Blue Ridge Institute and Museum
Blue Ridge Institute and Museum, Moonshiner Henry Lee Law, Harvester Performance Centre
Ferrum, Virginia and Rocky Mount, Virginia
GrassRoots Music Tour 2023
By Rob Dickens
Blue Ridge Institute & Museum
The Crooked Road is Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail, a 333-mile driving route through the Appalachian Mountains from the Blue Ridge to the Coalfields region. It skirts along Southwest Virginia, just above the borders of North Carolina and Tennessee, and just under Kentucky.
Ferrum College created the Blue Ridge Institute & Museum (BRIM) in the early 1970s to document, interpret and present the folk heritage of the Blue Ridge region. It is now the largest folklife museum in the State and the official State Centre for Blue Ridge Folklore with hundreds of thousands of photographs, audio and video recordings, manuscripts and documents for preservation. The BRIM galleries explore folklife’s many facets – music, crafts, foodways, decorative arts and more – through rotating exhibitions every year.
The Institute’s Blue Ridge Farm Museum recreates life on a Virginia-German farmstead in 1800 with costumed interpretation carrying out daily tasks such as open hearth cooking, blacksmithing, heirloom gardening, dulcimer playing and even oxen driving. The museum store offers hard-to-find authentic folk crafts from Virginia and Appalachia.
Some 40,000 people look forward every year to the fourth Saturday in October when the Blue Ridge Folklife Festival puts live music, dancing and traditional foods, hounds and horses display skills and crafts and storytelling. The event, held on the Ferrum College campus, is run by BRIM and has been going for fifty years.
As well as these, the BRIM provides for exhibitions and is the permanent repository for folklife-related recordings, photographs, and documents. It is a fascinating place to visit. Highly recommended.
Special thanks to Bethany Worley, Executive Director for a special insight and behind-the-scenes look into the critical work that BRIM does.
Now, a special shout out to Kevin Tosh, Director of Tourism and Marketing for Virginia’s Franklin County who gave up a lot of his day for us and provided us with some colourful and unforgettable experiences.
Franklin County is known as “the moonshine capital of the world” and “the wettest county in the world” where 12,000 to 15,000 gallons of moonshine liquor are said to be manufactured every month. Thanks to Kevin, we travelled to the house of Henry Lee Law, a third-generation moonshiner who provided a first-hand experience of his family’s involvement in illegal (and legal) liquor production, including trying some potent samples of his finest products. Nowadays distilling spirits is legal in Virginia, but requires licensing and tax payments.
Henry is a regular on the TV series Moonshiners and the outlaw days involving him, his father Amos Law and many other colourful characters are vividly represented in his book 100 Proof.
Henry even showed us some of his operations, the photo of which I have heavily cropped as its location needs to remain a secret.
Harvester Performance Centre
Another stopover for the day was the Harvester Performance Centre in downtown Rocky Mount, Virginia. Named after its previous commercial agricultural use, the Harvester is a wonderfully renovated indoor, mid-sized music venue serving the town and surrounding areas with great live performances in all kinds of genres.
A covered drop-off area makes the centre easily accessible in any weather. Parking is available all around the venue. The upper entrance level is where you will find the box office and lobby areas for the main room. The main room seats up to 424 people and can also hold up to 700 people in a stand-up show configuration. The main room has a forty-foot-wide stage with great sight lines and state-of-the-art audio, lighting and video systems.
It has become a critical music and cultural hub for Rocky Mount and Franklin County and lends greatly to the area’s rejuvenation through its musical heritage.
More Music Adventures Await!
Blue Ridge Institute and Museum