The Highland County Maple Festival
March 9, 2019
Once again, I've decided to give blogging another go. I've had several through the years and I've never been able to stay dedicated enough to continually update it. This time will be different though. I'm starting what is the first of weekly blog posts to detail my travels, those far away and close to home. Much of my life as a musician living and aiming to stay in Southwest Virginia revolves around community events. These events not only provide me with work at times, but also provide unique perspectives on the lives, celebrations, and trials of those in the communities around me, so I hope to cover those stories too. I wear a several hats in my every day life, from performer, music teacher, dance caller, town councilman, and the occasional real estate agent. Many times I've heard friends remark how so many paths must get tangled. Truthfully, they all seem like one path to me. I've always seen music as the the common thread among all of my work. I'm sure those tales will end up here too.
Above, one of the many vistas visible throughout the area, unfortunately covered by fog.
As for my first post, well, I've just returned home from my first gig of the year that required any extensive travel. I was invited to perform for the Highland County Maple Festival. This two weekend festival has been going on for years around the town of Monterey, Virginia in the mountains west of Staunton, near the West Virginia state line. The tiny town was full of charming and historic structures and according to my host for the weekend, the population typically hovered around 300 people. However, last weekend I'm certain I saw at least 300 people lined up for the famous homemade maple donuts that I had been told about upon arriving in town. Snow was still hanging around the hillsides and the views around Allegheny, Bath, and Highland County were spectacular. There was no shortage of steep gorges, picturesque rivers, and wide open valleys throughout the region. My concert was held inside what appeared to be a refurbished school building turned community arts center. Despite being located in the least populous county in Virginia, I was impressed to learn that community members had access to a variety of both fine and cultural art experiences. The room was filled with friendly faces and I rattled off my usual tunes and songs of late. As always, I tried to convey the deep sense of history, pride, compassion, and beauty found in my home town of Big Stone Gap through my music. I've always believed there to be something magical about our town because no matter where I travel I never fail to find someone who also has a connection to our small corner of the world and wouldn't you know it, but my high English teacher's son-in-law sat in the back of the audience! Graciously, he gave me a box of those famous donuts to keep me from having to wait the hour in the cold with numerous others for a taste of the local delicacy. As usual I got a hot meal at the local fave, a small family style restaurant named High's. No meal at the festival is complete without the essence of maple on something, so I had a maple tart for dessert. Local musicians Alice and Jeff Shumate invited me to their local old time jam on Saturday night at The Curly Maple. The fiddles tunes were the perfect way to wrap up a good day. I stayed the night and meandered back home through Douthat State Park and immediately decided where I'll be spending my vacation this year. It was beautiful and offered numerous opportunities for hiking and camping. I arrived home to yet another spout of unfortunate news in the community. It has been a common theme lately with deaths of local family friends seeming to be on an unusual spike. It is heartbreaking, but as always the enduring spirit of our community and love for each other will pull us through, though that doesn't diminish the pain or tears we will share along the way. It's one of the virtues that makes living in a small town in the mountains of Southwest Virginia worth it. It is funny, I'll be twenty-six in a couple of weeks and I never imagined ten years ago I'd be living in my hometown while simultaneously following my dreams of making a living with a banjo, but here I am and I couldn't be happier.
The Maple Tart was an excellent choice at High's Restaurant in Monterey!
Alice (seated with guitar) and Jeff Shumate (fiddle) were kind enough to invite me to their old time jam on Saturday.
They're excellent musicians and Alice is equally talented with her songwriting.
I made a quick stopover in Douthat State Park. Here is just one of the many gorgeous scenes I came across.
Well, I think that will just about wrap up this first post. I hope you enjoyed it and please share it with your friends if you did. If you're around the Southwest Virginia area this coming weekend then head to Heartwood in Abingdon, VA on Friday evening. I'll be calling an old fashioned square dance there in the evening to celebrate the recent renovations to the visitors center. Until next time!