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April 20, 2013

Theresa Timmons: Dancing along the Crooked Road

ANDERSON, Ind. — Southwest Virginia is beautiful.

It is beautiful because of the mountains. They are ancient, formed so long ago that they have actually grown a little shorter — like a wise old man who stoops with age. But they are blanketed in a mass of trees, and in the summertime they take on a blue-green hue that is so breathtaking it is nearly impossible to drive through them without stopping along the road to snap pictures, or to just stare at the massive loveliness and inhale the prettiness of it all.

Those Blue-Ridged mountains have a secret. Along the roads that twist and wind through the trees are a species of musicians who have nurtured a centuries-old musical heritage. This generation of musicians embrace the music that has been passed to them from their ancestors as their personal family heirloom, a treasure to be carefully preserved for the next generation. And the next.

Along “The Crooked Road” (as the path has been officially named), those music makers pull out their fiddles and their mandolins and their guitars and they play the music at cabins and country stores and festivals and other venues throughout the week. People come to listen to the music. And they dance, with taps on their shoes — a style of dance called clogging, a gift from Ireland and England, brought here on boats. Tapping to the tune of a 300-year-old ballad, everyone in the room communes with the past. History flashes before them in the words of a song written by a long gone ancestor, who sings of poverty and lost love and hard work and death.

The music is as pretty as the mountains.

My family are natives of southwest Virginia and we visited the natives last week. We took my grandson Cayden and his daddy.

Of course the visit would not be complete without a stop along “The Crooked Road”. Cayden is now 4 years old, so it was high time he was initiated into the mountain music club. Our venue of choice for that Saturday evening was “The Country Cabin II” in Norton, part of the Appalachian Traditions Village which featured local musicians.

“We are going to a party,” we informed Cayden.

My mother gave him specific instructions. “When the music starts, you can get out of your seat and go right up to the front and dance. Just jump right up and down if you want to.”

The prospect of getting out of his seat and jumping up and down to music seemed very appealing to Cayden. But I wondered if self-consciousness or shyness would interfere with his dancing when the time came. The music was different. It was live, the people were strangers, and the taps were loud.

Later that evening, I stood in the shadows of the dance floor of the ‘Country Cabin’ holding up my phone to record a heartwarming scene.

A 4-year-old boy named Cayden Timmons hopped around on the hardwood floor while a mountain band sang a traditional fast paced bluegrass song. His toddler-sized feet swung out and about as he imitated the cloggers tapping all around him. Dancing nearby was his 81-year-old great grandfather (also a mountain musician). They danced together, exuberantly, bonding in the sights and sounds of the music from the past.

The gift of music had been successfully imprinted on the open heart of new generation.

To find out more about The Crooked Road, go to www.thecrookedroad.org

Theresa Timmons’ column appears every first and third Sunday. She is an Elwood resident and can be reached at paperflinger40@yahoo.com.

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