It’s 7 p.m. and what sounds like a stampede has overtaken this country store. Inside, merchandise is pushed up against the walls, and the store is transformed into an old-fashioned music hall. Dancers are the source of all the racket—old-timers sporting overalls, middle-aged couples dressed for a square dance, and twentysomethings in jeans. Many wear taps under the heels and toes of their cowboy boots and shoes, as they shuffle up a storm Appalachian-style, keeping time with the banjo and fiddlers on the bandstand. Throughout the night, new bands take the stage, the tunes always tied to genres of traditional American music—mountain, bluegrass, classic country. And the dancing never stops.
Welcome to the Friday Night Jamboree at The Floyd Country Store (206 S. Locust St., 540-745-4563) in Floyd, VA, a mountain town of about 430 full-time residents. What’s so surprising about this tiny spot on the Blue Ridge Plateau is how much is happening here. Take this night, for example. Along with the jamboree, musicians stage open jam sessions on the street—there’s even one inside a barber shop with fiddlers ranging from wizened old men to a boy in his teens. Restaurants teem with diners, and, since it’s Friday, people pass by with wares from the nearby artisan mart.
So why haven’t you heard of Floyd? Well, finding it isn’t easy. From I-81, about 30 minutes south of Blacksburg, the twisty, 20-mile journey down tiny Route 8 is arduous enough to deter a casual traveler. Others skirt it while driving the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway. But Baltimoreans seeking a unique and unexpectedly affordable getaway will delight in the five-hour trek.
In 2003, Floyd emerged from a mere dot on the map in southwest Virginia’s Bible Belt to become a major destination on The Crooked Road, a trail of traditional American music venues featuring bluegrass, country string bands, blues, and gospel. Every year in July, American heritage music enthusiasts flock here for FloydFest, held in Rocky Knob (894 Rock Castle Gorge, 888-823-3787), a scenic recreation area on The Blue Ridge Parkway, about 10 miles out of town. This once-grassroots Appalachian Lollapalooza has morphed into a five-day, multi-generational Americana music marathon. This year’s lineup includes Emmylou Harris and Grace Potter. Plus, there are more than 70 artisans, homegrown food, a healing-arts village, and outdoor activities.
What’s unique about Floyd is its residents. Locals describe the population as a fusion of tie-dye and overalls. Originally a farming community, the town experienced a rebirth in the 1970s, when a group of counterculturists moved in. Drawn to the town’s organic roots, natural beauty, and lack of land restrictions, the “hippies” established a community dedicated to living close to the land. The contrast between a conservative farming community and entrepreneurial artisans, musicians, and New Agers might be contentious in most places, but that union defines the vibe here.
Organic food isn’t a new trend in Floyd, it’s just how it’s always been—whole food, locally grown, seasonally consumed. Members of the town’s progressive movement have founded SustainFloyd (203 S. Locust St., Suite H, 540-745-7333), which helps longtime farmers manage their land. Most people in Floyd have gardens and get their eggs from neighbors. And, they’ve started organic farms of their own. It’s by necessity—the closest mall is 45 minutes away, and the nearest airport is close to an hour.
Floyd’s produce, dairy, and meat farms sell on-site and at the Saturday farmers’ market (205 S. Locust St., 540-745-7333). The town also has a number of fresh-food purveyors, including Grateful Bread (109 Old Hensley Rd., 540-558-9395), known around town for everything from foccacia to cinnamon rolls. Red Rooster (117 S. Locust St., 540-745-7337), an organic coffee roaster, also runs the cafe Black Water Loft (117 S. Locust St., 540-745-5638), a lively spot where locals like to catch up over an oatmeal cream pie and a latte.
For a small town, Floyd offers an impressive array of dining choices that base their menus around seasonal, local ingredients. Pine Tavern (611 Floyd Hwy. N., 540-745-4482) serves family-style Southern comfort food such as fried chicken and mashed potatoes, while Dogtown Roadhouse (302 S. Locust St., 540-745-6836) makes wood-fired pizzas with gooey mozzarella, local sausage, and caramalized onions. Fat Spoon Café (274 Floyd Hwy. S., 540-745-4446), owned by Rich Perry, who has cooked for the Bush family, features home fare at prices not seen for years in D.C.—the vegetarian buffet is $8; the one that includes meat is $10. The menu at Oddfella’s Cantina & Tapas Bar (110 N. Locust St., 540-745-3463), housed in a circa-1910 meeting hall, is described as “conscious comfort food with an Appalachian-Latino twist.” The offerings, such as barbecued tempeh and grass-fed beef chimichangas, don’t disappoint.
Shopping on “Floyd Time”
When it comes to shopping in Floyd, be warned that it is anything but a one-and-done experience. Shopkeepers will greet you with, “Well, come on in!” like you are visiting their homes, and often will serve tea, fully expecting you to stay and chat. In fact, locals call it “running on Floyd time.”