Trip to Virginia satisfies hunger for bluegrass songs, stunning scenery

Jon Baker

To satisfy my growing taste for bluegrass and old-time music, I took a weekend jaunt in June to the mountains of southwestern Virginia, where that type of music was born.

I’ve become a fan of a PBS series called “Song of the Mountains." It wasn’t just the music that drew me to Marion, Va., where the show is taped, but also the shots of stunning mountain vistas shown each week during the program’s opening sequence. I have a thing for mountains.

Marion is a small town off I-81, about 30 miles west of the I-77/I-81 interchange at Wytheville, Va. It’s conveniently located close to a couple of Virginia state parks and the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, ideal for anyone interested in venturing into the highlands.

I drove down to Virginia on a Saturday in June to attend that evening’s taping of “Song of the Mountains” at the historic Lincoln Theater in downtown Marion.

It’s one of the most beautiful theaters I’ve ever been in. Built in 1929 and restored in 2004 at a cost of $1.8 million, the Lincoln is decorated in the Art Deco Mayan Revival style. There are only three existing theaters in America in that style. Six large murals on the walls depict scenes from American history.

The three-hour show featured four talented acts, and it was a bargain, too, at just $15 per person. I was especially impressed by one group, Gold Heart, which featured three sisters named Gold, the youngest of whom is 12. The sisters, Analise, Jocelyn and Shelby, played as well as they sang.

On Sunday, I headed to Grayson Highlands State Park, about an hour’s drive south of Marion. The park is located a short distance from Mount Rogers, which, at 5,729 feet, is the highest point in Virginia. The park is best known for its annual Grayson Highlands Fall Festival.

The park has nine hiking trails, averaging a mile in length. For my money, the best is the Rhododendron Trail, which connects with the famous Appalachian Trail. The Rhododendron Trail leads to a mountain meadow where the park maintains a herd of wild horses to keep the vegetation down. The steep trail offered several spots where I could catch my breath while I enjoyed views of a seemingly endless range of mountains that eventually faded off into the haze.

Park visitors often can get very close to the horses. But it’s best to obey the signs at the beginning of the trail which warn people not to feed or pet the horses. While I was there, a little girl was bit in the face by a horse she was petting.

The two days I was there gave me ample time to take in all the attractions in the vicinity of Marion. But I might be tempted to drive back down again someday, just to take in another taping of “Song of the Mountains.”

On the Web:

The Times-Reporter