The Fiddle & The Plow

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

WOODLAWN — If the informality and open discussion encouraged at Woodlawn's new Friday evening musical offerings seem reminiscent of listening to a couple of friends kicking around stories while jamming in the living room, then organizers Willard Gayheart and Scott Freeman will have struck the right chord.

Their Crooked Road-related program, "The Fiddle and The Plow," will be held at the Front Porch Gallery beginning May 7. It will go on at the same time as the Blue Ridge Backroads live radio show at the Rex Theater in Galax and weekly music at the Floyd Country Store, but the focus in Woodlawn will be more on storytelling and traditional music, the organizers explained.

Less like a dance or a concert, the intimate gatherings will stress appreciation and understanding of many kinds of Appalachian traditions.

"For some reason, we're not worried about that — we're just going to be different enough where we don't think there's going to be a conflict," Gayheart said about the many musical events held on Fridays. "We just don't think we'll compete with the other things going on — and we're small."

One of the goals is to introduce locals and visitors to world-class musicians that hail from the mountains, Freeman said, as in the case of the May 7 show, when Doug and Taylor Rorer appear.

The Rorers are relations of Charlie Poole and Posey Rorer, and they will celebrate the release of a new album titled "Playin' Poole," which recalls their musical heritage.

On May 14, author Bob Plott will share stories about hunting in Appalachia. One of his books, "The Story of the Plott Hound: Strike and Stay," tells how his family brought over a hunting dog from Germany to go after bear and other large game.

Gayheart and Freeman — the Fiddle and Plow house band, as it were — have songs in mind in the theme of hunting for the occasion.

And the venue will feature other musicians, luthiers, instrument makers and authors in the coming weeks.

"We'll cover everything we can think of that represents the culture here in the Blue Ridge, but always with music in the mix," Gayheart summed up.

The Front Porch Gallery already has a place on the Crooked Road — Virginia's music heritage driving trail — for Gayheart's drawings, which feature scenes and people of the mountains, Freeman noted.

A lot of places have music, but there aren't many places where people can get information about the region's culture, history, traditions and music, he added. "There's music that happens in the region, but it gets stereotyped if you're not careful."

Freeman's participated in a lot of musical performances, but one that sticks out in his mind is Joe Shannon's Mountain Home Music in Boone, N.C., where he has a wide variety of music, tells stories and entertains a wide variety of people.

People enjoy those shows, which Freeman has observed regularly play to packed houses.

Gayheart and Freeman already share their talents with visitors from across the country and across the world who want to learn about the music and where it comes from.

Guests performers may talk about how they learned to play, their careers or their instrument, if there's a story behind it.

There are reasons why traditional music sprang up in such profusion in this region and there are reasons it persists. Gayheart feels a creative spirit that permeates the mountains here.

"The whole object is to portray from a cultural standpoint the music and the other things we have here in the Blue Ridge — the music, the arts," he said.

Friday evening shows will begin at 7 p.m. Admission is $5.

"We're hoping to be one of the venues that will be important to people as they travel the Crooked Road," Gayheart said. "By doing it the way we're doing it, we're hoping to add something a little different to what you usually see."

Front Porch Gallery is located at 99 Coulson Church Road in Woodlawn, just off U.S. 58. For more information call 1-800-646-3034 or 236-3034 or e-mail info@willardgayheart.com