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Old Fiddlers Convention in Va. is the oldest of its kind

by Amy Kingsley

They call it theCrooked Road, but it’s actually a network of highways that wind like awild hair through the southwest corner of Virginia. Beginning inDickenson County – the heart of Appalachia – and ending near Roanoke,the main features of the road are beautiful vistas and colorful signs. Yes, signs. Signs with banjos to remind you that you are in the spiritual and physical cradle of American old-time music. Somescholars have gone as far as declaring these hills and hollers thebirthplace of country music. Among those who decline to make suchsweeping statements, it is generally agreed that southwest Virginia,and parts of North Carolina, did produce bluegrass in a series of fitsand starts that culminated in the 1940s. The Crooked Road passesthrough Galax, a large town straddling the border of Grayson andCarroll counties that was named after a flowering plant common to thearea. Little Galax, pop. 6,886, is the "World’s Capital of OldTime Music." And every August, it becomes a magnet for everybanjo-playing, dulcimer-hammering, jug-blowing and fiddle-bowingold-time connoisseur in the continental United States. Thisyear’s Old Fiddlers’ Convention begins on Aug. 4 and ends five dayslater. It is expected to draw hundreds of musicians from around theworld who will engage in competitions ranging from autoharp andflatfoot dancing. The Old Fiddlers’ Convention is the oldestmusical competition of its kind. Galax’s Moose Lodge #733 concocted thefirst one in 1935 and has hosted it ever since in Felts Park, home to arenovated amphitheater designed to accommodate the annual gathering. Campersare encouraged to put up tents in the parking lot and campgroundssurrounding the park. Camping areas open almost a full week before thebeginning of the competition, which means there is plenty of time towork up a passable version of "Peg and Awl" before the reigning champsblow into town. But you don’t have to stay on the campgrounds.There’s plenty to see in Galax proper, including the historic RexTheater, the site of WBRF 98.1 FM’s weekly live broadcast "Blue RidgeBack Roads." Old time and bluegrass music performed at the Rex isbeamed to five surrounding states and onto the internet every Fridayevening. If you can’t get to Galax in August, the town hosts theLeaf and String Festival in June. This noncompetitive event celebratesthe arts of the Blue Ridge region with a particular emphasis on musicand literature. Authors Gloria Houston, Jayne Jaudon Ferrer and P.Buckley Moss will take their turns in the author tent erected onGrayson Street as old-time bands from the surrounding counties do theirthing. There is also an exhibition of traditional mountaincrafts from quilting to whittling, and dance performances conducted bylocal school children. The Rex Theater will host theworld-famous Alberti Flea Circus on June 14. The intimate, 500-seatvenue should be an ideal place to watch the miniscule Dardenell swandive and microscopic Captain Spaulding play cannonball. TheGalax Leaf and String Festival is a family-friendly event – sort oflike the Old Fiddlers’ Convention minus the corn liquor-fueledall-night jam sessions. To comment on this story, e-mail Amy Kingsley at amy@yesweekly.com

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