Hungry Mother Tour 2024

Tour recap: June 13 - 22

Hungry Mother State Park is one of our faves in the Virginia State Parks system. It's in the far southwestern portion of the state, in the mountains, and has great trails as well as a lake for swimming and paddling. It also has a "Music in the Park" Friday evening concert series in the summer, and we have played there multiple times now. This year we were booked to play on June 14. It's a good 5-hour drive from home, so some supporting gigs were essential, and we built a little tour around it.

Packing for longer trips is always a bit of a challenge, especially since we need to bring camping gear on top of our music gear. We have a decent system for fitting everything into our current vehicle, "Teddy", a 2016 Ford Transit Connect cargo van (long-wheel base). But I kinda miss having a roof-top carrier, and I'm always on the lookout for some better (but inexpensive) way to stow our personal items separately from our music stuff.

One of the stacking crates on the right contains music gear; the other contains camping gear.

Key feature: the bike rack on the back can be swung over to the side to access the back door without removing the bikes.

We left home on Thursday, June 13, headed for Claytor Lake State Park, about four hours from home and one hour from Hungry Mother. 

Heading for the mountains!

We spent the night at the campground. Somehow I had picked the WORST site via the online reservation system, but the ranger let us switch to a much nicer one. Sites are always packed in closer than I'd like at Virginia State Parks, but it was a Thursday and we had no neighbors, so it felt quite private and serene.

No need for the camp stove; we heated up our dinner over the fire

Morning wake-up view

Hammock in the woods = my happy place.

On Friday morning we biked down to the lake and explored the grounds. They have a beautiful setting with a gazebo and lawn overlooking the lake, where they COULD have an outdoor concert series, but don't. 

There's also a beach area (not shown) where we took a quick dip before our departure.

In the late afternoon we checked into a basic motel in Marion, prettied up, then went to play our set at Hungry Mother. We enjoy playing here because it's like an outdoor listening room, and people really do focus on the music.

Avery introducing us. He doesn't need a microphone; he has an opera voice!

Concert attendees tend to spread way out here, making the crowd appear rather sparse, but we were told afterwards that over 100 people were "actively listening" (some not on the lawn and not visible to us). 

After the concert I picked up a pizza and salad, which we ate back in our motel room. John had a basketball game to watch and I occupied myself by putting together setlists for the next few nights.

On Saturday we had some time to tool around and explore (on bike and on foot), first in Wytheville and then in Blacksburg. Both towns had festivals going on, so we caught some live music too.

Love sign in Wytheville

Band playing at the festival in Wytheville

Gorgeous building housing an interesting history/culture museum in Blacksburg

Inside the museum: a chart showing the "evolution" of Virginia counties

Inside the museum: scale models of some historic buildings

Mural in Blacksburg

Two talented guys busking on a random (non-festival) street in Blacksburg

Another Blacksburg mural. I like the message!

Our Saturday evening engagement was a house concert in the backyard of a private home in Blacksburg. We had good weather, good turnout, and a good time! 

Photo courtesy of Bill H.

Posing with fellow Williams College alum, Bill, after the concert.

Wynne and Bobby were most excellent hosts. We had never met them before, but they welcomed us like old friends. In addition to organizing a successful concert, they provided lodging in a guest room for the night and fed us well, both dinner and breakfast. After dinner, Bobby even pulled out one of his (many) guitars and entertained us! We added harmonies to his renditions of some James Taylor and CSN songs.

Posing with our house concert hosts, Wynne and Bobby, the following morning

On Sunday, we headed for Grassy Creek, NC, stopping briefly at a scenic overlook to stretch our legs and enjoy the view.

Draper Valley Overlook (Route 11, south of Pulaski, VA)

Our next destination was the River House Inn & Restaurant, where we played for their "Sunday Salon" series on the porch. Since the porch was rather narrow and we wanted to leave as much space as possible for the guests, we chose not to bring out the piano.

We  had no idea what to expect, but it was another great receptive audience in an intimate setting. At the invitation of one of the owners, we took a short break halfway through our 2-hour set so we were able to enjoy some of the delicious hors d'oevres that were being passed around. 

When we finished playing, one of the guests, on his own initiative, grabbed our tip jar and passed it around to ensure that people contributed, which was much appreciated! And then we were treated to an amazing 4-course dinner along with the guests. This was one rare occasion when I really should have taken foodie pictures. 

We didn't have to go anywhere that night, because lodging was provided in a duplex right next to the main house. We went down the hill to wade in the river before retiring to our room.

I woke up pretty early on Monday morning and walked around the (quite steep) River House property. They have a number of separate buildings and a range of different accommodations. It's such a peaceful place, and I was thankful to be staying there two nights so we didn't have to check out right away.

View of our building, on the right, looking down at the back of the main house

The main house from the parking lot side

The main house from the front, showing the porch we played on the day before

The River House is on a sparsely traveled gravel road. Down the hill to the right is the North Fork New River.

Looking from the back of the main house toward our building on the left. In between is an herb garden that they use to season their cooking.

