Even the giant record hanging on the side of the building has some "golden" words that the performance center and museum live by - "Honoring A.P., Sara and Maybelle."
A host of volunteers gather each weekend to make sure that visitors not only get a bag of popcorn and watch a good concert, but don’t leave without knowing who the Carter Family was. They confidently answer questions in the museum and slowly rock back and forth in A.P.’s cabin while telling about the small two-room home where eight children were born and raised.
No one is more excited about seeing the foot traffic upon this little piece of Hiltons, Va., than Rita Forrester. Professionally, she’s the executive director of The Carter Family Memorial Music Center, but her passion for preserving country music and her bloodline makes emceeing the Saturday night shows more than just a requirement of her job. Forrester is the granddaughter of A.P. and Sara Carter, who along with Sara’s cousin Maybelle, became the first country music stars.
Forrester’s mother, Janette Carter, turned her father’s store into a concert venue in the late 1970s and the rest is living history that happens every Saturday night. Forrester says she’s still surprised by the number of international guests who seek to visit the Carter Fold because of its one-of-a-kind atmosphere that’s both fun and family-friendly.
Perhaps visitors from afar make their way to the Carter Fold because the crowd is so eclectic. Out front, church buses roll into the parking area, while young couples stroll hand-in-hand toward the ticket line for the highlight of their date. Families bring generations of kinfolk who take up two enitre rows of seating. And almost everyone picks up a can of soda or plate of warm nachos from the concession stand.
Part of the secret to hosting such a variety of spectators is hosting a variety of acts.
"It’s a challenge to stay current," Forrester said. "We always try to appeal to different audiences, especially the younger audiences."
The evening started with a few Carter Family standards, including "Can the Circle Be Unbroken." But in an effort to draw the masses, local band Folk Soul Revival was invited to play on the prestigious stage as the main event.
"It’s about bridging that gap," Forrester said. "It’s rare for there to be a drum on the stage. The last time was probably when Marty Stuart came. We normally have all acoustic. Of course, these guys are acoustic, but they do a little more of an Americana-type music, but it’s definitely rooted in the bluegrass and traditional music of the area."
Folk Soul Revival fans, or "The Congregation," packed the house with a mix of gray-haired folks and little ones who had their moms twirling them around the dance floor. Forrester said if people at the Fold can’t dance, they feel like they’re being punished.
The scootin’ and swayin’ in front of the stage is what makes the Carter Fold a true country venue. It’s like a social event wrapped in a musical experiment and history lesson. It must be experienced to be truly enjoyed.
And surprisingly enough, Forrester said she meets people weekly who have grown up in the Tri-Cities, but it’s their first time at the Carter Fold.
"Most people if they come once, they’ll be back," she said. "There are very few places that you can take the whole family and everyone enjoys it."
In order for music fans to find the type of tunes that make them want to shuffle across the floor, Forrester suggests keeping an eye on the weekly lineup found at www.carterfamilyfold.org.
A special upcoming event is the Fifth Annual Janette Carter Memorial Gospel Concert on Nov. 4 featuring IIrd Tyme Out and Paul Williams and the Victory Trio, all beginning at 2:30 p.m.
"I loved my mom and grandfather," Forrester said. "She personified dedication. I can’t think of any better way to honor her."
Navigating to the Carter Family Fold can be difficult, because a GPS doesn’t always recognize 3449 A. P. Carter Highway, but there are several green signs to help guide the way. Make sure to get there early in order to find a parking place, a good seat and still have time to look around the museum and A.P.’s cabin.
To get to the Carter Family Fold: Continue through Gate City on Highway 23, then turn right at Food City onto Highway 224. Take the first left onto Highway 58 East. Continue for five miles and turn left beside of a red-roofed convenience store. Take a sharp right onto A.P. Carter Highway and continue for three miles. The Carter Family Fold is on the left.