In 2005, Allen Mills, of the legendary bluegrass band Lost and Found, was inducted into the Virginia Country Music Hall of Fame, which commemorates artists and musicians from the Commonwealth for their life-time achievements in Appalachian music: folk, bluegrass, and gospel. Only at the time of his induction there was no physical “hall” tocommemorate legendary Virginians like Patsy Cline and the Stanley Brothers.
But now, however, from the efforts of members of the Virginia Folk Music Association (VFMA), Chesterfield County will become the host site of the museum beginning Saturday, June 11,developing a place to preserve fo lk music memorabilia and memories accumulated over the last century. An extension of the VFMA, which was chartered in 1947 as a non-profit, volunteer organization to promote and preserve Virginia’s heritage music, the hall of fame museum will be housed in a small building at the Chesterfield County Fair Grounds.
“Bluegrass music is really strong, and that’s the reason why we’ve been doing it for 37 years,” said Mills, whose band will play and help to conduct the museum’s inaugural ceremonies. “The music is alive and well and known throughout anywhere, and Virginia is just honoring some of the people that have helped make it.”
Formed in 1973, the Lost and Found has toured the United States and Canada for the last 37 years, producing 15 albums. The band’s bass player, Mills, feels the establishment of the museum is a way for musicians from the Commonwealth to be recognized for their accomplishments. To him it is something the locals should be very proud of having.
For Mills, there is an immense impact in the VFMA having a physical site to host the hall of fame. “It’s something they’re doing that they’re proud of – to house memorabilia – showing the names of places and spaces on the map of where these people come from, that these are there accomplishments,” he said. “It’s also something you can come to for months, for years and years later to view and see.”
VFMA President Sigrid Williams said that the association is the only organization in the state sanctioned by the Governor and commissioned to hold the official Virginia championship music contest, which will be this fall, during their “Jumpin’ Bluegrass” festival Sept. 15-18. This particular festival has been held at the fairgrounds for the last 12 years. Also, according to Williams, the Governor has sanctioned the VFMA as keepers of the Virginia Country Music Hall of Fame.
“This is where so much of the music began; it is our heritage music from which all of our music derives – it’s where it came from,” said Williams.
For Williams, the primary purpose of holding the event on the 11th is to inform people about the building’s existence and the culture behind the music: “The purpose is to dedicate that building and let everybody know it is there,” she said. “…We’re just trying to bring something to the public that they don’t know about and to further preserve and promote the music.”
Williams, a Midlothian resident, has been the VFMA’s president for 10 years. Her idea, with the help of a long-time member of VFMA, to build a museum emerged in the mid 90s when Williams felt that folk music had “about dwindled down to non-existent.” She wanted to keep it alive as long as possible, and having a place that literally preserved folk music’s rich memories was crucial to her mission.
“When I became involved about ten years ago, Lois Gaither and I decided that it would be so great if we had a real, tangible place, a permanent building, where some things could be displayed and shown,” said Williams, “and where Virginians could come and visit and read about the history of Virginia’s music.”
Recalling the old days of experiencing massive folk festivals in Virginia, which were know to accommodate the upwards of 4,000 people at a single event, Williams remembers seeing crowds of television crews and across-town parades celebrating a special occasion that “was a big, big deal.” Years later, she said she feels the need to promote and preserve Virginia’s heritage music.
Gaither feels the importance of folk music– which also includes gospel, country and bluegrass – lies in its effect on the Virginia culture, the people which are part of it.
“When people go to these things, it is friendship as much as it is music; you just can’t make friends anywhere else like you can at bluegrass,” said Gaither, a member of VFMA for 12 years.
Williams said the foundation is always searching for supporters and volunteers and bluegrass musicians. In their effort to promote the event on the eleventh, the VFMA has requested that a representative from the Governor’s office attend the museum dedication ceremonies with a certificate of accomplishment to be issued, as well as having a Chesterfield County representative present.
A few displays will be set up in the museum during the June 11 dedication of the building as a museum; however, the VFMA will work throughout the year to fully decorate the facility. Additional memorabilia will be added and on display on certain occasions throughout the year, such as Independence Day.
The event is free and open to the public from 3 p.m. Saturday afternoon until 7:30 p.m. that evening. Many hall of fame inductees will be present. For more information, call Williams at 804-347-2925, or visit the association’s website atwww.vafolkmusic.org for more information on their bluegrass festival at the Chesterfield County Fair Grounds on Sept. 15-18.