By Jon Lohman
From the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge to the Coalfields region, Southwest Virginia has always been blessed with great riches in traditional music. The Crooked Road, Virginia’s Music Heritage Trail, was formed in 2004 to help promote, support, and share the music and culture of the region. Winding through the beautiful Appalachian Mountains, the Crooked Road connects with many important historic and still-thriving sites for the creation and passing down of old time, bluegrass, and mountain gospel music.
With the generous support of the Appalachian Regional Commission, Virginia Foundation for the Humanities’ Folklife Program produced a series of recordings featuring musicians across the Crooked Road in 2005. The music of the series ran the gamut from old time to bluegrass, from blues to gospel, featuring emerging musicians in their first forays into recording as well as seasoned recording artists.
Then eleven-year-old fiddler Montana Young, of Bassett, Virginia, a participant in the VFH Folklife Apprenticeship Program, recorded with her mentor Buddy Pendleton and other prominent musicians from throughout the region. A keen ear can hear Pendleton’s unique stylings on Young’s rendition of “Florida Blues,” a tune that won Pendleton multiple fiddle championships. The CD is aptly titled Fiddling Up a Storm, as a bolt of lightning blew out the power in the studio during a particularly intense number. Now in her early twenties, Young is still fiddling up a storm and credits this first recording as seminal to her fledgling career.
Pendleton, a veteran bluegrass fiddler who once toured with Bill Monroe and Joan Baez, contributed his own recording to the series, accompanied by the likes of multi-time International Bluegrass Music Association banjoist of the year Sammy Shelor. Pendleton’s playing is legendary, as is his own personal story. Once a member of Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys, he felt homesick for his home in tiny Woolwine, Virginia, and returned to begin a long career of delivering the mail and playing at local fiddlers conventions.
The Crooked Road CD series features artists from both ends of the Crooked Road, with healthy representation from the Coalfield region. Elder Frank Newsome, a preacher at Little David Old Regular Baptist Church in Buchanan County, recorded his hair-raising a cappella hymns in the Old Regular Baptist tradition. Recorded in his church on a stormy evening, with the occasional sound of a coal truck passing by, his CD Gone Away with a Friend was instrumental in his receiving the National Heritage Fellowship, the highest honor the United States bestows upon a traditional artist.
The series includes thirteen releases in all, available to sample or purchase through our website: http://virginiafolklife.org/recording_tags/crooked-road/
Although the Crooked Road series is complete, the Virginia Folklife program has continued to produce CDs, including the Independent Music Awards Gospel Album of the Year, Maggie Ingram and the Ingramettes: Live in Richmond, among many others. And now a decade since the Crooked Road recordings were produced, VFH’s presence in the region is still thriving, with Virginia Folklife field documentation, apprenticeships, and festival productions continuing to spark connections and discoveries around Southwest Virginia’s rich music culture.