Apr 192010

Here’s a video of the Whitetop Mountain Band playing “Rooster’s Crowing Blues”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rj6Paqgt4DQ

A few days ago I took in the “Crooked Road” show here in Reston. The Crooked Road is a series of cultural landmarks in the mountains of southwest Virginia promoted by the state. I need to check into the details, but it is basically a promotion of traditional Appalachian music and folk culture. The show is a group of traditional musicians from that part of Virginia playing old-time and bluegrass music.

The show had two long sets. The first one was old-time music, with ballad singing, fiddle tunes, and flatfoot dancing. The old-time music emphasizes old ballads from the British traditions that were handed down over generations while folks lived in some isolation in the Appalachian regions. The ballad singing in this show was strong and emotional. It is something to hear a voice fill up a room with a couple hundred people in the audience. The dance music from this area also comes from the British Isles and has been preserved by the isolation that ended about a hundred years ago. The fiddlers play a rhythmic style on the tunes with lots of droning notes and double stops. I play old-time fiddle in a slightly different style; my style leans more toward West Virginia, with less droning and a little more syncopation, influenced by contemporary fiddlers such as John Hartford and Alan Jabbour. For this show, the fiddle tunes and accompanying banjo parts were lively, grooving, and tremendous. The Whitetop Mountain Band finished up this first set with a variety of songs, fiddle tunes, and blues. I had seen Martha and Jackson from this group performing as the Whitetop Mountaineers at a house concert last fall, and they were outstanding again in this show. Jackson’s mandolin tremolo is so powerful; I wonder why more mandolin players don’t work up a good tremolo like this.

The second set focused more on bluegrass and twentieth century music. At one point all the banjo players from the dozens of musicians were on stage at once, about six of them, playing a beautiful “Mississippi Sawyer.” Wayne Henderson did a fabulous set playing flatpick guitar. He played clean, strong, pretty, fast, and imaginative parts–practically a one-man band. I started to get sleepy after Henderson’s set, so I didn’t pay much attention to the band that went on after him to finish up the show.

Go see the “Crooked Road” show if you get a chance. It’s a fun and accessible experience of traditional music from Virginia–really a fun evening.

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