Wednesday, May 02, 2007

A weekend away in Floyd, VA

Floyd, VA.

The Blue Ridge Parkway skirts the eastern edge of Floyd. We exited the parkway and followed directions to Ambrosia Farm, a bed and breakfast about five miles south of town. We pulled up to an old farmhouse and saw Craig, one of the proprietors working on a cinderblock cabin up on the hill. He came down and greeted us. Since he was dusty, he told us to let ourselves in and directed us to our room. We booked the master bedroom on the ground floor. Nice room filled with antiques. It had a major flaw. It was built for people who were 5'8" or shorter. The doorframe was too short for Jim. He had the same problem with the bathroom. I kept hearing a loud thump and then cursing. Jim would enter the room clutching his head. The ceiling was low, too. We felt like giants.

We went for a walk soon after we arrived in Floyd. Craig directed us to a path up the lane. We skirted around some woods and climbed up a steep hill to come upon a sweeping view of the neighboring hillsides. The landscape was lit by the golden glow of the late afternoon sun. There were old cherry trees up on the crest of the hill, but most of it was cleared. There was an overturned bench on top of the hill. Jim turned it over and we sat there admiring the view.

We walked back to the farm and got ready for our big evening. It was already 7pm and we had to get supper and see some bluegrass!

Floyd consists of a stoplight and a small downtown. That's about it. There are shops that cluster along four blocks. The Floyd Country Store is in the middle of one of these blocks. We pulled up to the building and saw a crowd was already gathered. The music began around 6:30 with a gospel act and there were three more acts on the bill. Jim and I parked the car and walked over to the store. Outside there was a raffle going on. There were also a few gentlemen standing around holding instruments and playing music. It isn't every day you can walk down the sidewalk and have to dodge someone playing the banjo. We knew were had found something good here.

We stepped inside. It was crowded. We gave an older woman $3.00 a piece and promptly turned around in search of dinner. We ate a quick meal at the Blue Ridge Café around the corner and made it back in time to catch the end of the second act's set.

There were about 200+ people crammed into the Floyd Country Store on Friday night. About half of them were dancing. The bands were expected to play songs that folks could dance/clog/tap to. Almost everyone was clogging, or as the locals call it, flat footing. They wore special shoes. They look like jazz shoes with taps on them. One guy had taps on his black penny loafers. There seem to be different styles of clogging shoes. Some liked do dance with loud taps, others were more subtle. The dance floor was packed during every tune. Young and old were up and moving. The Jamboree was THE place to be on Friday nights in Floyd. Twice during the evening, a gentleman took command of the mic and joined the band in order to call square dances. Again, the floor was packed with dancers of all ages. Somehow, I seemed to recall what some of the moves were. I have a vague memory of learning how to square dance in grade school. Aleman left and do-si-do. Jim and I were happy campers. We didn't dance, but we really enjoyed the music and watching the fun all around us. Most of the attendees were locals, but there were other tourists like us in the audience. I am amazed that old time and bluegrass music is thriving in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

If I wanted to really see a lot of authentic traditional music of the area, I'd check out more spots along The Crooked Road. It seems that Jim and I are not alone in wanting to discover and enjoy bluegrass, old time, and folk music played in an authentic setting. The state of Virginia had developed a heritage music trail that winds through the mountains of southwest VA. You can spend a week or more exploring the Carter Family Fold, Ralph Stanley's museum, luthiers, theatres, and other unusual venues where folks get together and play. A book is available that documents the sights and sounds of The Crooked Road. It seems to be working. It is great to see this stuff thriving.

Fairy Stone State Park.

We spent Saturday morning south of Floyd. We drove to Fairy Stone State Park. With a name like that I could not resist. Fairy stones are a crystalline rock (iron aluminum silicate or staurolite) that occurs in a corner of the park. They are found in many hexagonal shapes and often intersect at right angle in cross-like formations. They're about half and inch long. You find them by just picking over the dirt and looking for them. No digging allowed! Jim and I went to the hunt site next to Haynes 57 Service Station. The ranger at the visitor's center said Ronnie, the owner would be happy to clean up anything we find for a small fee. We spent over an hour walking around and sitting on a hillside looking at rocks. We found many possible crystals imbedded in larger rocks. Jim found a few rectangular examples of fairy stones. I managed to find a good example of a St. Andrews cross shaped fairy stone. It has a cross piece intersecting at a diagonal instead of at 90 degrees. I was happy. I put it in my pocket right away. Can't lose my new good luck charm.

We drove back to Floyd and grabbed a sandwich and Café del Sol. After lunch we walked down the block to the Floyd Country Store and looked at wooden bowls, that had caught our eyes the night before. A local artist named Glendon Boyd carves bowls from local wood. He doesn't use a lathe. He prefers to carve the wood using traditional methods. The results are really exciting. Wahoo wood bowls were my favorite. Wahoo is a local name for winged elm, I had to ask. We had a hard time choosing, all of his bowls were so tempting.

We took our purchases back to the car and headed west to visit the pottery studio of Ellen Shankin. She's a local potter who does exceptionally fine work in ceramics. Mom and I have several of her pieces, purchased when we were in Floyd several years ago. When Jim walked into her studio gallery, he looked around and said, "I recognize that, and that, and that…." I use my pottery. I keep olive oil next to the stove in one of Ellen's ceramic bottles. We bought a few more pieces. I couldn't help myself.

The rest of our time in Floyd was pretty quiet. We had supper at Oddfellas Cantina. It was so-so. Jim continued to bump his head at the B&B. We left Floyd on Sunday morning, happy to have spent a couple of days in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Sunday Night: Dinner at the Dairy.

Jim and I had a seat at the most exclusive restaurant in Gray's Chapel, NC. We had Dinner at the Dairy, Goat Lady Dairy's once-a-month restaurant event. Chris, the chef pulled off another amazing meal using Goat Lady Dairy pork, green Vidalia onion, asparagus risotto, strawberry shortcake, warm goat cheese salad, and an assortment of Goat Lady Dairy cheeses. I enjoyed being a customer instead of a worker. Nathan provided flawless service and we spent a nice evening talking to the other couples at our table.

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