Floyd, Virginia: Old-Time Music and New-Time Hippies

My story on a weekend escape to Floyd is in the latest issue of Distinction. The online version is at:
Handmade Music.

What’s surprising about Floyd is that the vibe is energetic, more eclectic than you’d expect. It’s not only good ol’ boys in camouflage. Four decades ago, hippies began moving into this area to found communes next to working farms. Now, their children have grown, gone away and, in many cases, returned. North Carolinians favor Floyd as a spot for a second home in the mountains. All that contributes to a thriving community of artisans, old and new.

At first blush, old-time music and new-time hippies seem an unlikely pairing. But they’re both about community and craft. The stickers given to Friday patrons at the Country Store read “handmade music,” but Floyd is about more than just music crafted lovingly by hand.

You can still get good moonshine if you know someone who knows someone. But belly up to a table at any restaurant in town and you’ll be handed a list of craft brews on tap and in bottles that rival any big-city offering. You’ll find an old-fashioned biscuit so fluffy only the rich sausage gravy anchors it to your plate at the homey Blue Ridge Restaurant and a seared Muscovy duck breast that Tom Colicchio would love at the sophisticated Natasha’s Market Cafe. Need a handmade mountain banjo? There’s a luthier nearby. Looking for pottery, wood sculpture or paper artistry of the quality you’d expect down the Blue Ridge Parkway in Asheville or in urban galleries? Wander Troika, The Floyd Artists’ Association, and other galleries along Locust. The Hotel Floyd, a block off the main drag, is a stylish, eco-friendly lodge with rooms built by a local woodworker that feature local art.

Eulogy for Fleet Park

We closed Fleet Park to Little League games on Saturday after 54 years on the Navy property. It was a beautiful day, sunny and warm, the perfect setting. In the final game, no one lost. My Junior Yankees tied the Junior Phillies, 9-9.

Here are the remarks I made at the closing ceremony, where several players dug up home plate for safekeeping until we find a new home.

First, if you played a game out here today — Tee Ball, Coach Pitch, Minors, Majors, Softball, Juniors — please join me on the field. This is your place, your day. Thanks to Amber Pickrell, Dennis Richardson, Shawn Padgett, and Casey Walker for pulling together this day.

I’d like to think of this as an old fashioned wake for a grand old ballpark, a celebration of the good times and the great memories.

Fleet Park has been one of those special places in our lives, a place that will be with each of us forever, good for a smile each time we think back to the day…. Before I talk about those memories and the legacy of Fleet Park, I’d like to look to the future, the near future.

As you know, we will temporarily be moving to the Azalea Little League complex on East Princess Anne Road. We owe a big thanks to Azalea Little League for agreeing to share that facility with us. We owe thanks to the City of Norfolk for investing $170, 000 in improvements to those eight fields. Those improvements are already in motion. We’ve leveraged volunteer energy and donations to make them happen faster and make the city’s money go further. We’ve had an architect, who is a Fleet Park parent and volunteer, do the drawings for new dugouts, expediting their construction. Through Shawn Padgett, our obsessive compulsive field maintenance marshall, we’ve convinced Dominion Power to take down the lights here and put them up at Azalea. For free. There will be new scoreboards, a new PA system, new batting cages, and other amenities in place by spring.

I pledge to you that those fields will look as good as these fields by the time we begin play on March 24, 2012.

I also want to make it clear that Azalea is not our final destination. With the closing of Fleet Park, the city loses six fields, including five lighted fields. Norfolk, which has been a regional leader in so many ways, lacks recreational facilities, especially baseball fields. Fleet Park has been home not only to Little League, but to Maury High School, Granby High School, Norfolk Collegiate School and recently a handful of travel teams here. These fields must be replaced by new ones. Soon.

