A Store with History
The Floyd Country Store has served the community of Floyd through most of the twentieth century. Although its origins are veiled in obscurity, it is known that in June 1910 a business called Farmer’s Supply opened their doors in the building and the store has remained open ever since. In the 1920s, early recording star Charlie Poole would busk on the street corner in front of the Floyd Hotel with Franklin County fiddler Posey Rorer and guitarist Norman Woodlief of Spray, NC.
Often playing music well into the small hours, Poole would spend the daytime sleeping upstairs in what is now the Floyd Country Store after playing for late night dances in the same store. While in the area, he would play his banjo at local school houses for fundraisers and for old time dances in private homes. Charlie Poole’s visits to the area and his unique repertoire inspired many local musicians and helped to establish Floyd as a regional center of old time music – a reputation that is still celebrated at the Floyd Country Store today.
The store itself has had many names and many proprietors over the years – and took on a new role in the early 1980s, when it was known as Cockram’s General Store. Two of the store’s former owners were in a local bluegrass band that gathered at the store most every Friday night for a practice session. People passing by would knock on the doors, asking to be let inside so they could better hear the music. Pretty soon, the band got tired of being interrupted every few minutes to let someone else in the store so they decided to leave the doors open. As the crowds grew, other musicians came to join the fun and the rest, as they say, is history – the Friday Night Jamboree was born.
The Floyd Country Store is now acknowledged far and wide as a haven for traditional musicians and dancers – and continues to be a community gathering spot, hosting a variety of music events, films, parties, classes, presentations, and plenty of informal gatherings of friends. It’s a place where everyone is welcome!
The Locals’ Music
Floyd County, Virginia has maintained a tradition of music and dancing that has its roots in the culture of the Scots-Irish and German settlers who moved into the Blue Ridge Mountains in the mid-1700s and in the culture of enslaved people of African and Afro-Caribbean descent and English farmers, traders, and entrepreneurs who migrated up the rivers from the coast. Dr. Samuel Johnson, writing about the immigrants from the British Isles in the 1700s, described them as a population who “changed nothing but their adobe.”
The culture that these immigrants brought with them included a love of music, dancing and storytelling. In his book, Irish Life in the 17th Century, the writer Edward McLysaght said of the Irish: “love of music, dancing and storytelling was common to all the classes” and he singled out dancing as “the chief — if not the only — relaxation of the poorer classes.” With extremely limited education and little or no hard currency, the settlers had to provide their own entertainment – which was often homemade music played in many cases on homemade instruments.
The Scots-Irish and Afro-Carribean traditions of making music, storytelling and dancing still survive at places such as the Floyd Country Store, where crowds gather on Friday nights to dance and play music together. A number of the tunes that are still commonly played for dances at the store, including “Wild Horse”, “Billy in the Lowground”, “Soldier’s Joy”, and “Hop Light Ladies”, would have originated in the Scots-Irish culture of the British Isles — while tunes such as “Old Reuben,” “Shortening Bread,” “Roustabout” and the driving rhythm of clawhammer banjo, appear to have deep roots in Afro-Caribean and African-American culture.
Many local churches have strong musical ministries and the gospel music which has been heard for generations is still alive. You can hear some of these gospel musicians at The Floyd Country Store, or out on the street on a warm Friday evening. Elder Golden P. Harris of Indian Valley was the first Floyd County native and resident to commercially record old time gospel music on phonograph records beginning in 1931. He briefly had his own mail order record company for gospel music located in Indian Valley in 1933. Harris featured the old time sacred numbers that had been handed down by his ancestors who had settled in the region. Of course, Floyd County was a part of the fertile-crescent of old time music that came to be commercially recorded in the 1920s and early 1930’s. But the Great Depression crippled the market for old time recordings and though local musicians continued to play for contests and dances, the period of recording local artists commercially was mostly over —for the moment…
Today, some of the finest old-time musicians around turn up on stage at the store, enjoying the energy and enthusiasm of an audience that truly appreciates traditional music. Families still encourage youngsters to pick up an instrument, and Floyd has many fine teachers of music in the local style. With the advent of The Crooked Road – Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail, locals have renewed their pride in the skills that have been kept alive over the years in the living rooms and back porches of Floyd County. As for dancing, that goes right along with the music! Clogging and flat footing are passed along from mother to daughter, and grandfather to grandson. These styles of dancing are full of energy and often form part of the percussion for the music of a good dance band. In 1674 Richard Head wrote of Sundays in Ireland where “… In every field a fiddle and the lasses footing it until they are all of a foam.” That could be said of the Floyd Country Store on a Friday night!