Sweetening Downtown

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New addition to Barr's Fiddle Shop harkens back to the days of the Hill Billies band.

By April Wright, Reporter



Years ago, shoppers enjoyed strolling through downtown and stopping into a candy store for old-fashioned candy, said Stevie Barr.
Barr, owner of Barr’s Fiddle Shop, has opened next to the music shop a candy store and museum—Candy Barr’s & Hillbilly Barbershop Museum, where the Hill Billies, an old-time music band, used to practice.
Glass jars are filled with all kinds of candy—gummy bears, jelly beans and all kinds of all fashioned treats.
“Kids might come in here for the candy, but might leave wanting to know about the music,” said Barr. “Then maybe they’ll want to get involved with carrying on the tradition of our music.”
The shop will allow people to step back in time to see memorabilia and history of the band, the Hill Billies, that contributed to the beginnings of old-time music. The museum will feature a 1920s barber chair, barbershop supplies used in those days, old records, newspaper articles and photos.
The Hill Billies, who started right here in Galax, lent their name to a genre of country music.
Al Hopkins, a musician from Gap Creek, and his brothers organized a vocal quartet with string instruments. In 1924, Al was in Galax assisting his brother Jacob, a physician, with office work.
Al, Jacob and banjoist-fiddler John Rector met in a barbershop — located next to where Barr’s Fiddle Shop is located today — where the barbershop’s proprietor and fiddler Tony Alderman, held jam sessions.
Earlier that year, Rector traveled to New York with Fries mill worker Henry Whitter to record. Whitter had become the first musician from the region to record when he traveled to New York.
Rector thought that his barbershop band could do better, so he arranged a trip to New York to record.
Music historians say the Hill Billies became the first major commercial success in what is known as country music today.
The band performed at the White House for President Calvin Coolidge and became a household name from touring and performances on the radio in New York and Washington, D.C.
Hopkins, the band's leader, began broadcasting in 1922 when radio signals reached all over the nation.
“People can go back to the good old days and enjoy some candy while here,” said Barr. “It just adds to the atmosphere in Galax —we have festivals, the art school, restaurants, music stores, coffee shops, antique stores. There’s something for everybody.”
As musicians would come to town, Tom Barr, Barr’s dad, who opened the shop in the 1970s, would take pictures. Over the years, they’ve collected hundreds of photographs of some of the best musicians that have stopped into the shop.
Those will also be on display.
Next year, Barr’s Fiddle Shop will mark its 30-year anniversary.
“I want people to see what has kept music going,” said Barr. “Visitors can see and feel the atmosphere of the last 30 years and relate to it.”  
Barr said he will also open a luthier shop in the basement and hold workshops to show people how to build instruments.
“When parents take a look and learn about the past, kids can get into the candy,” said Barr.
Houston Caldwell was a big inspiration for the museum, he said.
Caldwell, a friend of Barr’s who had worked at the store for a while, was killed in motorcycle accident last year at the age of 18.
Caldwell was a banjo prodigy who was mentored by Barr.
“I feel like he’ll be looking down on me and will be proud of it,” said Barr. “He’ll be one of the biggest faces on the wall.”
Barr is planning to hold a grand opening for Candy Barr’s & Hillbilly Barbershop Museum.

• The shop, located at 105 S. Main St. in Galax, is open Monday through Saturday 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
For more information, call 236-2411 or visit barrsfiddleshop.com or candybarrs.com.