It will be three weeks and a day until Saturday, Oct. 26, which, by our calendar, is the fourth Saturday in October. Most folks in Franklin County know what happens every year on the fourth Saturday of this month, thanks to Roddy Moore.
This year’s Blue Ridge Folklife Festival will be the first since Moore stepped down as the director of the Blue Ridge Institute and Museum, but it’s had his indelible imprint since its beginning in his first year at the institute in 1974. The naysayers 45 years ago doubted much of a crowd would show up at a festival like this on a rural college campus like Ferrum. Moore proved them wrong in Year One, when upwards of 5,000 attended the event. Since then, the festival’s reputation has grown, along with the crowds it’s attracted.
Moore says authenticity is one ingredient in the secret sauce that makes the festival such an attraction for crowds each year. In a recent article, he put it this way: “We’re really unique that our musicians and craftspeople and different people are not imitators of the culture but are part of the culture.”
Moore’s grasp of the unique in our culture is what makes the Blue Ridge Institute and Museum what it is today. One of his good friends, Francis Amos, was quoted in a newspaper article earlier this year, commenting on the success of the institute: “Had it not been for Roddy, it would really never have amounted to anything. He was the driving force that really got that going.”
Ever the collector, Moore’s eye for the unusual, the rare, the exemplary is what makes the museum a “must” visit. He says of himself: “I’m a folklorist that’s interested in interpreting history through objects man has made, material culture. And that’s a little different.” Indeed it is.
Visitors to the Blue Ridge Institute and Museum have been treated to a variety of exhibits that make Moore’s point. Those have included everything from the artistry of labels on cans from the tomato canning industry in Southwest Virginia in the early 20th Century to exhibits of photographs of everything from quilting to logging, from beekeeping to apple butter making. The institute and museum also have placed special emphasis on celebrating the Blue Ridge’s musical culture, most recently with an exhibit last year of the history of picking and singing in the mountains. That featured the careers of four famous groups from the region: The Stanley Brothers, the Carter Family, the Stoneman Family and the Hill Billies. The museum and institute even have produced albums with booklets detailing the history of the music.
None of this would have happened had it not been for Roddy Moore. And that’s why this Ferrum College-hosted 45th Blue Ridge Folklife Festival is special. It’s indeed the first one without Moore at the helm of the Blue Ridge Institute and Museum. But it will always be his creation. As Ferrum President David Johns has said, “It is impossible to calculate the magnitude of Roddy’s impact on this region. He has helped to preserve the beauty and genius of the folk arts and folk ways of the Blue Ridge, and he has introduced us to the forgotten treasures that still influence our lives.”