News / USA

American Old-Time Music Alive, Thriving in Rural Virginia

Mountain people continue musical heritage that began centuries ago

People of all ages danced to tunes at the Wayne C. Henderson Music Festival and Guitar Competition in Grayson County, Virginia.
People of all ages danced to tunes at the Wayne C. Henderson Music Festival and Guitar Competition in Grayson County, Virginia.
June Soh

American bluegrass music originated with immigrants from Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales beginning in the early 1600s. Those early settlers made their homes in the Appalachian Mountains in what's now eastern United States.

Through their music, they told stories about their struggles and daily life.  Americans living today in a section of the Appalachian Mountains known as the Blue Ridge Mountains continue that musical heritage.  

Bluegrass festival

On a recent Saturday, traditional American bluegrass music resonated in a park in the Blue Ridge Mountains.



People of all ages danced to tunes at the Wayne C. Henderson Music Festival and Guitar Competition.  It is one of the biggest events in rural Grayson County in southwest Virginia.

"Well, to all of us it's very important.," says Becky Ward, president of the festival. "We have about 2,000 people in attendance each year. It's very important to Wayne to continue on the traditional Appalachian style music in this area."

The annual event started 16 years ago to honor Wayne C. Henderson, a master guitar maker and musician who has spent all his 63 years in the region.

Wayne Henderson performs at the recent music festival in Virginia.
Wayne Henderson performs at the recent music festival in Virginia.

In recent years, the purpose of the festival has evolved into raising scholarship money to help young musicians in the region.

"We give scholarships for up to 21 years old," says Ward, the festival president . "We also give to local groups, but we only take scholarship applications from local Appalachian region children or groups that are trying to promote traditional music." 

Passing the tradition on

Besides the festival, the community has a program to connect children to their musical heritage.  It is called Junior Appalachian Musicians or JAM.

Helen White, a former school counselor, founded the after-school program 10 years ago.

"I know a lot of very sad stories of many mountain children," says White. "And I also knew how important music was in my own life, and how much fun, and what a sense of community the music of the mountains brings."

"I really love the music and you make a lot of friends by it," says Danielle Yochter, 11, a participant in the JAM program. "And you get to play with people like Wayne Henderson."

The Junior Appalachian Musicians program connects children to their musical heritage.
The Junior Appalachian Musicians program connects children to their musical heritage.

The festival features some of the region's best musicians, as well as outside entertainers like Kandra Walker, part of a seven-member family band called, The Red Head Express.

"We originally left Alaska on tour to learn the old music and bluegrass and we got to meet Wayne Henderson. And he invited us to the festival and one thing lead to another.  It's an honor to be here."

The festival also benefits local tourism and people come from across the country.

"Oh, it's a great festival.  We try to come every year and enjoy the hospitality of the folks here," says Dale Mossis, resident of a neighboring county. "And it's like a family reunion. You get together and see folks you've not seen maybe in several months or a year."

The villagers say the music is a big part of their lives and they take pride in keeping the deep-rooted musical tradition in the area.

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