Appalachia music is well-known around the U.S. and highly regarded worldwide.
This region’s peaks and valleys were instrumental (pun intended!) in forming the foundation of traditional American music as we know it today.
The Blue Ridge Mountains and Southwest Virginia are particularly known for bluegrass and old-time music featuring stylistic fiddling and hot finger-picking on the banjo.
While Nashville and the Grand Ole Opry may be considered the hotbed of the genre today, the Blue Ridge region is historically recognized as the true birthplace of country music.
Practically every city and town in the Blue Ridge (especially SWVA) celebrates this legacy with music festivals, concerts, country jams, and specialty museums.
The 330-mile Crooked Road– Virginia’s Appalachian Music Trail– attempts to link many of the region’s best and most authentic musical experiences together in one fantastic road trip!
This extensive route through the Virginia mountains is full of live music venues and historic music sites. As a musician myself, I found it to be an essential introduction to the area’s rich musical history.
Read on for our in-depth guide to exploring Appalachian Mountain music on the Crooked Road in Virginia, including all the best music venues, festivals, exhibits, and towns to visit along the way.
The Crooked Road Virginia Info
The Crooked Road spans 330 miles in Southwest Virginia, right in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and it’s 100% driven by music from the region.
The Crooked Road represent 53 Virginia mountain towns and four independent cities throughout Southwest Virginia, including 19 counties, 10 major music venues, and 50 affiliated music venues and festivals.
Major stops along the route include the towns of Abingdon, Bristol, Galax, and Norton.
The route also has 26 wayside exhibits where visitors can pull off the road, read about the area’s musical heritage, and listen to a 5-minute audio recording on FM radio.
Many musical genres are covered on Virginia’s Crooked Road. Old-time and bluegrass are commonly associated with Appalachia, but country, gospel, and centuries-old folk ballads are also featured prominently along the route.
- Official Website: https://thecrookedroadva.com/
- Contact Address: One Heartwood Circle, Abingdon VA 24210
- Phone Number: (276) 492-2400 ext. 2409
- Crooked Road Map: Interactive Maps
- Length: 330 miles
- Venues: 9 major venues, 60-plus affiliated venues and festivals
- Wayside Exhibits: 26
- Music Festivals: 25+
- Mountain Towns: 4 (Bristol, Galax, Norton, and Radford)
Appalachian Music History
Without even delving into indigenous music in Southern Appalachia (which was home to Cherokee, Muskogee Creek, Iroquois, Powhattan, and Shawnee people), the music of the Blue Ridge is deeply entwined in U.S. cultural history.
It was primarily the melding of Scots-Irish and African musical traditions that created Appalachia’s trademark sound.
At the heart of this music is the fiddle (brought over by the Scots-Irish) and the banjo (an African instrument). Uptempo fiddle playing was often used to play lead melodies, with steady banjo picking providing the rollicking rhythm.
From this fusion of influences, regional genres like bluegrass and old-time music gradually evolved, often played on porches and at outdoor folk dances.
After the Civil War, American folk music and country music soon emerged, incorporating banjo and fiddle with other acoustic instruments (including guitar and upright bass) and intricate vocal harmonies.
The idea for the Crooked Road, Virginia’s Music Heritage Trail, originated in 2003. It moves through music-related historic sites in Virginia, music museums, vintage and modern venues, and tons of music festivals.
This 330-mile route takes visitors through an Appalachian Mountains music experience that, in our experience, is second to none.
From local jams to major music events, Appalachian bluegrass and other musical genres of SW Virginia are showcased in amazing settings, both inside and out.
10 Crooked Road Concert Venues in Virginia
1. Birthplace of Country Music Museum
101 Country Music Way, Bristol VA • (423) 573-1927
Located right on the Virginia/Tennessee border, Bristol VA is a music-happy town with great restaurants, bars, and craft beers.
It has been nationally recognized as the place from which country music gained fame, because the Bristol Sessions in 1927 helped introduce the United States to Appalachian Mountain music.
