British journalist Paul Harris and the 1963 Buick (Photo courtesy of London Daily Mail)
Only a Brit with a sense of wunderlust would rent a crapped-out 1963 Buick convertible to cruise down the Blue Ridge Parkway to begin a tour of Virginia’s Crooked Road.
But that’s what Paul Harris, a writer for London’s Daily Mail, did earlier this year.
Cruise into the town of Floyd, for example, and set your watch to about 1959. Townsfolk will tell you things have changed here since then, but it’s hard to find any immediate indication.
You can still buy a single nail from the local hardware store, and the ‘country breakfast’ they serve in the Blue Ridge diner is the same as it has been for decades – good, local produce and arrestingly big portions, albeit in a cardiac kind of way.
In town, there’s an absence of litter or graffiti. Enamel signs are still preferred to neon. People are uncommonly polite. As we arrive, children are filing in an orderly crocodile on to the yellow school bus taking them to their summer camp activity centre somewhere. The bus looks about as old as the Buick.
Yet this place is so important it boasts the only set of traffic lights in the whole of Floyd county, which covers 400 square miles around a vast swathe of the stunningly picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains. You have to wonder why they bothered with the lights, as every other crossroads in the county works just fine without them.
But Floyd is special. It’s the home of the Country Music Store, voted one of the U.S.’s best venues to hear country music, live on stage at Friday night jamborees, and informally on the dance floor for Sunday afternoon jam sessions.
The Buick burbles up outside just as a dozen or so local musicians are arriving to set up for the jam. I ask the most senior of them if the two-hour parking restriction applies on a Sunday. ‘Hell, no,’ he replies. ‘Nor weekdays, neither.’
Public performances began here when the store’s former owners and their friends got together for regular music sessions after the shop had closed for the day. Locals were so taken by the sounds emerging they gathered at the doors and pressed their noses to the windows.
Some even danced in the street, apparently. The sensible option then was to let them in – beginning a tradition that now spans a quarter of a century.
Surprisingly, the store is run not by bluegrass mountain folk but by a former biology teacher from Huddersfield and her husband. Jackie Crenshaw fell in love with Floyd – and with Woody Crenshaw – when she moved here from England 25 years ago. They made the town their home and took over the Country Store when it unexpectedly came up for sale.
Why Floyd? ‘It’s a very warm community, where people depend on and help each other,’ she told me. ‘There are a lot of traditional values and traditional skills that still exist here. It really has a sense of history to it.’
Thanks to Muse reader Tom King for alerting us to this story.