Exploring the South – Travellogue USA #4

by | 25 Jun, 2010

Submitted by John Werner – Victoria

We return to this, the fourth missive from John Werner and Garry Roberts as they discover the musical delights of Galax Virginia.

Tuesday’s immediate agenda was getting our laundry done, and re-stock the RV’s ever diminishing pantry in nearby Dublin. While the washing was underway, I had a quick haircut next door from a lady who, as it turned out was guitar luthier and super-picker Wayne Henderson’s cousin. She was delighted to hear I’d met him on a previous trip, and planning to attend his Festival the coming Saturday at the Grayson Highlands National Park. For the un-initiated, Wayne is a one of the world’s most sought after guitar builders, a National Heritage award winner for his picking skills and all round nice guy.

After a slow meander through the hilly backroads, we pulled into a small RV park in Fries, in preparation for the evenings jam in nearby Galax at The Stringbean cafe. The weekly gathering has been an institution in there for many years.

We arrived at the advertised time of 6.30pm to a nearly empty venue, and help setup chairs in each section of the large two roomed cafe. Bluegrass to the left, Old Time to the right. When my bass was spotted by one of the locals, I was asked if I played Bluegrass or Old Time. “Both” was my answer and I was encouraged to go to the right to help hold things down.

The evening kicked off with around 12, mainly banjo & fiddle, players in the circle, all displaying – as has become normal to us – excellent skills and a wide variety of tune knowledge. We were gathered on a slightly raised wooden stage in the front of the room; our sound was huge, and easily drowned out the Bluegrass jam in the adjacent room.

As we were playing, I was facing the shop-front window with a view of the outside street, and noticed a steady stream of people arriving with cases, many being under the age of 20. By the end of the evening, there were around 40 pickers, with a 3rd circle setup at the rear of the Old Time room. There were plenty of people there to dance and listen in to all 3 jams as well.

We eventually became aware of the reason why there were so many young fiddlers in the room. The nearby Peachbottom Music Camp was having a field trip for their students both young & mature and some of them were setting the room on fire.

We were fortunate to meet and play a little with one of the Camp’s tutors, Shane Cook, a Canadian & US fiddle champion. Another virtuosic tutor, April Verch, was also in attendance. All up, a great jam in a town that has so much musical heritage, with another group of fine group of local people who gladly opened there weekly gathering to jam-seeking travellers.