The old Alabama lyric “Play me some mountain music, like Grandma and Grandpa used to play” could be a theme of the community surrounding Grayson Highlands State Park.
Music is more than one of the area’s strongest traditions. In years past, music was not only a way of entertaining family and friends who came to visit, it helped pass the long cold winters and was a way of passing down the heritage and experiences of the people who settled in the area. It continues as a way of life today.
Playing for a few thousand of our closest friends
Needless to say, music has some part in everyone’s personal story. I have always been fascinated by it; the human voice as an instrument as well as traditional string instruments. How can five strings be side-by-side and make such a variety of sounds? There has to be a science behind it, but who figured it out? As with any traditions, music and instrument making is an art handed down through the generations. It is an art that generates pride among those who do it. This is especially true in the Appalachian culture.
Practice is the best teacher
How do people know how to make those instruments? So, I started digging into it.
String instruments can either be plucked or played with a bow. A person who makes string instruments is known as a luthier. One of the area’s most famous luthiers was Albert Hash, a beloved fiddle player and instrument maker. He dedicated himself to the creation of the instruments and the music they made. He also spent many hours mentoring the next generation of luthiers and musicians, most notably by staring the Old-time Music Program at Mt. Rogers Combined School, a community school near Grayson Highlands State Park. He, along with other family members, even volunteered at the local fire department giving music lessons. After Albert passed away in 1983, his daughter Audrey Hash Ham carried on his vision until her death in 2013 and his niece, Martha Spencer is currently continuing in the family tradition. Albert’s legacy lives on with the Albert Hash Memorial Festival which is held in the park’s Picnic Area the Saturday of Labor Day weekend each year.
Wayne C Henderson with Ranger Parker Redfox
The area around Grayson Highlands has a strong presence of luthiers. Wayne C. Henderson, from Rugby, VA, is known throughout the world for quality of his guitars. Occasionally, he makes other string instruments such as mandolins, fiddles or banjos with the same near perfection quality. Because of the personal attention to detail and the quality of each instrument, only 50 instruments are produced each year. On the third weekend of June each year, the park hosts the Wayne C. Henderson Music Festival and Guitar Competition. Wayne also volunteers at the park, performing at the Campground Amphitheater on the Sunday nights of Memorial and Labor Day weekends. Henderson is active in the community and a long time member of the Friends of Grayson Highlands.
Ranger Parker Redfox enjoying the Old-time music at the festival
The tradition continues. Yearly, thousands of people come to the park to get a taste of this style of music. To some visitors, it is a step back in time, and to some, it is a brand new experience. Either way, you will have plenty of chances to experience it first-hand. Old-time music is as much a part of Grayson Highlands State Park and the surrounding area as the mountains. The park has weekly music programs and special events with music as the base. The opportunities are endless.