Thursday, October 10, 2013

Willard Gayheart - A Must Stop on the Crooked Road

The Crooked Road generally follows U.S. Route 58 with many branches taking the interested visitor deep into to mountains along the southern border of western Virginia, twisting and turning through the region rich in music and Appalachian culture. Approximately 333 miles long, it runs from The Breaks Interstate Park from which you can stand in Virginia and see North Carolina, Kentucky, and Tennessee through Ralph Stanley's home town of Clinton, VA where the fine Ralph Stanley Museum is located to nine major venues and over fifty affiliated venues where visitors can hear, watch, and participate in old time, bluegrass, sacred, and country music in all the rich forms that came from this mountain region.  Over the past several years we've visited and stayed at campgrounds in Big Stone Gap, Hillsville, and Meadows of Dan and visited The Carter Fold, the Floyd Country Store, Bristol VA/TN (the birthplace of country music), Galax, Ferrum, and stops along the way. We've taken a few moments to stop at many of the wayside rest areas where visuals and sound clips explain about the area and point the way to additional interesting places to visit. We spent an enlightening and enjoyable day at the Stanley museum, and watched local cloggers dance to the Boxcars at the Carter Fold. We've only just touched the surface of this rich area of music, history, and culture.  Here's a map of the Crooked Road with the stops highlighted. Click on it to enlarge it.

The Crooked Road
Click on the Map to Enlarge

Willard Gayheart

Willard Gayheart is a musician and fine artist who operates the Front Porch Gallery and Frame Shop in Woodlawn, VA, just east of Galax along U.S. route 58 in the back of the large parking lot dominated by Harmon's store. Inside, he sells prints of the wonderful drawings he has created over the years as well as the works of other regional artists. Their weekly show on Friday evenings is called "The Fiddle & the Plow where he and his son-in-law Scott Freeman, a much sought after mandolin player and fiddler in the region, hold a musical get-together featuring local and regional musicians in a small, intimate setting. Willard Gayheart and Scott Freeman also perform regularly at the Blue Ridge Music Center, a major venue on the Crooked Road, located at milepost 213 on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The Front Porch Gallery & Frame Shop

Examples of Willard Gayheart's Work
"Passing It On"
 We Were Waltzing That Night

 Gayheart's work can be purchased online or at the shop in Woodlawn. We stopped in at the shop on Friday evening to take in the 7:00 PM show, featuring Willard and Scott as well as guest artists Wayne Henderson and Helen White. It was a gentle and delightful evening.

Scott Freeman & Willard Gayheart
Lead off with a Few Songs

And are Joined by Edwin Lacy on Banjo

Edwin Lacy

The Audience

Bill Bailey by Wayne Henderson, Helen White & Scott Freeman

Wayne Henderson

 Wayne Henderson is best known as one of the finest luthiers working in this golden age of instrument builders. His waiting list is years long, and his customer list includes fine guitar players from Eric Clapton to Zac Brown to a beautiful pair of guitars from the same piece of wood made for the Gibson Brothers and called The Twins. He's also noted as one of the better flat pickers around, his style owing much to Doc Watson. He entertained with some really hot picking interspersed with amusing stories told with a twinkle in his eye. Wayne Henderson is a National Heritage Award recipient.

 Helen White

 Helen White is the founder and regional coordinator of the Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM) program which introduces Appalachian children to their musical heritage. The program also provides curriculum materials, lesson templates, and support in introducing traditional music in the schools. An award-winning singer, multi-instrumentalist, and composer in her own right, Helen has toured extensively with Wayne in the U.S. and Europe. Both are frequent instructors at major traditional music camps across the country. At The Front Porch, she played guitar and fiddle, sang traditional songs and from her own compositions.

Helen White, Wayne Henderson & Scott Freeman

The music, almost all old-time and traditional was lively, and the audience attentive. Composed mostly of regulars, I thought, it was a welcoming, involved, and knowledgeable group of music fans.