By A.J. Kaufman, Managing Editor
This year marks the 20th anniversary of The Crooked Road, Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail.
For the first two decades, the road has served as an integral piece of Southwest Virginia’s economic recovery.
The organization has been dedicated to promoting traditional old time and bluegrass music experiences to visitors by marketing the unique and authentic cultural institutions of Southwest Virginia, such as the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol, Carter Family Fold in nearby Hiltons and the Ralph Stanley Museum to the north in Clintwood.
The Crooked Road began as a 330-mile-long driving trail that connected Southwest Virginia’s historic music venues and was officially recognized as Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail by the Virginia General Assembly in 2004.
Since its inception, the organization has grown to service all 19 counties, 54 towns and four cities within the Southwest region.
“Many communities’ economic diversification plans have wholeheartedly embraced the creative economy,” Executive Director Tyler Hughes told the Business Journal.
He said a perfect example is Clintwood, as the town needed to diversify its economy after decades of being a thriving coal community.
Opening the Ralph Stanley Museum 20 years ago was crucial. The Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) partnered with The Crooked Road to make it happen.
From the onset of The Crooked Road, the organization worked closely with partners at DHCD to identify cultural institutions that could become economic engines to grow a given community’s tourism economy. The partnership has led to renovations and funding around institutions like the aforementioned Carter Family Fold, a premier tourist destination for Scott County.
The tiny community of Floyd, about 130 miles northeast of Bristol, has an economy built upon the foundations of the region’s ties to agriculture, music and handicrafts.
Hughes says The Crooked Road also tries to support artists directly by working alongside the region’s musicians, dancers and luthiers (craftsmen who build and repair string instruments) to present their work in various venues.
Local luthiers are marketed at places like Cunningham Handmade Instruments in Grayson Highlands and the Wayne C. Henderson School of Appalachian Arts in Marion. Aspiring woodworkers take guitar building classes with world-class luthier, Wayne Henderson, whose popular guitars are played by professionals, including Eric Clapton.
The Crooked Road on Tour partners with old time and bluegrass acts from across the region to bring both musical and educational programs to schools and theaters across the nation.
“Our organization also works to market the region as the perfect place to not only hear music, but to make music,” Hughes, who assumed the lead role last summer, added. “What we seek to do is showcase an unfiltered and authentic version of Southwest Virginia’s culture. We don’t try to dress it up or over-commercialize it, because we seek to honor the traditions of this artform as well.”
A banjo player and square dance caller from Big Stone Gap, Hughes graduated from ETSU’s Bluegrass, Old-Time and Country Music Program in 2015.
The Crooked Road’s office is located at the Southwest Virginia Cultural Center and Marketplace in Abingdon.