I’m no music expert; riding motorcycles is my thing. Sure, I still dabble with playing bass in a local garage band and can claim a fat-fingered mastery of a chord or two on the six-string. But music, like riding, certainly doesn’t require a professional license to enjoy. A catchy tune stirs the soul in a manner not altogether different from swaying with a favorite road.
To say that music touches the soul is an understatement. Years ago, Kathy and I found it odd that our similar tastes in modern music had some country cousins. A radio station up in the mountains, WBRF in Galax, VA, played bluegrass and old-time country music at night. We would drive around and listen, drawn like moths to the digital numerals on the dashboard. Banjos and fiddles became our shared soul music.
Over the years, our appreciation for these tunes has only been strengthened by our love of motorcycle travel. Our backroads excursions very often find us on the winding byways of southwest Virginia. We always have time for music, and it is never hard to find here. Roadside invitations to gospel singings, fiddlers’ gatherings, and jam sessions range from hand-lettered signs to lighted marquees. Back in the early 2000s, we heard that Virginia was developing a heritage trail to help expose folks to the region’s rich tradition of old-time music. Apparently, we had been riding bits of the Crooked Road all along, we just never knew it had a name. Finally, we decided to make it official and play the record from start to finish.
Rocky Mount to Hillsville
Nestled at the foot of the Blue Ridge, Rocky Mount is a fitting start point for the Crooked Road, a loose confederation of venues and historic sites. The different regions are tied together by waypoints that feature attractive signs detailing that particular area’s contribution to the overall music scene. We find our first marker next to an old Norfolk and Western Railway caboose at the city’s Depot Welcome Center. Normally, a bright red car like this signifies the end of the line. But like the bluegrass we’ve come to love, the Crooked Road isn’t exactly heavy on rules.
Motorcycle & Gear
2001 Suzuki Bandit 1200S
We slowly wind through town, following the signs for Highway 40. The crisp morning air and bright sunlight add an almost electric glow to the stacks of heirloom tomatoes at the downtown farmer’s market. I’ll bet that corn over there is pretty good stuff—especially when it comes in a Mason jar. After all, we are in Franklin County, the self-proclaimed Moonshine Capital of the World.
The two-lane escapes the city’s grasp and flows over the rolling hills of the Piedmont plateau. Old houses and weathered barns accent the rural feel as we roll into the village of Ferrum, home to the Blue Ridge Institute & Museum. This constantly evolving monument to the area’s early settlers features livestock, crops, and rebuilt farm buildings dating from the 1800s. Across the street, the institute showcases rotating exhibits of regional folkways.
West of Ferrum, the fun truly begins. Highway 40 trades easy arcs for serious curves. The map calls for a right on Route 860, Shooting Creek Road. This narrow, rugged bit of scarred and bumpy asphalt is not for the faint of heart. Locals claim its name has something to do with the aforementioned illegal liquor production. The supersteep ravine carved by a cold, lonely stream hints at a fine starting point for such illicit activities.
At the top of the mountain, the road’s wicked grade gives way to gentle bends as we cross the Blue Ridge Parkway and make our way into Floyd. This one-stoplight town definitely qualifies as a mountain music mecca. Visitors from far and wide flock to nationally renowned events like FloydFest, a multiday world music festival, or to take in some live old-time and bluegrass favorites at the Floyd Country Store’s rollicking Friday Night Jamboree. This is one of our regular stops as music is nearly always happening on the stage, and their mocha malt milk shake is always worth the trip.