From Raleigh to Virginia—Part 3 of Our Trip South

[Part 1 is HERE.  Part 2 is HERE.]

I awoke Friday morning to bright sunshine in Raleigh; Dr Janie had gone out for a walk, and returned bearing coffee and a muffin from The Carolina Kitchen.  She had checked to see if there were any rooms available so we could stay at the Marriott, but there weren’t, so we packed up and decided to hoof it to the Red Roof Inn down on Route 40.  From the map it looked to be about a mile, but was probably more like two.  But it was a beautiful, if rather hot morning, so off we went with backpacks and suitcases in tow.  About halfway there we found a parklike public walkway through the woods which led right to the Red Roof.  After a brief rest, we decided to grab a cab to get back downtown, as there was no food nearby, and we knew there was plenty on Fayetteville Street, along with rampant festivities.

It was really like a county fair strung out along the main drag, and onto many side streets, where there were music stages set up, in addition to the main City Stage next to the Marriott.  Free music all day long!  Here’s the view looking east:

IMG_0062The soft-ice-cream cone became a sort of landmark: easy to spot from anywhere on the street.  There were craft shops (including a fellow who makes little piggies out of logs) and food vendors and any number of specialty items, like barbecue sauce and honey—and there were the music stages.  At one we stopped and listened to a family band out of Carbondale, Illinois called The Bankesters.  Here they are:

IMG_0079The Bankesters (three syllables) consist of mother and father (Phil and Dorene) and three daughters (Alysha, Emily, and Melissa), who grew up singing together and sound like moderny Carter Sisters, plus a son-in-law (Kyle Triplett) on banjo.  They have an album out on Compass Records; one of the songs on the album, which they did at the World of Bluegrass, concerns a program called thisAble Veteran that finds doggie companions for wounded and troubled veterans.  Here’s a video (about a video) from their website:

The website is here.

Another highlight of our peripetetic wandering about the fair was a band from the Raleigh area called The Grass Cats.  I was told they had been around for some 18 years, and had quite a following.  They put on a good, rousing show, and were joined by a couple of young girls flat-foot dancing in front of the stage:

IMG_0088Here’s a video featuring members of The Grass Cats put together by The Raleigh News and Observer, introducing viewers to the World of Bluegrass to come that week:

The Grass Cats are Russell Johnson, mandolin, lead vocal; Tim Woodall, bass; Rick LaFleur, banjo; Chris Hill, fiddle;  Allen Mullen guitar.  Now someone has to tell me why the RN&O decided they had to give folks in Raleigh a lesson on bluegrass music.  I mean, this is North Carolina, right?  Is there anyone in that state who hasn’t heard hot pickin’ and singin’ like this?

Those are The Grass Cats at the Newport Pig Cooking Contest in Newport, NC, April 2011.  Check ’em out at

Towards evening, we meandered back down to the Convention Center, where we grabbed some barbecue and beer from tent stands, and sat on the steps to watch Michael Cleveland and Flamekeeper tear up the outdoor Martin Guitar stage.  Rain threatened, but then gave up and left the nighttime merry makers dry, which I’m sure was a relief at the Red Hat Amphitheater, where a big-name ticketed show was going on. We were happy to stick with the free events.  Back on City Stage who did we find but the wonderful Gibson Brothers.  Here they are, along with some good ‘head shots’:

IMG_0100We closed the evening by ambling about the Convention Center and hotel, catching bits and pieces of impromptu jam sessions (e.g. three young ladies on fiddles playing “Jerusalem Ridge”); here’s one group:

IMG_0097Sorry, didn’t get any names, or audio. We encountered Sheila Selby on the street, and walked down by the Amphitheater, peeped through the fence at the show, then caught a cab back to the Red Roof Inn.  It was a successful day by my reckoning.


Saturday morning we made our way to the train station, where on a building next to the station we admired this large painting of a Berkshire (2-8-4) steam locomotive:

IMG_0110Unfortunately, these wonderful machines no longer haul trains through Raleigh (or anywhere else), so we waited in the bright morning sunshine for diesel-electric-powered Amtrak No. 80, The Carolinian, to take us up to Richmond, where daughter Sarah and the boys (Sam, Miles, and Jeff) picked us up and took us to their home in Powhatan, in wooded, semi-rural country west of Richmond.  They were in the throes of preparing for a seventh birthday party for Sam.  The theme was a Pirate Adventure on an island in the James River, where Sam’s daddy, the aptly-named James, had hidden a treasure chest full of gold and silver (-wrapped candy, that is).  By Sunday morning Sarah and James had crafted an amazing cake, which displayed the river, island, and pirate ship:

IMG_0195The afternoon on the island, which we reached by canoe, was a resounding success (the treasure chest, once discovered with the help of a genuine [antiqued] map, became a piñata).  The kids played in the water (that’s Sam on the right, with a couple of friends), and I took pictures of the scenery:


Later in the week we drove out west to the Shenandoah Valley, where we were treated to a couple of nights in a cabin on Huckleberry Mountain, owned by James’s parents.  Sarah and James had spent days cleaning and fixing up the cabin in the summer, and it was as good as any hotel.  We hung out, hiked around, played cards by the fire, and even attempted a little music.  Here’s a view from the cabin, where we could hear the sounds of dogs and cattle wafting their way up from the valley:

IMG_0402Of course, whenever I hear the words “Shenandoah Valley,” I immediately find myself tracking down the well-worn grooves of  The Stanley Brothers singing the old Clyde Moody song, “Shenandoah Waltz”:

“In the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia,
Lives a girl who is waiting just for me. . .”

The guitar is played by the great George Shuffler, who invented cross-picking on the guitar (though he doesn’t use it on this song), worked with Ralph and Carter for many years, and died only this past April, at the age of 88.  /CL

PS  For the photos above I used a little Canon A1400 point-and-shoot camera that I bought for this trip, so I wouldn’t have to carry my Canon T21 Rebel SLR and Tamron 18-270mm lens.  The A1400 is the last of Canon’s P&S cameras with an optical viewfinder (a token one; it’s tiny); the camera is being discontinued, but there are still some around.

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