Virginia in Song: Odes to the Old Dominion, Part 2

by Davy Jones | Posted: May 21, 2018

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Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

Given Virginia’s central role in founding country music, as well as the breadth and depth of talented musicians that call the commonwealth home, it should come as no surprise that there are many, many songs for which Virginia has served as a muse. We shared five of our favorites in Odes to the Old Dominion, Part 1, and here are five more — each with a unique take on what makes Virginia such a special place to live and visit. Whether it’s natural beauty they’re rhapsodizing, or a busy urban corridor in its heyday, these songs bring the state’s history, culture, and scenic surroundings to life.

 

Page Wilson—“Virginia”

Page Wilson was a Virginian through and through: “Home in my heart always,” as he puts it in his ode to the state, simply titled “Virginia.” He was a native of Hanover County, with a father who owned a Texaco station in Mechanicsville and a mother who sang in the choir at Northside Baptist Church. Wilson’s love for the music benefited the community in a number of ways, from his popular radio show, the Out O’ the Blue Radio Revue, to his help planning various local music festivals. But it’s his song “Virginia” that most concisely captured his love for the commonwealth he called home.

Wilson served for a time as a member of the Richmond Folk Festival programming board, which will come as no surprise to listeners of the Out O’ the Blue Radio Revue, given the show’s mission of highlighting different genres and styles. The Richmond Folk Festival fulfills that mission each October by bringing sounds from all over the world to central Virginia, from the types of country, bluegrass, and zydeco Wilson featured on Out O’ the Blue to international experiences like Moroccan Gnawa, Afro-Venezuelan parranda, and Japanese taiko drumming, to name a few. Whether you attend the downtown festival to explore the unfamiliar or dig deeper into the region’s musical roots, you’ll be soaking in musical variety in exactly the sweet spot Wilson described in song: “Between the Blue Ridge and Chesapeake Bay.”

 

David Rawlings—“Cumberland Gap”

David Rawlings is half of what’s likely to go down as one of the most significant duos in Americana history — the other half being the brilliant and venerated Gillian Welch. You’ll find the pair performing under either artist’s name, depending on who’s primarily singing lead on that particular album or tour, but they’re constant collaborators, and they joined forces once again in 2017 to release Poor David’s Almanack. The lead single, “Cumberland Gap,” earned Rawlings a Grammy nomination, and it paints a foreboding picture of the famed Appalachian Mountain pass, which lies near the intersection of Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. “He made the trip in the blizzard’s grip,” Rawlings sings. “I’d rather wrestle Satan.”

While traversing any mountain in blizzard conditions is a recipe for tough going, the truth is that the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park is a welcoming, family-friendly destination, offering 70 miles of hiking trails and ranger-led programs through the year, along with fishing, campground, and unique tour opportunities, including Gap Cave and the Hensley Settlement, where a self-sufficient homestead was inhabited for nearly 50 years at the beginning of the 20th Century.

 

Ray T Jones—“That Norfolk Sound”

Raymond Thomas Jones served in the Navy during the Vietnam War, and he was stationed in Norfolk at a time in which Church Street was a cultural hub for the African-American community, with popular spots like the Eureka Lodge, Queen’s Lounge, and the Plaza Hotel powering an exciting nightlife. Jones was profoundly influenced by the music he heard, and he wrote and recorded “That Norfolk Sound,” an ode to the city he loved, with a genre-bending mix of acoustic guitar and fuzzed-out guitar, and lyrics about walking down Church Street and soaking in the sounds around him. The song came out in 1975, and the following year, Jones even recorded a special for Norfolk’s WAVY-TV 10, in which he reported on the city’s scene while standing outside Scope, the arena situated in downtown Norfolk just a few blocks over from Church Street.

Scope still serves the Norfolk community, providing a large venue for concerts, basketball tournaments, Norfolk Admirals hockey games, and more. Just next door is Chrysler Hall, home to the Virginia Symphony Orchestra and the Virginia Ballet, with a full schedule of events ranging from concerts and comedians to musicals. And while many iconic venues like Queen’s Lounge closed their doors long ago, Church Street still hosts outstanding live jazz thanks to the Attucks Theatre. The location’s history goes all the way back to 1919, when the theater hosted greats like Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, and Nat King Cole. It was deemed a National Historic Landmark in 1977, and a three-year renovation project restored the theater to its former glory, paving the way for the Attucks to host regular jazz shows once again.

 

The Bluegrass Clippers—“Back Home”

While most would cite the 1940s and 1950s as the classic era of bluegrass — the time in which the genre took root — The Bluegrass Clippers were part of another heyday for the genre that swept through the musical landscape in the 1970s and 1980s. The Richmond-area group released Clippin’ the Grass in 1983 on Virginia-based Outlet Records, and while the Clippers did pay homage to the greats by covering songs from the Stanley Brothers (“Mountain Girls”), Lester Flatt (“Get In Line Brothers”) and Bill Monroe (“Little Cabin Home on the Hill,” co-written by Flatt and Monroe), there’s also a pair of original tunes on the album, including a touching composition by lead vocalist and mandolin player Buzzy Vaughan called “Back Home.” The song describes a trip down an idyllic country road, taking in the beauty of the surroundings: “Sunlight dancing on the gold autumn leaves/Listen to the birds singing in the breeze/Winding down the road I’m just a mile away/When I get home this time my plan is to stay.”

Whether you’re on your way back home or hitting the road to see the state’s natural beauty firsthand, Virginia is home to some of the most picturesque drives you’ll find anywhere. The Blue Ridge Parkway is a destination unto itself, with 469 miles of stunning views stretching from Shenandoah National Park to North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Parkway is itself a national park, protecting a string of mountain landscapes with panoramic views of mountain passes and an inspiring variety of flora and fauna, perfect for enjoying the scenic route while zooming through the area, or for taking it slow via an extended vacation. A drive up the Eastern Shore on Route 13 can be just as rewarding, with plenty of birdwatching, restored Colonial architecture, and the wild ponies of Chincoteague and Assateague.

 

Steve Bassett—“Tres Leches”

Steve Bassett is half of the storied songwriting partnership that crafted “Sweet Virginia Breeze,” which was named the official Popular State Song of Virginia in 2015, just months before Bassett’s writing partner, Robbin Thompson, passed away. The lyrics started flowing while Thompson was on his Floyd Avenue porch in Richmond’s Fan neighborhood in 1977, and the two collaborators finished writing the song after Bassett stopped by to rehearse. 40 years later, Bassett found his own inspiration just a few streets away, naming his 2017 album Tres Leches after the signature dessert served at beloved Park Avenue Cuban restaurant Kuba Kuba. A slice is even featured on the cover art!

Founded in 1998 by chef Manny Mendez, Kuba Kuba has become an iconic part of the Richmond food community, thanks to its welcoming bodega-like atmosphere, outstanding home-style Cuban dishes, and widely renowned take on the cake that earns its name — tres leches — from the three kinds of milk (evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, and heavy cream) it typically incorporates. Kuba Kuba’s version is so exceptional it was featured on the Food Network, with the Ace of Cakes himself — Duff Goldman of Baltimore’s Charm City Cakes — singing its praises. The cake takes three days to make, but it’s certain to disappear from your plate much more quickly.

 

Didn’t see your favorite song about Virginia here or in Part 1? Share the title in the comments below so others can enjoy it!

 

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