Earlier this year, I got to check two items off of my bucket list in one night when I heard Fiddlin’ Carson Peters play at the Carter Family Fold.
In case you’re not familiar with Carson Peters, he is a fiddle-playing prodigy from Piney Flats, Tennessee. That just happens to be where I grew up, so I was already partial to the young performer. I’d heard about Carson Peters from family and friends and had seen him on national television. He has appeared on “Little Big Shots” and “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” and he has played at The Grand Ole Opry and Ryman Auditorium among other well-known venues. Oh, did I mention that he is only 14 years old? Well, he is, and he can play a fiddle like nobody’s business. So when I saw that he’d be playing at the Carter Family Fold back in April, I figured out a way to get there. Actually, I asked my sister Robin if she’d like to accompany me—and she did, along with my niece and a friend. We’d heard that it’s a good idea to arrive at the Fold early—not only to get good seats, but also, if time allows, to visit the museum on the grounds.
The legendary Carter Family Fold is the home place of the first family of country music. Since 1974, to honor the memory of A.P., Sara and Maybelle Carter, the Carter Family Fold has provided a stage for acoustic weekend shows featuring Appalachian music. Located in rural Southwest Virginia, it is a sacred place to hear traditional old-time music—and it makes for a fun Saturday night. In addition to the lively music, guests can join in a gaggle of multigenerational dancers who flatfoot and so forth right in front of the stage. It is a hoot to watch—and tempting to join in (maybe next time)! Concessions are available, and the environment is family friendly and alcohol-free. The Carter Family Fold also happens to be where Johnny Cash played his last concert before he passed away in 2003. (June Carter Cash was one of Maybelle Carter’s daughters.)
As we made our way to Hiltons, Virginia, via some very curvy and winding back roads, I lost cell service—and we wondered if we were on the right track. We think our navigation took us in a back way, but we eventually made it with some time to spare. Once we arrived and parked (parking is limited, and you’ll see cars parked up and down the road on both sides of the venue), we decided to go ahead and buy tickets and find seats because the stadium seating is first-come, first-served. We had no trouble getting four seats together a little more than halfway up the middle section. Before the show, Carson Peters and members of his band, Iron Mountain, were talking to audience members and were available during intermission for autographs, photos, handshakes and hugs. He indulged me by telling a favorite joke: What’s the difference between a violin and a fiddle? A violin has strings, and a fiddle has strangs.
The show was delightful. The crowd was welcomed by Rita Forrester, daughter of the Janette Carter, who established the Carter Family Fold back in the 1970s. She gave the lay of the land and interacted with audience members, who were in attendance from several states and even some other countries. A prize was given to the folks who had traveled the farthest.
Carson Peters and Iron Mountain did not disappoint. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing their style of bluegrass and traditional mountain music, and their natural talent was evident from the first note played. Being a Tennessee girl, my favorite song of their performance had to be “Rocky Top,” of course, though we did cut out a little early in order to get home in time to meet another family member. If my memory serves me well, the band was playing “Blue Moon of Kentucky” as we made our way to the car.
Visiting the Carter Family Fold is a treat and will take you back in time. It was a lovely evening of Appalachian music and culture with an atmosphere of down-home warmth and hospitality. And I hope to go back soon.