Anticipation was building all afternoon as the time ticked by, getting us closer to our first taste of the Crooked Road on our 2015 tour. The evening held promise in connection with two events at “Heartwood:” a BBQ dinner and an open jam. I had been curious from the beginning of our planning about Heartwood. What is it? It isn’t a museum, exactly. It isn’t really just a performance venue, although it includes one. It isn’t a restaurant, although there is one there. It has a gift shop, but not just kitchy, touristy products. They offer an abundance of arts and crafts from local, creative people. From the pictures, it appeared to be a large, modern building. I wondered how such a place could exist and receive its support. When we arrived, some of my questions about support were answered when I realized that this was located on a college campus. Once we were inside I was able to learn that a number of non-profits are backing this organization as well. Heartwood seems to be the administrative “nerve center” of the Crooked Road.

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After a bit of browsing, we sat down in the restaurant and ordered our dinner. Since the evening was billed as a “BBQ,” I had to order something smoked. I chose the pulled pork. It came with a delicious bowl of baked beans and an interesting “cole slaw” that was unlike anything I have had before. While we ate, musicians began arriving for the jam.

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Just before the jamming began I introduced myself to the director, Jack Hinschelwood, and told him that I’d love to talk with him more about the Crooked Road.

At about 7:00 the jam began. I took a seat in the second row (being unwilling to draw attention to myself by sitting in the front). After the first song, Jack asked everyone present if anyone was from out-of-state. There went my anonymity. After that, Jack asked (non-verbally) several times during the jam if I wanted to lead a song. (I didn’t.) At one point when he was taking a break from playing he wandered over and actually asked me if I wanted to lead a song. Now I really don’t have enough stage confidence to lead a song, mostly. For the most part I don’t remember enough song lyrics to be able to do this. However, I do know a few gospel songs well enough, so I suggested that I could lead “Leave it There.” He agreed, although he confessed to not knowing the song. After a bit, and after another fellow had led another gospel song (Who’ll Sing for Me?), I stepped up and led “Leave it There.” The musicians all came on board, but no one stepped up with harmonizing on the vocals. It was fun, and not too stressful. In reflecting on this I began to realize that it is a form of hospitality when you are invited to lead a song in a jam. Like most forms of hospitality, it is probably impolite to decline. In the future, when I go to jams, I think I’ll have to go prepared to lead a song or two. I’ll have to make sure I know the lyrics for some more songs.

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After the jam I spoke with Jack for a while. I learned that the Crooked Road was the brainchild of two men, Joe Wilson and Todd Christensen who began pulling it together back in about 2003. They conceived of it as a way to tie together the people and cultural heritage of folks across this section of southwestern Virginia. Jack has been the Executive Director for the past few years. I like the notion that folks can come up with an idea and then “create” this intangible thing that, through marketing and common commitments, has an identity and a reality. I suspect that we would not be making this trip if Joe and Todd had not done this.