A few days ago over Memorial Day Weekend, our RV travels took us to southwestern Virginia where we were treated to an absolutely terrific musical experience: the Sunday Music Jam at The Country Store in Floyd, Virginia.
It was a free bluegrass jam session in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains — what a thrill!
We had heard that there were fabulous free bluegrass music gigs at this unique store in the Virginia mountain town of Floyd. But when we walked down the main street under the storefront awnings, we weren’t quite sure where the store was!
We saw lots of people walking around with ice cream cones. I even saw a funny sign on a storefront that said “Loitering Allowed.” I snapped a pic with some folks sitting under the sign eating ice cream while Mark walked off in search of the country store.
Where the heck was that country store? We just couldn’t find it — until we crossed the street and looked back and saw that The Country Store was that funny place where loitering was allowed. Silly us!! So, in we went.
Inside we found a classic old fashioned store, with creaky old oak floors that had been walked on by thousands of feet, an old embossed tile ceiling overhead, and big barrels of candy right in the middle with all kinds of interesting little trinkets for sale on wooden shelves on the walls.
They even had musical instruments for sale on the wall behind the cash register.
On the other side of the store they were selling ice cream and desserts and coffee. Sales seemed very snappy behind that counter. I noticed that for every person that marched away from the register licking an ice cream cone, another one got in line!
But it was at the back of the store where the music action was happening. We didn’t hear anything at first, but when we walked back we saw rows of chairs filled with people, many with fiddles, banjos and guitars in their laps, and there were musical instrument cases of all sizes and shapes leaning against the walls.
Suddenly, without any announcement or fuss, they all began to play — and what an upbeat and happy sound that was!
The musicians sat in a huge circle, all facing each other, and the folks that weren’t playing sat in rows behind them.
We stood against a wall with great big grins on our faces — what an absolute ball this was!
Suddenly, the song came to an end, and there was a little murmuring between a man and a woman up front. Then a new song began, and the whole group jumped right in again. No one had sheet music, yet they all played in perfect harmony. How cool is that!
A little girl started bouncing around in her seat, and her mom leaned over and explained to everyone around her that she was fidgeting because she wanted to dance. An energetic white haired lady sitting next to me hopped up, took the girl by the hands and danced with her, to the utter delight of everyone watching.
The music went on, song after song, and even after the little girl and her gracious dance partner sat down, the rest of us toe tapped and bounced our heads in time to the music, jigging along with the carefree melodies.
We had just gotten warmed up when the music stopped and all the musicians began to pack it up. Oh no! But then a new group of musicians came in, sat down in those same chairs, and began to play.
This time the sound was a little different. The first group had been an old-time music jam, and this group was playing bluegrass songs with vocals. The host, Ben Silcox, asked each player in the circle to lead the group in a song. Lots of people in the audience knew the words and sang along under their breath.
The high spirits in this place were infectious, and we just couldn’t wipe those grins off our faces. The instruments were wonderful — mandolins and dobros along with fiddles, guitars and banjos — and these folks could all play really well. They made it seem effortless. Their fingers flew all over the place with ease!
The host, Ben, told us that one member of the group was 86 years old. He was happily fiddling away.
Ben had a great sense of humor, and he loved joshing his friends between songs. He told the crowd that one of the banjo players was an expert luthier who makes beautiful fiddles. He held one up to show the crowd and then wise-cracked to the banjo player, “So how many of these have you made?”
“Oh, 15 of them,” his buddy responded.
“And how many are for sale now?”
“Um…15.” His friend shrugged.
A few minutes later that same banjo player took off on a wild tune that was dizzyingly fast. Ben quipped afterwards, “If you liked that, this guy has blank CD’s for sale in the front of the store!”
The Country Store has been around since around 1910, but it was in the early 1980’s that it became a haven for music lovers.
At that time, two of the store’s owners were in a bluegrass band that used the store for band practice on Friday nights after the store was closed and locked up for the day. Folks walking by outside kept knocking on the door asking to be let in so they could listen, and after a while the store owners decided not to lock up but to keep the doors open so people could stop in and enjoy the music.
A young store clerk told me she remembered going to those Friday Night Jamborees when she was a kid in the 1990’s, but that the store had been a bit run down. In 2007 new owners totally renovated the building, put lots of fun goodies on the shelves, began serving tasty snacks, and the crowds swelled.
On the big music nights now, she said, the store is often packed and is standing room only!
If your RV travels take you into southwestern Virginia and you want to hear some authentic bluegrass music played in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, check out the schedule of events at The Country Store in Floyd, Virginia. It is a rare treat. Many weekly music jams are free, some cost a few bucks — and the ice cream is delicious!
I got a snippet on video — here it is:
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Here’s some more info about Floyd Virginia:
- Floyd Country Store – Events Schedule
- Floyd Virginia – Official Website
- RV Camping at Chantilly Farm – RV and tent camping nearby
- Where exactly is Floyd, Virginia? – Location on Google Maps
Other posts about awesome free music events we’ve enjoyed in our travels:
- Sun Valley – Free Summer Music Concerts – August 2014
- San Diego, California – Free Organ Concerts in Balboa Park – November 2013
- Guanajuato, Mexico – The “Alley Singers,” Band Concerts, Mariachis and More! – June, 2013
Blog posts from our RV travels in the mountains of North Carolina and Virginia:
- Shenandoah National Park, Virginia – Climbs & Falls! 06/20/15
- Blue Ridge Parkway (Virginia) – Waterfalls & Rhododendrons 06/18/15
- Blue Ridge Parkway Highlights (Virginia) – Mills, Music & Farms! 06/14/15
- New River Trail State Park – Galax, VA – Pizza, Beer and Biking! 06/12/15
- Waterfalls of the Blue Ridge Parkway (North Carolina) 06/10/15
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- Smoky Mountain Adventures – Elk, Indians and Waterfalls 05/31/15
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