Monday, June 30, 2008

Historic Foster Falls Village

It seems that each day we visit Wytheville, we meet another helpful, friendly person. Today we met three people who have significantly helped us with our meeting with Gerald Anderson which we will report on this Wednesday.

In between periods of rainfall, we walked around some of the buildings at Historic Foster Falls Village, about 12 miles south of Wytheville on Route 52. During it heyday in the 1890's, the village centered around an iron furnace, a large hotel, and a railroad station. Today, only a few deserted buildings remain from the village of over 100 homes.

The village, located along the New River, supported industrial activity. Iron ore mines supplied the raw material for the iron furnaces in the village, and pig iron was shipped to St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Baltimore.

Located near the village is the Shot Tower where lead shot of varying size would be molded, sorted, and shipped down the New River beginning in 1807. This was an interesting process. Molten lead was poured through different size sieves, falling down a 150-foot shaft (75 feet in the tower and another 75 in a shaft dug into the hillside) into a kettle of water. A tunnel ran from the kettle to the New River which supplied the water for the kettle and the transportation route for shipping the shot to market.

The tower is one of only three in the United States, and may be the only one of is particular design in the entire world.

As we returned to the campground, we passed a field that caught our attention. Since the field was adjacent to a winding road with no shoulder, I had to stop on the road and jump a small gulley to take this photo. The hills around the areas we've toured seemed to be used for growing evergreen trees, grape vines, and material for these bales. We have seen livestock (cattle and goats) grazing on the hillsides. It seems to be difficult to work this land, but the scenery is certainly beautiful.

[Just for the record, the photographs are the work of both Chuck
and Kate, but we have decided not to identify the photographer
for each photo.]

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Wytheville, VA

The forecast called for rain, so we changed our plans for attending an outdoor concert at a good distance from the campground.

So, this gave us some time to establish a new blog. The system that we began with required a considerable amount of time for my friend Dennis to re-format the information that I sent him and even with some streamlining, there was still a lot of time for someone to volunteer on a daily basis. So, he has helped me design this site and we'll see how this works.

Since I am more on my own now, this may also take awhile for me to get established. The experimental work on the June 27 entry turned out fairly well on the early tries. Hopefully, those who want to find us have been able to do so.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Elk Creek, VA

[To access the comments from June 12 to the 27 go to]

Guess what this is? (Answer below).

Our second trip to the Grayson County Old-Time and Bluegrass Fiddlers' Convention in Elk Creek, VA was equally entertaining. It began with the youth competition in the same categories as the previous evening. Personally, I believe the youth competition is crucial to the survival of the musical culture of the region. Essential for the young people, since it connects them to their family and the "elders" of the community. Essential for the musical heritage because the traditions are continued.

By the way, the four of us (the Jones', Kate, and I) picked the top three winners--two terrific violinists and a string bass player. The first place winner in the youth competition was Marlon Dean, pictured here.

As I mentioned in the last post, I was going to address the difference between "old-time" and "bluegrass." (You may choose to skip this longer explanation and go right to the fifth paragraph.)

The first distinction is that "old-time" music is dance music. That is, the audience gets up, dances, and applauds. "Bluegrass" music is concert music, meaning that the audience listens and then applauds. However, old-time bands sometimes play concerts and may have songs with instrumental breaks like bluegrass bands, and bluegrass bands sometimes play dances.

The second distinction is based on the style of banjo playing. Old-time styles can be traced back some 150 years and may be called "claw hammer" or "two finger." Bluegrass banjo playing is "three finger" and syncopated and arose from North Carolina and the style of Earl Scruggs. (If you haven't skipped ahead to paragraph #5, we'll continue.

The third distinction refers to the instrumentation. Old-time music is fiddle-centered, since it is dance music. Bluegrass features all the instruments, often as soloists. Note: both bands include the same instruments--fiddle/violin (therein lies another topic for clarification, but we'll skip that for now), banjo, guitar, bass, and (sometimes) mandolin.

Finally, . . . the fourth distinction lies in the labels themselves. The term "old-time" was applied to the Appalachain music in the 1920's by the music industry; "bluegrass" arose in 1945 from Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys and grew out of the technology of microphones, mixers, and speakers that made it possible to "solo" different stringed instruments.

To conclude the discussion of the difference, one could turn to Ralph Stanley, the most noted of the founders of bluegrass music. He is not sure that his music should be called "bluegrass." He was playing the music before the name was created and described his music as "old-time, what you might call bluegrass. Eventually he came up with this definition "It's mountain music" (Guide to the Crooked Road). So there you have it.

Now, here is the quiz for those who read the entire discussion: Today, I met the fellow who played the banjo at the Fries Jam Session. I told him that we were happy he showed up to offer some contrast to the five guitarists and that we appreciated his playing. He said, "I was really out of my element. Without the fiddle player there, I didn't add much. I really play off the fiddle player." Would this banjo player be more likely to be found playing in an old-time band or a bluegrass band? (Answer later.)

I wish I could be with you to hear you skillfully clarify the difference when someone casually asks, "What's the difference between 'old-time' and 'bluegrass' music?" You'll amaze that person.

There was strong competition among the old-time bands at Elk Creek. There were over 25 bands competing in that category, and each played two songs. It was pretty impressive to see a band finish and within three minutes another band had set up, done a sound check, and begun playing.

With 25 bands each playing two songs, there were only about two duplicates that I could recall and even those had different stylings. Obviously, there is a rich resource of songs upon which to draw. While there is strong similarity of style (old-time music), there is such a variety of presentation that one does not become tired of the music.

We met Gerald Anderson in the afternoon. This meeting will be the focus of a topic in a few days.

After spending time comparing travel experiences with Fran and Jim and wishing Fran well playing her new guitar, we said farewell to our two new friends.

Answers: (1) The apparatus is an ice cream maker used by the folks selling homemade ice cream. I remember the hand cranked model. (2) Our banjo-playing friend would have performed in an old-time band (which featured the fiddle and did not focus on solo performances by the members of the band). Interestingly enough, the fellow, who is from Fries, was playing with an old-time band from Stewardstown, PA in this category of the competition. It seems that a couple of days ago he learned the Pennsylvania band was looking for a banjo player, so he joined them for the competition. When you're skilled, I guess it's pretty easy to fit in with other skilled players in a certain style of music.

Finally, the surrounding area was beautiful, and I just wanted to add a couple of photos of the Elk Creek area.