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Known as the home of Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Christiansburg and Montgomery County is also the home to many historically important heritage musicians as well as a thriving dance scene.
Rickie and Ronnie Simpkins hail from this area and have an extensive playing history with many bands. Rickie Simpkins is a bluegrass fiddler and mandolinist who had both solo albums and worked with bands including The Lonesome River Band and the Seldom Scene. Ronnie Simpkins is a bluegrass bassist who also played with numerous bands, including The Seldom Scene and Virginia Squires. They are both members of the Virginia Folk Music Hall of Fame.
The numerous talents from Montgomery County also include Olen and Frances Gardner. Olen Gardner is a banjo player who worked with Charlie Monroe in the 1950s. He also is a Virginia Folklife Master Artist for bluegrass and old-time banjo, guitar, fiddle instrument making.
Other important and active bluegrass and old-time masters include Mac Traynham, who currently preserve and continues Old-Time traditions through teaching and cataloging old tunes, Wound Tight, Comptons, Gravel Road, Indian Run String Band, Mike Mitchell, Kruger Brothers, and Cox and Company.
Acclaimed autoharp maker John Hollandsworth John began repairing autoharps more than thirty years ago and made his first complete instrument in the early 1990s. Today his “Blue Ridge Autoharps” are recognized as some of the highest-quality custom-made autoharps in the country. Known for his fine playing as well as for instrument building, John was the first winner of the prestigious Mountain Laurel Autoharp Championship in Pennsylvania, and has been named “Best All-Around Performer” at the Galax Old Fiddlers’ Convention three times, the only autoharp player ever to win this recognition.
Blacksburg Square JAM and Blacksburg Square Dance are both Crooked Road affiliate venues.
Photo: Olen Gardner, instrument repair master artist, of Riner, Virginia. Photo by Morgan Miller/Virginia Folklife Program.