Music may save Galax. The western Virginia town's manufacturing base was outsourced to Asia long ago. Slowly, like many other American cities, it is fighting its way back.
Trains are no longer needed so they tore up the tracks and created a bike path. The popular New River Trail now stretches forty miles north. We had a great time bicycling upstream and canoeing down.
Antique stores now fill the town. Each was like a little museum where you had the option to take the contents home. Ancient trumpets? I tried all four. Exquisite European coffee grinders? We had twenty to choose from. Shopping in one tin-ceilinged store, we eyed a little blue cup that had no price. When we inquired the owner asked, "What's it worth to you?". We took it home.
I got a $6 trim at the Galax Barber Shop from Otey Rikert. I got more than my money's worth just hearing his stories. One was about his thin blood. It causes bruising all over his 80-year-old body. He showed me both arms then lifted his baggy pants so I could see his damaged legs. It made me want to take better care of mine.
There are music festivals all over America this summer. We drove past Bonaroo (near Nashville) last month and Floydfest (Floyd, Va.) last week but every Friday night they're gathering to enjoy live music in Galax. They say its the only local product that you can't outsource.
When their little movie theater died in the 80's, the "Rex" sat forlorn for years. Someone then had the bright idea to put on musical shows and broadcast them live on the local radio station. Going there is so fun, it's Galax's own Prairie Home Companion.
The show starts with a radio announcer welcoming everyone, doing a few commercials, and introducing the band. The one we saw was "Old Grass" a collection of young musicians who had won top honors in recent state competitions. As soon as they began to play people jumped up from the audience to "clog". It's something like an Irish jig where people shuffle your feet much faster than I can shuffle my feet. I tried anyway, gettin' down with the locals.
The town is best known for its annual music festival, The Old Time Fidler's Convention, which begins again next week. For sixty years fifty thousand people have descended on Galax to celebrate the bluegrass musical traditions of old. Some say it is the original Woodstock.
Who knows? I do know we had a great time cloggin' at the Rex. I also know the world would be be a much better place if all of us danced to the music of live, local musicians on Friday nights.