Mayor Fraim and Mr. Winn were instrumental in creating this facility in 1993. I have faith they will work with us to find a new baseball home for 650 children and their families

That’s the future. Today is about the past, about the memories made over more than five decades on this ground. Take a minute with me and conjure those remembrances special to you. The first time your child walloped a ball to the outfield in Tee Ball….and then ran to third base. The smile of delight on a 9-year-old’s face after a big hit. The awful strikeout that sends her stomping to the end of the bench.  The look of surprise on the face of an infielder who just stabbed a screaming line drive. The long, never-ending game that concludes with a play at the plate and a trip to the snack bar for one of those free hot dogs left over after it’s closed. 

I think of my son finding his love for baseball out here, learning the value of practice and effort, and discovering how much he enjoys being part of a team. I think of my daughter, pitching against the boys and being part of a championship Majors team. And I think of all those lunch hours and off-season Saturdays and Sundays out here alone, the solitude of sitting on the tractor mowing the grass or grabbing a shovel and working on a field.

Mostly, though, I think about the people, the great kids I’ve coached or watched grow and develop through baseball. I think of the parents I’ve gotten to know, many by name, some only by face. And I think of the volunteers, coaches,and board members who have come together here to build something that transcends sport.

Fleet Park has been a playground, a Cathedral, and a school,  a place for sheer joy, a place where you learn to believe, and a place where adults teach children and children teach adults some of life’s fundamental lessons.

More than anything, Fleet Park has been a catalyst for creating and sustaining community, an ever elusive — and necessary — thing in our fast-paced, ephemeral world.

Yes, today we’re losing a part of all of us, a special place. But we’re not losing the tightly-knit community we’ve built.

That’s eternal, more precious, more valuable, than any baseball park.

Madision Violet at North Shore Point House Concerts

I’m taking reservations for the next show at North Shore Point House Concerts in Norfolk on May 7 featuring the stunning harmonies of Canadian folk rock group, Madison Violet.

No doubt, you’ve never heard of Madison Violet. But that’s one of the reasons the series exists — to bring in great artists you’d never otherwise see. They are stars north of the border (just check the videos on the North Shore site or Youtube).

They’ve won the John Lennon International Songwriting Competition, been nominated for numerous awards, including a Juno, the Canadian Grammy. Listen and you will be convinced.

The donation is $20.  As always, you may arrive as early as 7 p.m. and share snacks.

Go to the web site or email jim@northshorepoint.com for reservations. You’re free to bring friends. We will reply with directions.

For more on them, go to the web site, www.madisonviolet.com or just go to the North Shore Point web site and check out the videos.

The rest of the schedule (this far):

Sept. 10, Kevin Welch with special guest Dustin Welch.
Sept. 23 Zoe Muth and the Lost High Rollers.
Oct. 23, Steve Forbert.
April 14, 2012 Kim Richey.
May 19, 2012, Eric Brace and Peter Cooper.

Past shows include Marshall Crenshaw, Dave Alvin, Jimmy LaFave, Peter Case, Don Dixon and Marti Jones and dozens of others.

Please forward this to friends and share the special experience of a house concert.


Robbie Fulks at North Shore Point House Concerts, Jan. 29

Robbie Fulks played to a packed garage — yes, we heated the garage to accommodate the overflow of fans who wanted to see the show — on January 29 for the first show of the 2011 season, the tenth anniversary of the first North Shore Point House Concert (actually June 2001 was the first with the late Dave Carter and Tracy Grammer).

Robbie was better than fine, joined by guitarist extraordinaire Robbie Gjersoe, who has played with Jerry Jeff Walker and Joe Ely. Here are a few videos from the show.

Next up for North Shore Point is John Fullbright on March 26.

For the full schedule (and it’s changing as I book more acts for 2011), go to North Shore Point House Concerts.

The Blue Ridge Parkway at 75

My newest piece for Smithsonian.com is about the 75th anniversary of the beginning of construction for the Blue Ridge Parkway, which might be a unique road in concept and execution.  For the story, I spent the better part of two days driving the majority of the parkway, something I’d never done before, but that I’ll do again soon. The fall leaves beckon.

The story is at 75 Years of the Blue Ridge Parkway.