Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Carry me back to Old Virginia, Back to my Clinch Mountain Home

It was a four hour drive from Lexington, Kentucky to Maces Spring, Virginia. We went through the Cumberland Gap into Virginia. The scenery was lovely:

And the roads, as you can see, were positively deserted - a real treat when you are used to driving in the city with a bunch of pushy assholes (of which, admittedly, I can be one from time to time).

There isn't really all that much Carter-related to see in Maces Spring (I refuse to call it Hiltons!). Janette Carter, daughter of Sarah and A.P., began the Carter Fold which is the actual music venue. Here are the sites you can visit in Maces Spring/Hiltons:
the graves of Sarah and A.P. (is this the same Church in The Wildwood that they sang about? I don't know!)
A.P.'s store (he ran it pre-Carter Family days). This serves as the museum.
A.P.'s birthplace (a log cabin moved on site)
The Carter Fold - the big auditorium type place where they give concerts every Saturday night.
Maybelle and Eck's house is nearby, but is privately owned so you can't tour it.

Music starts at 7:30 and the other sites open around 6 p.m. - they are only open on Saturdays before the concert, so frankly there is little sense visiting any other day or time.

We pulled up to the Fold about 5:45 p.m. and were greeted by:

That little house is the store and museum. We paid our 50 cents admission and walked into a crazed jumble of memorabilia, interesting but completely disorganized and in dire need of conservation and curation. I say this only because I feel it is important enough to warrant that. I loved the sort of quirky, chock-a-block feel and the hand written labels and genuineness of it all and that shoudn't be lost - but if the items are going to last into the future, they have to be properly displayed. For example, there are huge scrapbooks full of letters people wrote to A.P. when he was sick - but they are just stuck into a folder. Lots of clothing in the display cases is moth eaten and musty. It was kind of sad and distressing, actually. If I had oodles of money, I'd donate it towards some professional curation!
The highlight of the museum for the man was A.P.'s work clothes:

We paid 50 cents to tour the cabin as well before buying our tickets to the concert.
The band playing that night was the ETSU Bluegrass Band, the only university in the country to have a four year degree in Bluegrass!
We had a while to go til the concert started, but it was already quite crowded. We couldn't sit close - some lady yelled at me for trying, which put me in a foul mood...thankfully that went away when the music started - and the venue is much, much larger than I expected. I knit, of course (a Baby Yoda sweater for my friend who is expecting) and the man took some pre-show photos. It was dark so they're bad. Do forgive.

That lower photo, thats the snack line you see there. What kind of food do they serve at the Carter Fold? An eclectic mix of nachos, hot dogs, and bean soup with a corn muffin. We ate popcorn. I couldn't help but crack wise about authentic Appalachian nachos - they did appear to be the most popular food item in the crowd.
The show started on time. Dale Jett, who is Janette's son (hence A.P. and Sarah's grandson) is a sort of MC and he played two numbers before ETSU came on. They were Carter Family songs, but I don't recall which.
Then the band came on - they were great! We were enjoying it plenty when all of the sudden, in about the third number, we heard this sound. The man described it as rain, to me it sounded like breaking glass, but like rain too - and we looked all around, wondering where it was coming from and what it was. When we looked down at the stage, we saw what it was.

It was perhaps 8-12 people, walking out in front of the stage, shaking hands and smiling at one another.
They were Appalachian clog dancing!

I absolutely cannot describe how we felt at that moment. We had tears in our eyes. Not to be overly dramatic, but really. We did. It was like all of the sudden (and I am getting tears in my eyes typing this), bluegrass wasn't something that we listened to through a box anymore - bluegrass was ALIVE, a living tradition, a vital part of people's lives, a social event, a celebration. It wasn't a CD and it was more than a performance. It was the soundtrack of that part of the country and of people's lives. It was incredibly moving and immensely entertaining. Here's a photo, except where the snack line was in the previous photo, the people here are dancing:

Alas, there were many "No Videotaping" signs posted - so no movie. But you have to go see it for yourself.
The people are blurry because they were moving so fast, but the gentleman in the blue and red and white striped shirt really tore it up, he was fantastic at it and was one of the first ones out on the floor. There is also a young guy, probably 18 or so years old, you can just see his head in a tan baseball cap who was amazing to watch. Here was this kid, decked out in baggy jeans and like a Harley t-shirt or something, doing this regional dance and doing it spectacularly. These are people who come out to the Fold most Saturdays, to see their friends and to dance. I really had no idea what kind of crowd would be there, and I don't know why I was so surprised that it would be locals.

We watched the rest of the concert in a sort of reverie. I did have a feeling similar to when I used to go to church, and there are so many people, all coming together with like minds, to celebrate something. It was definitely a spiritual experience.

The concert lasted well into the night, I guess we left at about 10:30, still on this high that we got from experiencing...I don't know exactly...American Music? American Culture? America?

We were staying in Bristol, a city on the border of Tennessee and Virginia. Bristol is extremely significant for Carter fans, because that is where they were "discovered" by Ralph Peer. He placed an ad, looking for local talent for Victor records, and he recorded the Carters and amazingly, Jimmie Rodgers at the same session.

Bristol was about 25 miles away. Too happy and bewildered to care for directions, I turned on to the Bristol Turnpike. I knew I was heading in the right direction, but what followed was half an hour down the darkest, twistiest, turniest roads I have ever driven. I laughed the whole time. It was a joy. The man kept exclaiming over the stars - you sort of forget about them living in the city, and they were magical.

We arrived at our hotel around 11:30. It would have been a real kicker to the day if we had found a delicious place to eat. We stopped at a bar we passed that said they had food, but it was too smoky inside and they were playing some awful top 40 tune. We settled for a six pack and Taco Bell back at the hotel room. Not the perfect ending to a perfect day, but good enough, to be sure.


No comments: