Linda and Sammy come from legendary musical communities on Virginia’s Crooked Road. The Meadows of Dan and Clayman Valley are tiny mountain places separated by 150 miles of hairpin turns, old mills, crossroads stores, mom and pop eateries, and towns with one stop light or none, but only 90 miles by the way the crow flies.
On a hot summer night in 2006, two friends took the stage at the storied old-time and bluegrass music festival in Galax, Virginia. One would would sing while the other played along. When the next friend’s turn to compete arrived, they would switch roles. While neither friend is a musical virtuoso, their love for the music and their belief in each other resulted in a very special sound that embodies much of the great musical tradition of southwest Virginia.
Anyone concerned that traditional bluegrass and old time music may no longer resonate with today’s youth need only witness the masterful playing of Montana Young to allay these fears. At the tender age of 12, Montana has already been delighting audiences at fiddling conventions, festivals, and community jams for years, along the musically rich Crooked Road.
At the eastern end of the Crooked Road lies Ferrum College’s Blue Ridge Institute. Among their folk music archives is a scratchy 1970s recording of a bluegrass jam session at the Pulaski, Virginia Fiddler’s Convention. On it, a fiddler walks up with case in hand and asks if he can join in. After being invited to join, he gets his fiddle out and runs, no, blazes through a warm up scale – three octaves worth! Instantly, all present sense something extraordinary is about to happen. And it does, as the fiddler leads the group on a mad dash through a jaw-dropping rendition of Soldiers Joy, Liberty and Golden Slippers. When it’s over, someone from the thoroughly stunned group says, “Say, Mister, what’s your name?” “Pendleton, Buddy Pendleton” comes the reply in a modest unassuming tone.
Galax, the friendly town on the border of Carroll and Grayson counties is named for the galax leaf, a broad green leaf that carpets some woodlands, and has been used for generations for decorative purposes. Galax has produced musicians in prodigious numbers that has puzzled and delighted musicologists for almost a century. This process continues.