By Dick Harris, F272774
The Hokie Travelers chapter is composed of 41 FMCA families who also happen to be Virginia Tech alumni, families of students, or friends of the university. For the past four years chapter members have enjoyed a fall rolling rally scheduled between Virginia Tech football games. Members have visited Virginia, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Our most recent rally, which ran from October 13 to 24, 2013, was billed as an educational, enlightening, and entertaining tour. The route followed “The Crooked Road,” Virginia’s musical heritage trail.
Members in 13 coaches traveled from Blacksburg, Virginia, to Bluff City, Tennessee, to start the rolling rally at the western end of The Crooked Road. First on the agenda was a scheduled tour of Bristol Motor Speedway. However, on Friday evening prior to the Monday tour, co-wagonmaster Dave Reemsnyder received an e-mail saying the track would be closed to the public that day, but we were welcome to visit on Tuesday.
On Monday, one of the Hokie Travelers heard on the radio that a press conference had been scheduled at the speedway that morning to announce that a football game between Virginia Tech and the University of Tennessee will be played at the speedway in 2016. The game, called the “Battle at Bristol,” is expected to welcome a record 150,000 fans to Bristol Motor Speedway, which is touted as the “Last Great Colosseum.”
The Hokie Travelers, who were camped at Lakeview RV Park, a mere 3 miles away, began calling the speedway seeking admission to witness this announcement. After several calls, the group received permission to view the proceedings from approximately 150 yards away.
We cheered so long and so loudly that news videographers came over to our group in the stands for interviews, which aired on TV that night. After the formal program, we were invited to join the festivities on the track, meeting with Virginia Tech head football coach Frank Beamer and the HokieBird mascot.
The rest of the trip went pretty much as planned. We traveled to East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, where we learned about the school’s Bluegrass, Old Time, and Country Music program, the oldest such degreed program in the country.
Each night, with the help and assistance of local campground hosts, old-time and bluegrass performances were arranged under the campground pavilions. One night we were entertained by Carson Peters, a 9-year-old fiddle-playing whiz who was flown out to the West Coast to appear on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” a couple of weeks earlier.
At Barr’s Fiddle Shop in Galax, Virginia, Mr. Barr proved to be a perfect host by spending time with the group to explain the development of the region while showing off his fiddle collection.
Another day we went to the shop of guitar maker Wayne Henderson, who lives in Rugby, Virginia, some 45 miles from Galax. He builds only 10 to 12 instruments a year, all made by hand, in this isolated spot in the Blue Ridge Mountains. When asked who his most famous customer was, he replied, “Eric Clapton.” He also has provided guitars to national fingerpicking and flatpicking champions.
Our chapter visited many small museums dedicated to old-time and bluegrass music, including the Ralph Stanley Museum and Traditional Mountain Music Center in Clintwood, Virginia, where we had lunch. One night we received an unexpected treat while attending a music program at Mountain Empire Community College in Big Stone Gap, Virginia. Upon entering the venue, we were greeted with a hospitality layout of food tables set up with delicacies of the region and locally produced wines. The musical program featured seven groups and lots of good toe-tapping tunes.
The trip covered approximately 450 miles, during which the group heard 19 musical groups. Many of them took time to describe their instruments and how they contributed to the region’s musical and cultural development.
Upon returning to Blacksburg, we reassembled at the Virginia Tech airport, where we have established the Hokie Traveler Corner — the spot where we gather during all Virginia Tech home games.