A Weekend of Festivals

There are two popular festivals going on this weekend in Grayson County. On Saturday, May 18, the Henry Whitter Spring Festival is happening in Fries, VA, and the Whitetop Mountain Ramp festival is happening on Sunday, May 19. You can go to both! The Henry Whitter Spring Festival starts early at 8:30 AM and continues until 5:00 at the Fries Town Park on Firehouse Drive. The Ramp Festival starts a little later at 11:00 and lasts until 5:00. Both have awesome vendors peddling local arts and crafts, and food, and both will feature the area’s best Bluegrass and Old Time Music.

Video: Joe Wilson talking about Henry Whitter and Fries, VA

The Henry Whitter Spring Festival is named for local musician and country music pioneer Henry Whitter. Whitter was an employee of the local Washington Cotton Mill who may have been the first to ever record Bluegrass music. Born in 1892, Whitter was a musical prodigy who could play just about anything: piano, harmonica, guitar, fiddle, and banjo. Henry’s ambition led him to New York City to perform The Wreck of the Southern Old ’97 which launched his musical career in the 1920s. He recorded several famous songs that can still be heard at Fiddler’s Conventions today including New River Train, Wreck of the No. 9, Nine Pound Hammer, and Little Maggie. Local Fries historian Joe Wilson once said, “Bristol might be the birthplace of country music, but it was conceived in Fries.” Henry Whitter convinced several other cotton mill musicians to record as well, such as “Pop” Stoneman and Kelly Harrell. Whitter recorded 100’s of songs throughout the 1920s until the death of his good recording friend, blind fiddler GB Grayson, due to an auto accident in 1930. Henry never recorded again after that. The Henry Whitter Spring Festival is held each spring to honor this pioneer of the music industry.

Henry Whitter Festival
Photo of young Henry Whitter courtesy of the Whitter Family

The Henry Whitter Spring Festival is a sanctioned Crooked Road event offering opportunities to absorb Appalachian Culture and Heritage. The event is a FREE family entertainment event with hours of Old Time and Bluegrass music, a bounce house for kids, face painting, Food Trucks, and local handmade arts and crafts. The whole event starts with a breakfast, and food trucks are there all day. Churches also set up booths to sell food, arts, and crafts. You can find wreaths, soy candles, Grayson County photographs featuring Fries and even the high country, and both screenprint and embroidered T-Shirts.

At the present time three bands are scheduled to perform with the possiblity of more being added:

12:00 — Gap Civil

1:00 — New Ballard’s Branch Bogtrotters

2:00 — Crooked Road Ramblers

Come out and bring the family and lawn chairs to enjoy a full day of FUN!

Henry Whitter’s Family

Whitetop, Grayson County’s smallest community, is also its festival capitol! This small community organizes three quality festivals in the small town of Whitetop, Virginia near Virginia’s highest peak, Mt. Rogers: the Maple Festival in March, the Ramp Festival in May, and the Molasses Festival in October. They do it right too, with wonderful food, arts and crafts, music, and lots of fun!

What is a ramp? I asked the same question myself. The best that I can gather is that a ramp is a type of wild onion that grows only in cooler climates in the northeast United States. Due to the high elevation and cooler temperatures, they also grow wild in the areas around Mt. Rogers. They are similar to a leek or a scallion with a stronger flavor. Some say it has a somewhat garlic like flavor. Chefs go wild for these things, and high-end restaurants are willing to spend a lot of money for them.

Wild Ramps

Imagine this… people participate in a contest to see who can eat the most ramps at this festival! I don’t know if anyone will go near these people for a few weeks after the contest!This is the highlight of the festival and begins around 4:30.

Ramp Eating Contest

Admission to the event is $5, but children 12 and under attend for FREE! This includes parking and music and all proceeds go to support the Mount Rogers Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue squad, so it’s a good cause. They hold this event rain or shine at the Fire Hall on Route 58.

A BBQ chicken dinner is served. On the menu is chicken, fried potatoes with…RAMPS, green beans, and rolls. You can also buy hotdogs, ice cream, barbecue sandwiches, and homemade desserts. The cost for the BBQ chicken dinner is $8 for adults and $4 for children.

Music begins at 11:00 and this year they have an impressive line up of bands including many big names in Bluegrass:

11:45 — Trish Fore and the Dixie Wildcats

12:30 — Mount Rogers Ramblers

1:15 — Wayne Henderson and Friends

2:00 — Walnut Grove Honey Dippers

2:45 — Dry Fork

3:30 — Ms. Ellie and the Southfork Ramblers

4:15 — Cabin Creek Bluegrass

Arts and crafts are available all day and currently there are between 25 and 30 vendors signed up!

Photo Credit: Amy Boucher

There’s no reason to be bored this weekend! Head to the mountains where its cooler and soak up these opportunities for food and mountain culture. Need a place to stay? Check out our website and book a nice cabin or bed and breakfast, or just head up in the camper to one of our wonderful campgrounds. These nice folks could use some help digging ramps so contact them on Facebook if you have some time and want to volunteer! Hope to see you there!