A group of musicians living along the Crooked Road have teamed up to record some of their favorite Christmas songs — mountain music style. “Christmas Along the Crooked Road” features the talents of Gerald Anderson, Jimmy Edmonds, Wayne Henderson, Steve Lewis, Jeff Little, Josh Scott, Spencer Strickland, Helen White and the Junior Appalachian Musicians.
The idea for a Christmas CD sprang from a performance by this group of musicians at the Rex Theater, an anchor venue located on the Crooked Road in Galax, Va. Debbie Robinson, Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway’s director of programs, was coordinating the show and invited Galax native and Miss America 1979 Kylene Barker McNeill to serve as emcee.
“I grew up in one of the most beautiful and scenic places in the world — the Blue Ridge Mountains,” McNeill said. “When I was a little girl I remember watching the Grand Ole Opry with my grandmother. During my teenage years I was more into the Doobie Brothers and Three Dog Night, but in 2007 my father, Kyle, started volunteering at the newly built Blue Ridge Music Center located at mile marker 213 on the Blue Ridge Parkway just a few miles from my childhood home where he still lives.
“In his thick Southern accent, he said ‘Kylene, you’ve got to come down here and meet these people...you’re going to love these musicians.’ The following summer I hosted the Saturday night show at the Rex Theatre in Galax, my hometown, and home of the oldest fiddlers convention in the country. I met Gerald Anderson and Spencer Strickland and yes, I fell in love with this music and these talented musicians.”
McNeill was so smitten that she booked the group for three days of sold-out shows in Naples, Fla., where she now lives. It was during those performances that talk of recording a Christmas CD began.
The 12-track “Christmas Along the Crooked Road” features sacred seasonal hymns such as “What Child Is This,” “Silent Night” and “Away in a Manger”; traditional holiday favorites like “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “Winter Wonderland”; and Helen White’s original “Christmas Promise” — all with a bluegrass twist.
“I wrote [‘Christmas Promise’] about 15 years ago just prior to Christmas,” White said. “It was a clear, star-filled night and I found myself reflecting on the divine light which lies within and beyond us all.”
The CD also features the Junior Appalachian Musicians on “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” JAM introduces Appalachian children to their musical heritage through small group instruction in instruments common to the mountain region. Programs currently exist in three states, with a goal of making music instruction available throughout the Southern Appalachians.
“It was great to play on this special Christmas project,” said guitarist and guitar maker Wayne Henderson, a recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts’ National Heritage Fellowship. “I enjoyed picking with some of my friends, all excellent players, and it’s always a pleasure working in Wesley Easter’s studio. But I have to say my favorite part about it was playing with the JAM kids. It’s an honor to be on a project with these young musicians.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by Robinson, with Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
“It was indeed a joy to work with so many outstanding artists on such a special project,” she said. “All of the musicians involved, individually and collectively, are incredible pickers committed to sharing their wonderful talents, and have been resilient in keeping their musical heritage alive and strong. Travel the Crooked Road — Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail, and you’ll likely catch them performing on stage, at festivals, or informal jam sessions. “‘Christmas Along The Crooked Road’ is an exceptional project to be treasured for years to come.” The musicians will perform together once again during a special, sold-out “Christmas Along the Crooked Road” concert, presented by the Kiwanis Club of Marion, on Dec. 10 at the Lincoln Theatre in Marion, Va.
For more information or to order a copy of the CD (cost is $14.99 plus $5 shipping and handling), visit christmasalongthecrookedroad.com .