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Concert series celebrates 10 years

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Most every Friday night, the sounds of the mountains ride the radio airwaves down the backroads of Virginia and North Carolina, from the Blue Ridge Mountains down to the Piedmont.

For a decade, that traditional string music has been broadcast from Galax on WBRF-98.1 FM, which sends out 100,000 watts of old-time and bluegrass music from the stage of the historic Rex Theater in downtown Galax.

The powerhouse radio station, along with a group of dedicated volunteers, will celebrate a decade of promoting and presenting the traditional string music that Galax is known for.

This month marks the 10 year anniversary of an enduring partnership between the historic Rex Theater and radio station WBRF-98.1 — a partnership that offered an excellent opportunity to showcase the historic music in a revitalized movie theater.   

“Resiliency, consistency and collaboration, That’s the key to the success of most anything,” says Debbie Robinson, who has continued to schedule and coordinate performances for the weekly program over the 10-year span.

“ It has truly been a great partnership with the radio station.  They deserve a tremendous amount of recognition for their commitment to the preservation and promotion of traditional music of this region,” Robinson said. “Thanks to them, this wonderful artform is being shared with the world. 

The weekly program has experienced incredible growth in listenership. A small live audience of around 25 attended the first Rex show in 1999. Today, a consistent weekly crowd of several hundred tshow up to enjoy the toe-tapping music of the mountains, with many shows at full capacity of 450, and thousands of radio listeners tuning in globally.

A group of loyal volunteers also has been showing up every Friday night at the Rex over the 10 years. Some have come and gone, but a small core group has been as resilient as the music of these mountains, Robinson said.

These smiling faces have become very familiar, appearing at the Rex to meet and greet visitors and locals to the theater. 

Ann Boyer and Joann Griffith are usually first to arrive on the scene every Friday to prepare the theater for opening. They take tremendous pride in cleaning and stocking the Rex and getting things ready for the show.

Additional loyal Rex workers include Stu Shenk, who takes care of engineering the sound; and Derrick Davis, who hosts the show.  Mary Ann and Donald Taylor are always ready and willing to work the concession stand and keep the popcorn popping. 

Many of the shows are free, with donations accepted to help maintain the theater.  Most musicians are eager to play the Rex as it has become a popular performance venue with consistent appreciative crowds. 

The valuable radio airtime offers opportunity to promote the bands and sell their CDs.

In celebration of the 10th anniversary, this Friday's show will begin at 7 p.m. — an hour earlier than usual.

Musicians, volunteers, sponsors, partners and anyone who has supported the Blue Ridge Backroads Live Show are encouraged to attend. A variety of musicians will perform, including some of the dedicated and popular old-time and bluegrass performers who have been on the Rex stage over the years.

Coordinators are extending an invitation to all musicians who have performed on the radio show to stop by and they are welcome to join some informal picking segments during the show. 

“The real purpose of the program is to celebrate this great milestone and to say thanks to all who have contributed support to the program,” Robinson said. “It has been a very rewarding 10 years and we’ve certainly met some wonderful people along the way.”

She said the program not only contributes to heritage tourism through promotion and preservation of traditional music of the region, but also positively impacts and stimulates increased visitation to the area which creates economic growth.

• For more information, contact Debbie Robinson at (276) 233-3345 or Ann Boyer at 236-7659, or visit BlueRidgeCountry98.com. Blue Ridge Backroads Live's annivesary show is Friday, 7 p.m. at the Rex Theater, East Grayson Street in Galax. Doors open at 6 p.m. Admission is free. Concessions available.