Deep in the most rugged mountains of southwestern Virginia, on the slopes and in the hollows of Mt. Rogers and Whitetop Mountain, a rich tradition of old-time music has endured through many decades of changes. As the popularity of bluegrass, rock, and rap flooded the country, and as the popularity of old-time music came and went, and arose again throughout the Appalachians, the old-time musicians of the Whitetop area maintained their pure, rich musical heritage like burning embers in a banked fire.
Nathaniel Hawthorne “Nat” Reese was born March 4, 1924 in Salem, Virginia to Thomas Walker Reese and Rosa Sylvester Caroline Wilson Reese. Thomas was originally from Montgomery, Alabama, and Rosa from Bessemer, Alabama. The family had previously lived in Florida and Georgia before coming to Virginia to, as Nat puts it, “get away from the cotton fields.”
As this recording demonstrates, Eddie Bond has talents that can bring an audience out of their seats. He is a powerful singer in a soulful Blue Ridge Mountain tradition, as well as one of the most respected old-time fiddlers in the Blue Ridge.
Linda and Sammy come from legendary musical communities on Virginia’s Crooked Road. The Meadows of Dan and Clayman Valley are tiny mountain places separated by 150 miles of hairpin turns, old mills, crossroads stores, mom and pop eateries, and towns with one stop light or none, but only 90 miles by the way the crow flies.
A few years back at his Hills of Home Festival in Coeburn, Virginia, Ralph Stanley brought out a special guest during his set that he and his wife Jimmie wanted us to hear. There, alone on that stage, Frank Newsome sang “Gone Away With a Friend.” I’m sure there were many others like me who were riveted and had a profound experience. On many levels it was one of the most powerful, spiritual, mournful, emotional, beautiful, and hopeful things I have ever heard. There is a purity about Frank’s singing that brings a soul-stirring, heart-tugging peacefulness that is beyond words.
I am happy to declare that there are many things worth remembering about my childhood. There are lots of memories that have evaporated over time, but the earliest sights and sounds that still ring the most clearly are those of music and singing. I have come to understand that the love of making music with one’s voice has long been a central part of my family. I may never know exactly how far back the story goes, but I do know that singing has to be just about as much a part of my being as living and breathing.
On a hot summer night in 2006, two friends took the stage at the storied old-time and bluegrass music festival in Galax, Virginia. One would would sing while the other played along. When the next friend’s turn to compete arrived, they would switch roles. While neither friend is a musical virtuoso, their love for the music and their belief in each other resulted in a very special sound that embodies much of the great musical tradition of southwest Virginia.
Anyone concerned that traditional bluegrass and old time music may no longer resonate with today’s youth need only witness the masterful playing of Montana Young to allay these fears. At the tender age of 12, Montana has already been delighting audiences at fiddling conventions, festivals, and community jams for years, along the musically rich Crooked Road.
At the eastern end of the Crooked Road lies Ferrum College’s Blue Ridge Institute. Among their folk music archives is a scratchy 1970s recording of a bluegrass jam session at the Pulaski, Virginia Fiddler’s Convention. On it, a fiddler walks up with case in hand and asks if he can join in. After being invited to join, he gets his fiddle out and runs, no, blazes through a warm up scale – three octaves worth! Instantly, all present sense something extraordinary is about to happen. And it does, as the fiddler leads the group on a mad dash through a jaw-dropping rendition of Soldiers Joy, Liberty and Golden Slippers. When it’s over, someone from the thoroughly stunned group says, “Say, Mister, what’s your name?” “Pendleton, Buddy Pendleton” comes the reply in a modest unassuming tone.
Gerald Anderson and Spencer Strickland play with an exuberance and joy that is infectious. Whether they are jamming in the sawdust of their instrument-making shop, at a local performance in Grayson County, Virginia, on a festival stage, or in the recording studio, Gerald and Spencer play from the heart and never hold back.