Galax Old Fiddlers Convention
Where: Felts Park, downtown Galax
When: Aug. 8-13
What: The greatest of all the fiddlers conventions turns 70 this year. More than 60,000 people will drive past the welcome signs proclaiming Galax to be "The World's Capital of Old-Time Mountain Music." Nearly 2,000 of those folks will take the stage during the weeklong competition, playing fiddles, banjos, dulcimers, dobros and anything else with strings.
The opening-night youth competition has proved extremely popular since it was added three years ago. Toddlers to teens prove that the future of bluegrass and old-time music is in capable, talented hands.
The Galax convention wasn't the first fiddlers' competition, but it boasts being the biggest. Fiddling contests date to the 1700s in the United States, when early settlers entertained themselves by playing tunes that even then were generations old.
As anyone who has ever been to the Galax convention will tell you, often the best music is heard in the camping area, where scores of impromptu jam sessions break out like spot fires.
Contact: (276) 236-8541.
Harmon's Outlet Store and Museum
Front Porch Gallery
The Heritage Shoppe
Where: U.S. 58 in Woodlawn, 4 miles west of Hillsville
When: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday
What: If you are traveling to the Old Fiddlers Convention in Galax next week, you have no choice but to stop by the retail empire and local history museum run by Gleaves "Gooch" Harmon.
He makes his living selling cool Western wear, cowboy hats, shirts and other men's and women's clothing, but the fun part is the museum, which is home to thousands of arrowheads, Civil War-era rifles, antique farm equipment, old records and a stuffed two-headed calf. Newspaper and photograph exhibits are dedicated to the Hillsville courthouse shooting of 1912 and the coal mine wars in West Virginia in the 1920s. Can't make it to the Smithsonian this year? Just hoof it to Woodlawn.
Adjoining Harmon's are two other retailers of local arts. Willard Gayheart's Front Porch Gallery features the owner's lovely, much-coveted penciled portraits of rural life. Bobby Patterson's Heritage Shoppe sells musical instruments, records and, yes, cake-decorating supplies. Patterson is a noted musician who recorded many of the region's greatest old-time and bluegrass players many of them long gone in the 1960s and ’70s. He still carries those recordings.
Contact: Harmon's, (276) 236-4884; Front Porch Gallery, (276) 236-3034; Heritage Shoppe, (276) 236-9249.
Blue Ridge Music Center
Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Music Center in Carroll County sits high atop a mountain near Fishers Peak, right in the heart of old-time mountain music country. The outdoor amphitheater was completed in 2002 and plays host to a weekly summer concert series that features big-name stars such as Del McCoury and Ricky Skaggs and local favorites such as the New Ballards Branch Bogtrotters and the Slate Mountain Ramblers.
An interpretive center and museum were dedicated on July 16, continuing the expansion of a project that traces its roots to the mid-1980s. Permanent and rotating exhibits are planned for the music center.
For more information and a schedule of concerts, go online to blueridgemusic.center.net.
On the dial ...
WBRF (98.1, FM)
WPAQ (740, AM)
Galax boasts 100,000-watt WBRF, which plays healthy doses of classic country during the day and four hours of bluegrass and old-time music during the 'Blue Ridge Backroads" show Monday though Saturday starting at 6 p.m.
"Blue Ridge Backroads Live" is broadcast from the Rex Theater at 8 p.m. every Friday.
You can also pick up WPAQ from Mount Airy, N.C., which has played bluegrass and old-time music since 1948. The station's founder, Ralph Epperson, still hosts the "Blue Ridge Spotlight" show from 2 to 6 p.m. each Saturday. He plays vintage recordings, including many made in the WPAQ studio. Live music can be heard from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. every Saturday on the "Merry Go Round," hosted by Clyde Johnson. For those in need of old-time religion, mountain preachers hold sway from 10 a.m. to noon weekdays.