Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2015 - 66
Gary Reid is an author, historian
and actor from Roanoke, Virginia.
His recent book, "Music of the
Stanley Brothers," is the culmination of 39 years of researching the
recordings of Carter and Ralph
Stanley. He is also a co-author of
"The Bluegrass Hall of Fame Inductee Biographies 2001-2014"
and recently launched a one-man
play called "A Life of Sorrow, the
Life and Times of Carter Stanley."
by Gary Reid
Bluegrass aficionado and practioner Gary Reid takes on the identity of
the late Carter Stanley in his one-man show, "A Life of Sorrow."
My friend STephen Wade released a book not long ago
called "The Beautiful Music All Around Us" (University
of Illinois Press). In it, he traces the histories of 13 iconic
field recordings from the 1930s and '40s that today are
housed in the Library of Congress. Although Stephen's
book covers material from many parts of the country, I
like to think of the title in context of a more narrowly
defined locale, the beautiful music all around us - in the
Blue Ridge region.
Music has existed in the area for as long as it has been
settled, and likely before that as well. The music that has
survived and evolved encompasses a broad range of
genres and styles including blues, ballads, string bands,
gospel, fiddle and banjo music, bluegrass, folk, singer/
songwriter, and much, much more.
As long as there have been mechanical means to capture the sounds of the region, people have been coming
to harvest the homegrown music. Among the earliest to
do so was Ralph Peer when he set up the now-legendary
Bristol sessions in July and August of 1927, in what is
today referred to as the Big Bang of Country Music.
Others followed, such as John and Alan Lomax. Later,
in the middle 1960s, the fledgling County Records of
New York sent recordist Charlie Faurot to Galax and Mt.
Airy. There, he produced seminal performances by now
legendary names such as Tommy Jarrell, Fred Cockerham,
It wasn't only through recordings that people got to
hear the beautiful music. Virginia's White Top Mountain
festival in the 1930s was one of the first large scale events
to feature music of the region; it eventually attracted
notables such as First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Fiddlers
contests and a bevy of up-and-coming radio stations
made the music very accessible to the masses.
The music of the Blue Ridge has a long, rich, and
storied past, and it is still with us today in places like
Hiltons, Clintwood, Wilkesboro, Floyd, Galax, Cherokee,
Asheville, and many others. As we now face the warm
months of summer, it is festival season. Some are devoted
strictly to music while others celebrate local heritage, of
which music plays a significant role.
Abundant natural resources of our area light our
homes and keep us warm in winter and cool in summer.
The music of the Blue Ridge offers a different kind of
energy, a sustenance for the heart, body, mind, and soul.
Although there's no danger of it running out, it is a
renewable resource that needs us just as much as we need
it. This summer, take time to soak up talents of our wonderful music makers, and enjoy the beautiful music
around us - in the Blue Ridge.