New River Train is a classic Bluegrass song that I’m familiar with from hearing and playing it in jams but I never really knew where the New River was located. It turns out it runs right past Galax. And the train track that used to run alongside it is now closed down and has been turned into a footpath.
We decided we should take a walk along at least part of it. We drove to a car park near the town of Ivanhoe and walked from there because we wanted to see the old railroad trestle bridge that crosses the river near that point. We met a few people on the path who were also out enjoying the beautiful Wednesday afternoon and had a few conversations about why we were visiting and whether we were enjoying ourselves.
Virginians are very keen to ensure that visitors are made to feel welcome and convey a real sense of pride in the natural and cultural attractions it has to offer. It’s lovely to be able to tell them how much we’re enjoying our visit and see their eyes light up.
We eventually reached, and crossed, the trestle bridge.
We achieved our goal and headed back to the car. We had yet another musical appointment in store for tonight.
About 10 miles along the road from Galax lies the town of Independence, Virginia. This town hosts a jam every Wednesday night in the town’s old courthouse. It’s described as an “old time mountain music jam” and we thought it would be fun to attend. However, we both decided on this occasion to leave our instruments behind and just be spectators. We went along to Independence early (obeying the speed limit all the way) and grabbed an early dinner at a place called Roots before heading over to the old courthouse building.
There was a circle of musicians there already just tuning up when we arrived and we took a couple of seats and got chatting a little to the jam participants. Once again, they were delighted to welcome us as far-flung visitors and were generous with their time and advice on what to do in Virginia, and at Merlefest where we were travelling to the next day.
It turned out that the fiddler who was sitting in front of us would be performing at the festival on Friday, alongside Wayne Henderson. Wayne is a world-renowned guitar maker. One of his guitars is the subject of a book called Clapton’s Guitar which follows the build of the guitar commissioned from him by Eric Clapton. This fiddler was a lady named Helen White, famed in these parts for having started a project called Junior Appalachian Musicians, or JAM. Music isn’t a hobby over here. It’s an integral part of the social structure of the community, and organisations like JAM are helping to pass on that perspective to future generations.
Well, we sat for a while listening to some great playing from the people in the courthouse.
Eventually, we had to drag ourselves away and draw to a close our last full day in Virginia. Tomorrow was yet another pack up and move on day as we press on further south and finally get to Merlefest.