This past August 2021 marked the 85th annual Old Fiddler's Convention in Galax, Virginia. The Galax Fiddler's Convention is the oldest and largest music festival of its type, celebrating traditional mountain music. Galax is an incorporated "city" at the southeastern edge of Grayson County. My father was born about 20 miles away, in the small town of Troutdale, also in Grayson County. He grew up in Troutdale and other Southwest Virginia communities. As a child we frequently spent summers in Troutdale, visiting with Aunts and Uncles.
Oddly, not once in all my childhood and adolescence of being around my father's family and being in southwestern Virginia did I ever hear traditional mountain music or even bluegrass or country music. I have concluded that this was a social class issue, my grandfather was a shopkeeper, a politician, battling to make his family "middle class" and above the "riff-raff". He once castigated my eldest Aunt Mary for her association with Sherwood Anderson (the great American author, who also lived in Troutdale in his last decades) because Anderson wrote scandalous tales about moonshiners and hillbillies in his newspaper, and my grandfather did not want his daughter associated with "ruffians". So my father and my aunts all listened to classical music and big band music, and never once that I knew of listened to traditional mountain music, bluegrass or country music.
It was not until I was a graduate student in Sociology at the University of Kentucky that I heard and fell in love with traditional music. My first introduction to it was in the winter of 1977-78, at a fundraiser concert for the union coal miners of eastern Kentucky and southwest Virginia who were engaged in a major strike against the Bituminous coal companies in Appalachia. From that moment on I was in love with the music of the mountains.
One of my most precious memories from grad school came during the August of 1978, while I was living and researching my master's thesis in my father's home town of Troutdale. A group of friends piled in the hay-filled back of a farm truck and drove to Galax for the Fiddler's Convention. Some of my friends were musicians and they also knew many of the traditional musicians in the region. While we spent a little bit of time in the arena listening to the contests, we spent most of that very long night wandering about the campsite, where dozens of small jams of musicians occurred.
This video, from August of 2021, reminds me so strongly of that wonderful night and how much amazing music could be found just wandering from campsite to campsite.