local music, and the warm, cozy remembrances of days by the fishing hole and gentle lessons in living spent with Andy and Opie of the Andy Griffith Show all combine to draw tourists from around the world to Mt. Airy, NC on the second full weekend in October each year for the Autumn Leaves Festival. Here along the now touristy streets of the town made famous for its rural simplicity, thousands of people come to sample regional foods, by local crafts, often supplemented by less desirable imported knockoffs, and a broad sampling of local and regional musicians. Since this part of Appalachia is home to thousands of lesser known but highly skilled musicians, there's no shortage of great music, as well as plenty of cloggers willing to demonstrate their skills on the board stage set aside for them.  We drove from our campground in Meadows of Dan, VA along spectacular highway 614 off the mountain highlands down the escarpment to the North Carolina Piedmont area just below.  This little traveled road just off the Blue Ridge Parkway provides some of the most wonderful views to be found anywhere.

Ancticipating a pretty good crowd, we decided to go to Mt. Airy on Friday, hoping to avoid some of it.  A former mill town decimated by the loss of the textile industry in North Carolina, Mt. Airy depends on Andy Griffith related tourism as its major source of income these days, although there's some hope for new industries to re-locate in this beautiful region.  Stores and shops along the main streets of the village reflect the Andy Griffith theme as well as offering local stores and restaurants. The Andy Griffith Museum is located near the town center. There's plenty of parking within a short walk of all the activity, and the prices are reasonable. The streets are lined with vendors and, as the day progressed, the streets became crowded with the friendly, engaged crowd.  With excellent access, there were plenty of wheeled vehicles, from strollers to wheel-chairs. 

Hand Made Wooden Trains
Mayberry Exists in Mt. Airy

 Sort of...
Old Time Band Performs Along the Street

The Performance Stage

Throughout the two days of Mt. Airy's Fall Leaf Festival the Performance Stage, located on a side street where it doesn't interfere with the more commercial elements of the event, offered an impressive sampling of the high quality local music available in the region.  Rather than focus on a couple of big-name national bands, the organizers have brought many bands not widely known outside the region to the stage.  There was a substantial audience for both the music and the clogging.

Bill & Maggie Warm Up "Back Stage"

Cloggers of All Ages & Condition

Bill & Maggie Anderson On Stage
Maggie Anderson

Bill Anderson

Maggie & Bill Anderson in Performance

After Bill & Maggie finished their well-received set, we strolled up Main Street to a Pandowdy's, a local restaurant which, surprisingly, was uncrowded considering the crowds in the street, where we had a very pleasant, tasty, and moderately priced lunch over more conversation. While all four of us had had plenty to eat, we shared an apple pan dowdy with ice cream for dessert, hot and delicious.  Afterwards, we visited a few craft booth's as well as the well-equipped outdoor store, Fancy Gap Outfitters. Then we bade each other good-bye and headed our separate ways.  Don't miss meeting Bill & Maggie at the Blue Ridge Music Center or contacting Bill for repairs or to inquire about buying a new Bill Anderson Vintage Acoustic guitar.