Smithsonian

Blue Ridge Bluegrass
The town of Floyd, Virginia draws jam-ready musicians and some toe-tapping fans
By Kenneth R. Fletcher on July 28, 2008

If you drive through Floyd on a Friday evening, you’ll have slow down when you pass the country store of this tiny town in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Crowds of people mill about the street, many carrying mandolins, banjos, basses and other instruments. In alleys and parking lots they form impromptu groups playing bluegrass and traditional country music. The jam sessions are fluid; a young guitarist backs up a group of old timers and then joins a fiddle player from the Midwest. Inside the spacious Floyd Country Store, bands from across the region play on a small stage and dancers fill the floor. Their tapping feet provide percussion to the music.

“The country store has a unique energy,” says Fred First, a writer and part-time physical therapist who moved to Floyd a decade ago. “It’s maintained its authenticity.” In recent years Floyd, a town of just a few hundred people, has formalized spontaneous musical gatherings into a weekly event that brings new interest to the local culture. The town is now a major stop on Virginia’s 250-mile Crooked Road, which winds through places where traditional music flourishes. The route is a recent effort by the Appalachian Regional Commission, USDA and local communities to spur tourism and economic development in an often forgotten part of southwest Virginia.

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