Bristol’s music museum plays host to regular live concerts and hosts the renowned Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion festival every September.
We were really inspired by our visit to the museum this summer, and live music was a great part of the experience.
READ MORE: The 10 Best Things to Do in Bristol TN/VA
2. Blue Ridge Music Center
700 Foothills Road, Galax VA • (866) 308-2773 ext. 213
This region of SWVA is home to very distinct styles of Old Time music, and the museum is mostly aimed at preserving and promoting this classic style of Appalachian country/folk.
The museum is located at Milepost 213 on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and admission to the Visitor Center and Museum is free. Live music is played in the breezeway daily.
Additionally, the Blue Ridge Music Center has a “Roots Of American Music” outdoor concert series every summer, offering live music on Saturday evenings from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
We saw Sierra Ferrel there this summer. The show was outstanding, and the Blue Ridge Mountains backdrop was equally so!
3. Carter Family Fold
3449 A.P. Carter Highway, Hiltons VA • (276) 386-6054
Discovered nationally via the 1927 Bristol Sessions, the legend of The Carter Family—A.P., Sara, and “Mother” Maybelle Carter— has continued to grow over the past century.
The Carter Family Fold is an 800+ seat, rustic “music shed” that offers live traditional music every Saturday evening.
These music legends are recognized as influential forerunners to modern country music. From 1927 to 1942, they recorded more than 300 songs.
Of course, hardcore Johnny Cash fans like me can’t help but have some interest in this landmark due to his longtime love of June Carter, the Grammy-winning daughter of Maybelle.
4. Country Cabin II in Appalachian Traditions Village
6034 Kent Junction Road, Norton VA • (276) 679-3541
The original Country Cabin was built in the late 1930s to appease local singer/songwriter Kate O’Neil Peters Sturgill.
In 2002, Country Cabin II was built to accommodate larger audiences who were hungry for an authentic rural Southwest Virginia music experience.
Country Cabin II offers clogging and line-dancing lessons, as well as live music (including bluegrass, country, and old-time) to dance to every Saturday night.
With nearly 100 years between them, the combined tenure of Country Cabin I & II makes this being the longest continuously running site for heritage music on the Crooked Road VA.
5. Floyd Country Store
206 South Locust Street, Floyd VA • (540) 745-4563
For over a century, The Floyd Country Store has served as a gathering place for Floyd locals, travelers, and passersby. In the early 1900s, it opened its doors as Farmers’ Supply in the heart of downtown Floyd.
In the early 1980s, then known as Cockram’s General Store, the Store became a hub for the local Appalachian music and dance scene as musicians and dancers began to gather on a weekly basis to enjoy each others’ company at The Friday Night Jamboree.
The store is also home to The Handmade Music School, which is devoted to teaching old-time, bluegrass, and other forms of traditional music and dancing.
6. Old Fiddlers Convention & 7. Rex Theater
601 South Main Street • (276) 236-8541 & 111 East Grayson Street • (276) 236-0329 • Galax VA
Of all the fiddler gatherings in Virginia and North Carolina I’ve attended (and there are many), the Old Fiddlers Convention is easily the best. It actually has international acclaim and draws major audiences each year.
Established in 1935, this is the world’s largest and oldest fiddlers convention, with major prizes for winners in all sorts of competitions.
It’s held annually during the second week of August in Felts Park of Galax VA. Savvy visitors camp in the park to take part in or listen to the myriad jam sessions that occur well into the night.
Galax is historically known as a furniture manufacturing hub, and the Rex Theater opened in the 1940s as the only movie theater in the area.
Now the theater is owned by the City of Galax, and it has been renovated to be a venue for local, regional, and national music, especially bluegrass and old-time.
Every week the Rex Theater hosts the “Blue Ridge Backroads Live”radio broadcast on Classic Country 98.1 FM, which can be heard throughout SWVA. It’s also available for live streaming on the web, and reaches a worldwide audience.
