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Southwest Virginia and the Crooked Road


By Russ Heaps
Drive Time: 4.5 hours or less
Fly: US Airways 3 hours – Greenville/Spartanburg to Charlotte and Charlotte to Roanoke

Virginia may be for lovers, but Southwest Virginia is for music lovers.

Know the difference between a violin and a fiddle? A great spot to find the answer is along the Crooked Road in Southwest Virginia.

Where exactly is Southwest Virginia?

Identifying the region is easy. Simply find the western border of Roanoke on a map of Virginia; draw a vertical line through it that stretches to Virginia’s northern and southern borders; and everything to the west of that line is considered Southwest Virginia.

Encompassing 17 counties, it wedges under Kentucky and West Virginia to the north, and Tennessee and North Carolina to the south. Major thoroughfares crisscross the region: I-81 runs east to west, I-77 goes north to south, and the Blue Ridge Parkway slices north across the eastern quarter.

It’s where the African banjo first met the European violin, conspiring to create a music genre that is pure Americana. Some argue that tracing country music to its roots brings you to Southwest Virginia. There is plenty of evidence to support that claim. Certainly the earliest music that came out of this mountainous region, at the very least, dramatically influenced country music. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd the first commercial country music recordings were made in the Southwest Virginia town of Bristol.

But the sound that unquestionably got its start here and with which the area is most closely identified is popularly known today as Bluegrass.

In Southwest Virginia, Bluegrass music isn’t so much entertainment as it is a lifestyle. It’s the thread that binds the people, the towns and the cities together.

Residents talk about Bluegrass music with an enthusiasm that’s typically reserved for a favorite sports team or Nascar driver. A surprising number of these folks play a musical instrument and do a little “pickin’” with friends on weekends.

Not just a figure of speech, the Bluegrass thread takes actual form in The Crooked Road: a 330-mile trail winding its way through dozens of Bluegrass music venues, attractions and events around much of the perimeter of Southwest Virginia.

Whether you are a longtime fan hankering for a full immersion into the music or a Bluegrass newcomer curious about the genre, The Crooked Road provides a robust and comprehensive array of historical and musical attractions. Visitors can experience one or two of them on a quick two-day excursion, or sample a passel of them on a week-long road trip.

Ravaged by the depressed economy, several of the villages and towns along The Crooked Road reinvented themselves as centers for local artisans and musicians. Floyd, Va. is such a town.

With a permanent population of about 500, during the week Floyd makes Mayberry appear positively bustling. On Friday night,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA however, Floyd rolls out the welcome mat for hundreds, if not thousands, of visitors, who are there to soak in the music.

At the center of the Floyd experience is The Floyd Country Store and its Friday Night Jamboree. The store is just as it sounds: a sprawling country store with barrels of candy, dry goods and a lunch counter. Every Friday night, year-round, the back of the store transforms into a live music venue with a dance floor and rows of seats. The music begins at 6:30 p.m. with a gospel hour and continues at 7:30 with Bluegrass bands that entertain the audience and keep the beat for dancers until 10:30. Admission is $5. Get there early because it fills up fast.

The music, however, spreads out to storefronts and businesses up and down the street. Peek through the window of the barber shop and you’ll see four or five musicians playing for as many people as can crowd in. Every street corner — particularly during the warmer months — is a stage where pickers and fiddlers come together.

You can sample the dinner fare at the Country Store or amble down the block to the DogTown Roadhouse with its wood-fired pizza and engaging selection of micro-brewed draft beers, and, of course, more live music.

Follow The Crooked Road west for 150 miles to Hiltons, Va. and you’ll be rewarded with the Carter Family Fold, a thousand-seat music theater. On Saturday nights its stage erupts with Old-Time and Bluegrass sounds as scores of dancers crowd the floor. Try your hand at flat-foot dancing, or grab some popcorn and just enjoy the show. Admission is $7 for adults, and the show begins at 7:30 p.m.

Part of the Carter Family Memorial Music Center honoring the family often credited with introducing the sound that would one day become country music, the Carter Family Fold is just part of the complex that includes a museum and the cabin where one of the Carters was born.

Much closer to Floyd is the town of Galax — another community that transformed itself into a hub for music and art. It’s home to the 450-seat Rex Theater, hosting free Bluegrass performances at 8:00 every Friday night.

Just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, Galax is the site of the Blue Ridge Music Center, a gateway of sorts to The Crooked Road. In addition to its amphitheater and summer concert series, this center features The Roots of American Music exhibition that traces the music history of the area back 300 years.

Galax also hosts the annual Old Fiddler’s Convention each August. This is a week-long competition that, despite its name, includes everything from bands to dancers. Admission cost varies based on the day of the week, but it is between $6 and $12 for adults with accompanied children under 12 admitted free.

There is more to Southwest Virginia than just the music. There are golf courses, shopping malls and plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation.


Main building at Primland Resort.

Bundling a wide range of activities, as well as lodging into one venue is Primland. Offering a spa, golf, fishing, horseback riding, tree climbing, biking, hiking, hunting, tennis, sporting clays and even stargazing from its own observatory, Primland is a unique experience for visitors looking not only for pampered lodging and excellent on-site dinning, but a full array of fun-to-do activities. It is also only minutes away from Floyd. Lodging prices are seasonal, but are as low as $225 per night in the off season.

Abingdon — Heartwood’s home — is one of the larger towns along The Crooked Mile. Founded in 1778, it is also one of Virginia’s older towns. When in Abingdon, you can rent a bicycle and bike the 33-mile Virginia Creeper Trail — a former railroad bed. Or, if you prefer, hike it.

Take a walk down Abingdon’s Main Street and do a little shopping at a variety of stores and boutiques, like the Abingdon Olive Oil Company with its 32 varieties of olive oil. Visit the Abingdon Winery and taste a few of its selections. At night, take in a performance at the intimate Barter Theater, where actors such as Gregory Peck, Ned Beatty and Gary Collins began their careers.

In addition to chain hotels and motels, there are an amazing array of bed & breakfasts and inns in the Abingdon area. Creepers End Lodging is a new bed and breakfast with self-contained cottages that can sleep from one to eight guests where you have all the privacy you want in a homey setting. A historic inn with 61 guest rooms, The Martha Washington Hotel and Spa is conveniently located on downtown’s Main Street. Room rates begin at about $200.

Abingdon offers a full complement of dining opportunities, too. The Trail Cafe is a cozy place to gather for breakfast and lunch Tuesday through Sunday, and dinner Thursday through Saturday. If you want to follow in the footsteps of Henry Clay and Andrew Jackson, enjoy dinner at The Tavern. Built in 1779, it was a tavern and overnight inn for stagecoach travelers before becoming a popular Abingdon eatery featuring Stuffed Filet Mignon, Rack of Lamb and Peppercorn Encrusted Duck. Entree prices are $25 and up.

Whether it’s the Bluegrass music, mountain sunsets or outdoor recreation, Southwest Virginia is convenient, affordable and fun.

To learn more about Southwest Virginia, and for travel-planning help go to

Oh, and the difference between a violin and a fiddle is the person playing it.