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Monday, September 5, 2011


whitetop mountain band

big country bluegrass

                                                                    crooked road ramblers

the slate mountain ramblers

leon blevins and crystal blevins

These pictures are some of the people making music at the Albert Hash Memorial Festival at Whitetop, Virginia, last Saturday, Labor Day weekend Saturday. Perfect weather, sun with clouds for periodic shade. An hour drive through the most beautiful landscape in the country, up and over Mt Rogers on 58, the crooked road, that turns back on itself over and over, up and down the mountain. Forest both sides of the highway, a trout stream running by the right side of the road for a ways. I imagine the paved road is the original road up the mountain, or close to it. I imagined a team of horses pulling a wagon up the road. I imagined places along the way they called a "horse stomp" where the horses stand in place and stomp. Whitetop is a part of Grayson County known for its music and liquor. 

The music was mountain music good as it gets. All day bands on the stage playing for an hour, fiddle tunes, largely, by master fiddlers. By masters I mean Thornton Spencer of Whitetop Mountain Band, Jeff Michael of Big Country Bluegrass, Richard Bowman of Slate Mountain Ramblers, Kilby Spencer of Crooked Road Ramblers and Crystal Blevins of Mt Rogers Ramblers. This is a collection of some of the best respected fiddlers and banjo players of the region. Kilby Spencer told me that his mother, Emily Spencer, and sister, Martha Spencer, put the show together, chose and contacted the bands, took care of concessions and the spaces people rent to put up a booth to sell things. Far as i could tell, they did an excellent job of it. When one band was leaving the stage, the next band was at the foot of the steps waiting for the last one so they can get on the stage and play some hot old-time music to put the dancers on their feet. It was a dance fest of flatfooting.

Good old-time music of the Central Blue Ridge; particularly, Southwest Virginia, Grayson County, specifically, Whitetop VA. Driving to and from Mt Rogers Combined School between Mt Rogers and Whitetop Mountain, I saw a road sign for Haw Orchard Raod. Kilby Spencer's band before Crooked Road Ramblers was the Haw Orchard Band. It felt good to be back in that area again. I used to drive over there irregularly. I found the place from Whitetop mountain where NC, Tennessee and Virginia meet at one point. The day I went looking for the spot, I had an old post card with the spot marked on it. I carried the post card. It was an overcast day, completely overcast gray clouds. While I was looking for the spot in the landscape of trees and mountain, a hole opened in the clouds and a ray of sunlight shined down like a cosmic flashlight on the very spot I was looking at. I refused to make something mystical of it, though could have easily.

I've brought rocks from Whitetop Mountain home in the back of the truck each time I've traveled up there to its peak to walk on the fern covered ground where gray rocks covered with moss lay scattered among the trees. In a time of fog, that area is beauty its very self. It's a good place for meditation. Too much nitrogen in the clouds that sit on top of the mountain much of the year fertilizes the greenery such that the spruce that grow only there grow themselves out and die, leaving these spruce skeletons standing everywhere like Inuit totem poles, the kind God made. This is the Whitetop I know, have known and loved for a long time. Then Saturday, Whitetop music was concentrated in the back yard of the school. All the bands had drive in abundance. Each band is one I'd go someplace just to hear them. All the bands to play Saturday I respect way up the highest. It was joy for me all day long to be hearing old-time music and bluegrass at Whitetop, Virginia. It was the same kind of thrill of seeing something like a microphone the Stanley Brothers sang into.

The sound system was perfect. Audience could hear well from everywhere. The tents were arranged with the track of the sun so the shadows don't move from front to back under the tent tops. Good planning in every detail. I don't go to a lot of these sorts of things since Jean died. I was grateful Judy was here to go with me because I didn't want to spend the day alone in a crowd. It's more fun to have somebody to talk with or just to feel with. I took the video camera and made quite a number of videos that turned out to my satisfaction, considering what I thought I was doing. I wanted to see the band over the tops of heads and the dancers, like someone sitting in the audience. I don't like to get up in front of the stage for arty closeups. I'd rather be in the background taking pictures through the foreground of the subject, the band on stage. I was very happy with the results. I'm not taking pictures for National Geographic, but for my blog, a simple, inexpensive, down home record of a little bit that happens around here. I was tempted to make the pictures arty, but wanted to make them like snapshots taken from the audience.

Have been uploading videos to YouTube today and will finish tomorrow. Got some good video of some really good mountain bands with good sound reception, clarity on the computer screen, a visual record of a moment in time. This is why I take these pictures and make written record of such events, to record a moment in time. There are moments in the music world of these mountains that rate recording in some manner, however it can be done. I think of all that has been missed of musicians from the past, incredible musicians that would make our jaws drop. I like keeping a record of some sort here and on YouTube of music of the Central Blue Ridge that I frequent following my own personal tastes in the music. Like I would go to see Jeanette Williams Band before Daley and Vincent. Big Country Bluegrass too. I'm happy to have had the chance to make video of Big Country Bluegrass to put on YouTube. It's something like what I was doing at the radio station with the Saturday morning show, putting mountain music out in the air for anyone who wanted to hear it. I feel privileged to live in the world of this music.

Write hobblealong1 in the search box at YouTube and see some videos from the show.

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