Explore Music & Theater in Virginia’s Great Southwest

  • Ralph Stanley Museum exhibit - horizontal
  • High Test Grass at Lays Hardware
  • Ralph Stanley Museum
  • Jettie Baker Center
  • Ralph Stanley Museum - Engraved Rock

Virginia’s Great Southwest is home to the finest pedigree of music. The homeplaces and families of the area’s old-time and country music royalty keep the traditions of mountain music alive and well to this day.

The Carter Family Fold, home of A.P., Sara and Mother Maybelle, honors the family legacy with weekly shows at their more than 800-seat venue in Hiltons. The Carters were one of two groups to record in the Bristol Sessions in 1927, giving birth to country music as we know it today. Tour the restored cabin and birthplace of A.P. Carter, and comb through the artifacts of a lifelong legacy at the Carter Family Memorial Music Center. Pose for photos on the stage that has seen the likes of Johnny Cash, June Carter-Cash, Ricky Skaggs, Marty Stuart, and John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin.

Just a hop, skip and a bit of flat footin’ down the road, make plans to visit the Allen Hicks Jam in nearby Nickelsville. In addition to the Fold, this is one of several of venues along the Crooked Road: Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail. Jam sessions here began with local musicians eagerly waiting to try out Allen’s handmade mandolins. Over time, the jam has drawn a slew of prestigious pickers. You never know who you might see.

Jettie Baker Center performer

Musical stages across the Heart of Appalachia celebrate the music of the region, including the Jettie Baker Center in Clintwood, Country Cabin II in Norton, and the Historic Lay’s Hardware in Coeburn.

Earning itself the distinction of being the longest continuously running site for traditional music along the Crooked Road, Country Cabin was built around 1937. Country Cabin II was constructed some 65 years later for larger audiences and provides a great opportunity for line-dancing, clogging, and that old-time favorite – flat-footing. Speaking of folk dancing, Lay’s Hardware is another ideal location for foot-stomping fun. A replica of Jim and Jesse McReynolds’ mother’s front porch, the Lay’s Hardware stage has seen a host of the region’s favorite musical acts. Don’t forget to check out the walls of the arts center for a host of incredible artwork, all paying homage to the area’s music heritage.

Eclectic venues, such as Axe Handle Distilling in Pennington Gap, attract local and regional musicians. With an outdoor stage and featured weekly food trucks, Axe Handle combines the best of country comfort and sound with a wrap-around porch and rocking chairs, as well as a wide variety of song and spirit.

Jordan Allen and Michael Litton at Axe Handle

Theatre also has early roots in the Heart of Appalachia. As far back as the 1890s, coal companies brought in shows from Broadway to entertain families in the coal camps. Theaters were soon built, becoming the focal point for social lives.