By the time I got back from my walk, our coffee was waiting by our door. Nice touch, having coffee delivered right to your room! A gourmet breakfast awaited us in the main house. Another nice touch: individually crafted flower arrangements at each table.

After breakfast, I repeated my earlier walk with John, and we also went farther afield up a forest road that I hadn't been on before. Then we went to check out West Jefferson, a little town about a 20-minute drive away. Multiple murals and a trio of metal cows (at the cheese factory) caught my attention.

Then on to Blowing Rock - the touristy town, not the geologic feature attraction. Had to stop for a view along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

We wandered around Broyhill Park, where we were scheduled to play that evening, picked up some canned beer at a local brewery, then hung out a bit at a coffee shop. We kept refreshing the iffy weather report to determine whether or not it would be worth setting up to play. Spoiler alert: we DID set up, but it was NOT worth it. After playing about 20 minutes for four people who were kind enough to stay seated even after it started raining, we truncated our set, packed up, and headed back to the River House. Womp, womp, womp.

Tuesday morning, I woke up early again, this time to heavy fog. I did my much-needed yoga/physical therapy routine out by the porch, looking down toward the river and listening to birdsong. At one point, a doe and her fawn emerged from the woods and stared at me for several minutes. It was restorative and peaceful.

Can you tell I really love this place? We were both sad to leave, and we intend to go back.

We didn't have a gig that day so our time was completely our own. We went to New River Trail State Park to ride the rail trail, entering from the Fries (pronounced "freeze") access point. Pro tip: You can park for free in the depot parking lot provided by the town, rather than paying $7 to park in the state park's lot.

A bike-in campsite along the trail. Noted for future reference!

Blackberries were just starting to ripen, but there were enough ripe ones for a snack. Yum!

In the early evening we arrived at Stony Fork Campground, in the Jefferson National Forest near Wytheville. They didn't have any firewood for sale on-site, and we didn't feel like getting in the van again, so we foraged what we could from the woods, and John worked on sawing some of it into reasonable sizes.

Dinner consisted of rather soggy, leftover lunch sandwiches (not so good), chips & my homemade salsa (quite good), and beer (never bad).

We took Wednesday morning at a leisurely pace, puttering around cleaning up camp after a fire-cooked (or mangled) breakfast. We hiked the 1-mile nature trail, then prettied up in the campground bathroom before driving to Eggleston, a very small, sleepy Virginia town not far from Blacksburg, where The Palisades Restaurant is located. People come from miles around to eat there and to listen to live music. We wandered around until 4 pm, when we were able to check in with the manager, get situated in our accommodations in the cottage next door, and set up for our gig. We had a solid dinner crowd the whole evening. The venue helps support the musicians by placing purple envelopes clearly labeled for musician tips at each table, which REALLY makes a difference!

The Palisades Restaurant, formerly a general store

Up the road, a little shrine to America (thankfully non-partisan)

"Mr. Hunter's Cottage", where we stayed the night (right next door to The Palisades)

One of the two bedrooms inside the cottage

Our stage setup. I did play their piano, but only for a few songs. 

The view from stage. It's a great space!

Looking toward the stage from the bar

Thursday, a week into the tour, was another free day. Based on a suggestion in a little booklet in the cottage, we decided to hike the 4-mile Cascade Falls Trail in Jefferson National Forest. As soon as we got to the trailhead, I thought it looked familiar and was pretty sure we had been there before, with the dogs, in the winter, during the pandemic. (I was correct, confirmed by looking through old pictures). It's a fantastic figure-eight loop trail with beautiful river views all the way, culminating at the waterfall. I didn't swim, but I did dunk my head.

Bonus: watching a young buck forage near the bathrooms before we left.

That night, and the next, we stayed in an Airbnb close to Boone, NC. It was up a REALLY steep, rutted gravel road that posed a challenge for Teddy! It was a nice space but we were bummed out that there were no screens on the windows. We wanted to open the windows wide to let in the cool fresh mountain air!

On Friday we had breakfast in Boone and then walked around downtown and at the Daniel Boone Native Gardens. We had some downtime in the afternoon back at the Airbnb before returning in the evening to play at South End Brewing Co.

Doc Watson, immortalized in Boone

Checking out the Jones House. We want in on this concert series!

Quilt art inside the Jones House

Downtown Boone as seen from the steps of the Jones House

Cabin at the Native Gardens

Chimney made of wood. What could possibly go wrong?

South End Brewing Company's back decks as viewed from our "stage" area

As a massive heat wave descended on the East Coast, we had to leave the mountains and head homeward by way of Bedford, VA. We had an afternoon gig at Beale's Beer, and had been slated to play out on their sunny patio. Thankfully, by the time we arrived, the staff there had already cleared space for us indoors, in the air-conditioning!

We had a camping reservation at Peaks of Otter, but had no desire to swelter in a tent that night, so we drove the 2.5 hours home. We stopped in Short Pump for dinner on the way and discovered a new-to-us restaurant, the MPM Tiki & Sports Bar. Not a place we'd have thought to try, but circumstances led us there and it turned out to have excellent food and service, as well as late dinner hours. Perhaps we should have signed up to sing karaoke as a conclusion to our tour but... we didn't.