Music has always been close at the heart of Southwest Virginia. Country music can trace its roots right to Bristol Virginia and its legendary echoes still ring through the region on the Crooked Road. It comes as no surprise that the music scene here, nearly one hundred years later, is still vibrant and thriving. From numerous venues you can catch a live performance sprinkled throughout the region to touring musicians passing through, the hills of Southwest Virginia sing in harmony and history.
I had the honor of catching up with an incredible folk musician as he passed through the region. Charming the world with stories laced with comedy and songs underpinned by optimism and hope, he has made a name for himself from Portland Maine to Portland Oregon, and everywhere in between. John Craigie is a singer-songwriter based in Portland, Oregon. His tours have led him to venues across the world and even a sold-out Gorge Amphitheatre with Jack Johnson. His songs have inspired and consoled countless people from coast to coast and you can listen to us talk about the craft and inspiration that goes into those songs below.
I sat down with John before his show here in Southwest Virginia opening for the California Honeydrops at a very unique venue. I woke up early one morning, made some coffee, grabbed a bagel, and dashed out the door. I headed North on I-81 up through Wytheville towards Roanoke where I took highway 220 south to Rocky Mount.
It was smaller than I thought it would be. Which I later learned was because I was on a street tucked away from the rest of the town. The fact that I had gotten there an hour late didn’t help. I planned on walking up and down the street exploring the charming stores I had heard about while I waited but the majority of them were closed aside from one, the Whole Bean Coffee House. Which is where I hid away while the time ticked by before the show.
At that point I had already interviewed John. I was naive to think when I left my house that I would make good time coming through Roanoke. 30 minutes of stop and go traffic set me behind schedule but I was greeted with a hug and a warm welcome nonetheless. Whoever says never meet your heroes has clearly never met John Craigie. After talking for half an hour or so, I still had 90 minutes to kill before the doors opened at the Harvester Performance Center.
Which is how I found myself at the Whole Bean Coffee House. Drinking a cup of delicious black coffee and eating two pieces of cake. My grandmother always told me “no cake for dinner” but she wasn’t there and they were chocolate glazed.
I was sitting at a table facing a window that looked out down the street. It was sometime in the fall but flowers were still blooming in their beds by sidewalks that ran past faded brick buildings. Evening slowly paved the way for night as street lights flickered on, illuminating farmers market signs that hung below them while people moseyed by. The smell of chocolate and coffee rising from the table and floating through the air reminded me of my great grandmother’s house. Childhood days spent eating good food and watching the Andy Griffith Show in the presence of the lingering aroma of morning coffee.
That moment felt like sitting in Sheriff Taylor’s Mayberry. Well if not for the occasional Honda cruising down the road but a nostalgic moment nonetheless. Which you might not expect to find just 20 odd miles outside the hustle and bustle of Roanoke.
Halfway through my second slice of cake, someone walked through the door to the shop and was greeted by their name. While the patrons and employees carried on a friendly conversation, I quietly finished my meal and left to head to the concert. Walking back down that tiny street in Rocky Mount I realized how special the Harvester Performance Center is. A venue that can attract world-class talent to small-town Southwest Virginia. A place as musical as it is beautiful.
If you haven’t yet visited the Harvester, you can buy your tickets and see their schedule at https://www.harvester-music.com
While you’re in town be sure to visit some other local hotspots
- Whole Bean Coffee House
- Rocky Mount Burger Company
- Blue Ridge Antique Center
- Rocky Mount Center for the Arts
John Craigie is a brilliant musician. Described as “…the lovechild of John Prine and Mitch Hedberg with a vagabond troubadour edge.” by The Stranger, he encapsulates the heart of American folk music with his own unique wit and sound. From lyrics that’ll pull at your heartstrings and songs that’ll make you both laugh and cry before they’re over, you can find his work at https://johncraigiemusic.com From there you can buy tickets, merchandise, or explore his discography. His new album, “Asterisk the Universe” is due out June, 12th