Virginia has a proud legacy when it comes to music. It’s long been a place where old-time music has flourished. Later, it served as the backdrop for the development of early country music. It’s also home to a number of noteworthy venues where major stars have performed. If you’re looking to learn more about that legacy, consider visiting one of these 16 venues throughout the commonwealth.
The National bills itself as a “music-lover’s fantasyland,” thanks in large part to its state-of-the-art V-DOSC sound system. “What this means to the uninitiated is that our sound system is bigger, better, and clearer than anywhere else,” the venue’s website reads. The club has evolved since its 1924 opening, when it hosted vaudeville acts and showed silent movies accompanied by live music in the commonwealth’s largest orchestra pit. “In its heyday, such local and national show-biz luminaries as Eddie Cantor and Orson Welles regularly looked over the footlights from the National’s stage,” the site reads. Since reopening in 2008, it has hosted such performers as Willie Nelson, Elvis Costello, and Foo Fighters.
The Jefferson Theater has a long and distinguished history. It was first opened in 1912 as a live performance theater that played host to silent movies, vaudeville acts, and a historic list of live performers that included Harry Houdini and The Three Stooges. It reopened in 2009 after a comprehensive restoration effort that highlighted the theater’s vintage architecture while modernizing its facilities. Today, the venue plays host to a range of live music performances of all genres including rock, bluegrass, reggae, country, metal, and hip-hop.
The Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts serves as a majestic natural setting for more than 100 performances across all genres each summer. The 117-acre park is home to the architecturally stunning Filene Center and the charmingly intimate Children’s Theatre-in-the-Woods. No matter your taste in music, you’re sure to find a performance that resonates with you. A typical season includes pop, country, folk, blues, and orchestral performances. The park was made possible by a donation of land and funds from Catherine Filene Shouse in 1966. Later, Congress designated Wolf Trap Farm as a national park.
Since its establishment in 1966, the Birchmere has been legendary among certain music circles. In fact, many careers have been launched from the internationally recognized music hall. Dave Matthews, Vince Gill, John Prine, Linda Ronstadt, and k.d. Lang are just a few of the artists counted as friends of the hall.
Hampton Coliseum, one of the three largest convention facilities in Virginia, is perhaps best known for hosting the annual Hampton Jazz Festival, a celebration of friends, family, culture, music, and life that takes place each June. The striking coliseum has been home to a range of events since 1969.
The Birthplace of Country Music Museum is one of the major venues on The Crooked Road, Virginia’s heritage music trail (more on that below). It pays tribute to the bordering twin cities of Bristol—in Virginia and Tennessee—and the role they played in the development of country music through the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion music festival and WBCM Radio Bristol. The museum tells the story of the 1927 Bristol Sessions recordings by the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, Ernest V. Stoneman, and others. The recordings were influential in shaping the sounds and practices of early commercial country music.
The Crooked Road is a 330-mile driving trail through the mountains of southwest Virginia that connects nine major venues and more than 60 affiliated venues and festivals and highlights the region’s rich heritage of traditional music.
Here are some of the major venues along the road:
Blue Ridge Music Center: Located in Galax, the center celebrates the music and musicians of the Blue Ridge Mountains through various performances, exhibits, and jams each spring, summer, and fall. The grounds include an outdoor amphitheater and indoor interpretive center.
Carter Family Fold: The Fold is a rustic 800-plus-seat music shed in Hiltons that offers traditional music every Saturday night. It honors the legacy of the Carter Family, discovered in 1927 by Victor Recording Studio in Bristol. They recorded 300 songs between 1927 and 1942.
Country Cabin II: Located in Norton, the cabin is connected with the original Country Cabin that was built in 1937-38 with the encouragement of local ballad singer and songwriter Kate O’Neil Peters Strugill. The current cabin was built in 2002 to accommodate larger audiences for such events as the annual Dock Boggs Festival in September.
County Sales: Located in Floyd, the store carries the world’s largest selection of bluegrass, old-time, and early country music recordings. Established in 1965, it has long been a first choice for musicians and fans.
Floyd Country Store: Also in Floyd, the store has been a community gathering place to celebrate traditional southern Appalachian music and dance since the 1980s. In fact, it’s home to a group of musicians and dancers who carry on the local traditions through such events as the Sunday Jam and Friday Night Jamboree.
Old Fiddlers Convention: The week-long Old Fiddlers Convention, the oldest and largest fiddlers convention in the world, takes place in Felts Park in Galax the second week of August each year. Since 1935, musicians and fans from around the world have come to perform and hear music on the stage and in the campgrounds.
Ralph Stanley Museum and Traditional Mountain Music Center: This Clintwood center highlights the life and music of legendary musician Ralph Stanley through an extensive collection of memorabilia, including vintage instruments and countless awards.
Rex Theater: Located in Galax, the historic theater hosts a live radio show each Friday evening that features stage performances of bluegrass and old-time bands. It’s broadcast live on WBRF 98.1FM and streamed online.
Southwest Virginia Cultural Center & Marketplace: Located in Abington, the center and marketplace is a gateway to southwest Virginia where you’ll “experience a different side of Virginia through our craft, music, food, outdoors and communities,” the website reads. While there, you can learn the stories of music throughout the region through the rotating displays.
Blue Ridge Institute & Farm Museum: This institute and museum in Ferrum highlight old and new folk traditions of western Virginia. The galleries explore folklife’s many facets, including music, crafts, foodways, and decorative arts.
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