Sarah E. Kucharski photo
The Orchard at Altapass
At the Orchard at Altapass, musicians take to the small stage inside the Orchard’s country store.
Blue Ridge Music Center — With the mountains as a backdrop, this state-of-the-art outdoor amphitheater is an exceptional place to see and hear old-time, bluegrass, mountain gospel, and folk music each Saturday evening starting in May and running through September.
Located along the Blue Ridge Parkway at milepost 213, just a few miles from the North Carolina-Virginia border near Galax, Va., the Blue Ridge Music Center has become a major attraction for fans of traditional fiddle and banjo music.
Created in 1985, the center was erected as part of an effort to preserve musical heritage while exposing visitors to an important slice of Americana and roots music that debuted nearly two centuries ago. The 17,000-square-foot museum, which is open from Memorial Day to Nov. 1 each year, offers both temporary and permanent exhibits that trace the history of American roots music in Appalachia by examining European and African cultural influences.
The center, jointly run by the National Park Service and the National Council for the Traditional Arts, also conducts a summer concert series every year that displays local talents and traveling musicians who emulate the time-honored music of the Southern Appalachian Mountains. If you can’t make it to one of the weekend shows, there are also several resident musicians who conduct workshops and performances throughout the week: The Buck Mountain Band, Bill and Maggie Anderson, and Bobby Patterson and Willard Gayheart are just some of the local talent one can expect to hear. If you’re looking for authentic mountain music, the Blue Ridge Music Center should be one of your destinations.
The Gala 75th Blue Ridge Parkway Anniversary Concert will be held at the Blue Ridge Music Center at 7 p.m. Sept. 11. Ralph Stanley and The Clinch Mountain Boys will perform, along with the Round Peak Boys. Tickets are $20.
For more information, call 276.236.5309.
Altapass — At the historic Orchard at Altapass, N.C., found near milepost 328.3, visitors will find hayrides, storytelling, local crafts for sale, butterfly tagging, and genuine Appalachian music on the weekends.
All varieties of Appalachian music can be found on the small, indoor stage, which features home-grown musicians including Bob Lominac, Tom Sparks, The New Greener Grass, Johnny Ellis, Lenny Ski and many more. Saturday shows are traditionally country and bluegrass concerts, while styles feature gospel, blues, ‘50s rock, folk, show tunes, and classical. Country and bluegrass can be heard for no charge at Sunday afternoon concerts. Dancing is highly encouraged as regular patrons and tourists join the band and cut a rug with some flat foot clogging or waltzing among the beauty of the orchard and the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The orchard’s name comes from “alta,” meaning high, and “pass,” referring to the mountain pass at McKinney Gap nearby. When the Clinchfield Railroad was completed in 1908, a series of 18 tunnels and 13 tracks were built beside and below the orchard. When the construction was complete, the railroad turned the extra land it owned near the Blue Ridge Tunnel into the orchard. The first orchard manager was a railroad employee. The railroad developed a resort community, but when the passenger trains stopped coming, the community withered away, leaving the beautiful orchard to fend for itself.
Years later, the Parkway’s construction followed a similar path as the railroad, cutting the orchard in two. Local residents feared the orchard would be developed, but when the property was offered for sale in 1994, Kit Carson Truby bought the land and with her brother Cody and his wife Judy began work to preserve the historic place.
The area above the Orchard is owned by the Blue Ridge Parkway, which ensures its continuous preservation. The remaining land is protected by a conservation easement through the Altapass Foundation, a non-profit organization determined to protect the land as an invaluable resource while providing a special regional experience for visitors.