READ MORE: The 10 Best Campgrounds in Virginia
8. Southwest Virginia Cultural Center & Marketplace
1 Heartwood Circle, Abingdon VA • (276) 492-2400
Located in Abingdon VA, just off I-81 near the Tennessee/Virginia border, the Southwest Virginia Culture Center & Marketplace provides special insight into Virginia music, food, arts and crafts, and community.
The SWVA Culture Center & Marketplace is the headquarters of the Crooked Road Heritage Music Trail, and it hosts tons of live music and talks from musicians.
In addition to live performances, the center has a huge collection of old-time, bluegrass, and gospel CDs, as well as exhibits about American roots music.
They also host large events on Thursday nights, including open jams on most Thursdays and youth music shows every second Thursday of each month.
READ MORE: 10 Best Virginia Mountain Towns to Visit
9. The Blue Ridge Institute & Farm Museum
20 Museum Drive, Ferrum VA • (540) 365-4416
In addition to exhibits about pottery, moonshine, and stock car racing, the institute and museum has recreated a Virginia-German homestead.
One of our favorite parts of this experience is their weekly Monday night jams at 7 PM.
As with many stops on the Crooked Road, the music here focuses primarily on bluegrass and old-time.
10. The Ralph Stanley Museum and Traditional Mountain Music Center
249 Clintwood Main Street, Clintwood VA • (276) 926-8550
Opened in 2004, the Ralph Stanley Museum takes visitors on an interactive music adventure into the career of Dr. Ralph Stanley and through the history of traditional mountain music.
Much of the museum focuses on the work of Stanley who had (and has) a worldwide following, with his particular style of banjo playing named “Stanley Style”.
Exhibits showcase historical memorabilia from country and modern bluegrass music, including instruments, awards (Stanley won a Grammy for “O Death” on the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack), and costumes.
READ MORE: The 10 Best Things to Do in Staunton VA
Best Crooked Road Exhibits
We don’t have space to provide insight into all 26 wayside exhibits found along the Crooked Road route, so I’ve compiled a nice sampling of my favorites to explain what they’re all about.
Each of the major concert venues in Virginia has wayside exhibits, but I’ve steered us to other ones to keep things fresh.
Remember each wayside attraction has an audio recording, including music samples, to go along with it. The exhibit text and recordings are also available online!
Franklin County Wayside– Town of Rocky Mount
This is considered the jumping-off point, or “eastern gateway,” for The Crooked Road. Historically, Franklin County is recognized as a place where average black and white folks shared their cultural music and dance.
Meadows of Dan Wayside– Patrick County
Patrick County was named after famed fiddler Patrick Henry. It is where the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and the Piedmont Plateau meet, and has been home of many well-known musicians from the region.
Town of Big Stone Gap Wayside
Big Stone Gap is a day’s ride from the Cumberland Gap, and was a frequent stop for pioneers who followed Daniel Boone’s trail. It played host to diverse musicians and buskers who performed with and learned from each other.
Town of Damascus Wayside
Known as “Trail Town USA,” Damascus VA is the crossroads of 6 different trails, and it’s the base for getting to the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. It was also home to many beloved Virginia musicians, from blind balladeer Horton Baker to composer/fiddler/singer G. B. Grayson.
Town of Independence Wayside– Grayson County
Located in Grayson County (home to 4 of Virginia’s 5 tallest mountains), the Town of Independence became the county seat when two rival communities in Grayson had to reach a compromise. It is part of Grayson’s traditional music scene, and filled with notable musicians from small towns throughout the county.
Woodlawn Wayside – Carroll County
Former hometown of Ernest (Pop) Stoneman, rural Woodlawn VA and the areas near it are steeped in traditional music. The Melton family made traditional Appalachian dulcimers, while Kilby Snow redefined what an autoharp could be. Families have been passing down music traditions here for a loooong time. –by Jonathon Engels