In the hustle and bustle of today's world, sometimes it's nice to slow down, unplug and enjoy the simple things in life. This weekend, my four-year-old son and I did just that with a visit to Billy's Flea Market Music Jamboree in Bassett, Virginia.
Located on Highway 57 in between Fairy Stone State Park and downtown Bassett, Billy's flea market is very easy to find. You can't help but smile after seeing the larger-than-life banjo mounted to the front of the worn wooden building.
On Sundays, the outdoor flea market booths are empty but from 2-5 p.m. the doors are pulled open and the building comes alive with friendly faces and toe-tapping music. Both parking and admission to the show are free; volunteers pass a hat for donations and sell 50/50 raffle tickets to cover expenses.
While walking up to the building, the sounds of guitar, banjo, fiddle and bass float through the air. The atmosphere inside is homey like that of a rustic camp house. The walls are dotted with antiques and exposed beams span the ceilings. An eclectic assortment of chairs, benches and stools line the walls for spectators to relax in and converse. The regulars are an even mix of North Carolina and Virginia residents, and some of them have been coming here for as long as they can remember. Newcomers are always welcome and greeted with a warm smile and plenty of hospitality. It's good clean family fun: no smoking, no alcohol, just music.
After settling in our seats to enjoy a few songs, a couple of ladies encouraged us to come enjoy cold drinks and watermelon. A little later, an older gentleman invited me out on the dance floor for a spin. While my dancing skills were not near as good as his, it was still fun to glide around the dance floor listening to the music.
On stage, the first group of musicians included Aubry Wingfield (guitar), Steven Hale (banjo), Wanda Moore (bass), Billy Shelton (fiddle), George Underwood (guitar) and James Grogan (guitar). The band sits on an elevated platform with background scenery resembling barn doors. Today the barn doors are propped open to allow a gentle breeze in. Moore, the only female musician in this group, plays a bass that is taller than she is. According to Moore, she plays somewhere in Henry County, Virginia just about every day of the week. You can find her along with many of the other local musicians playing at the Stanleytown Hardees on Tuesday mornings.
When he's not playing his hand-carved fiddle on stage, the host and master of ceremonies is the venue's namesake, Billy Shelton. He busily works the crowd mingling with regulars, greeting visitors, operating the sound board and ensuring that all the musicians are taken care of. As the second band takes the stage, Shelton explains to me that you never know who you're going to see each week. A different group of performers plays each Sunday, so every show is unique.
The next band is mostly from North Carolina. Preston Martin (bass), Glenn Pascal (banjo), Don Smith (guitar), Rocky Haygood (mandolin) and Darrin Davidson (fiddle) fire up the crowd with a few fast-paced numbers that fill up the dance floor and have the audience clapping their hands in beat to the music.
Prior to beginning his set, Martin took the time to show my son his bass and even offered him the opportunity to strum the strings. In between songs, another gentleman from the audience entertained us with some old fashioned magic tricks with coins. Simple fun that left my son with a fit of giggles. On the way home, my pre-schooler, who usually gravitates to iPhone games while riding, forgot all about technology and spent the rest of the ride home trying to figure out how that quarter got in his ear!
While he never got up the courage to dance out on the dance floor, it was still a great bonding experience for us. He excitedly told his dad all about the music, the instruments and the magic tricks when we returned home. It was a nice Sunday outing, and one that we'll certainly do again. We're proud that so many of these talented musicians choose to visit Martinsville-Henry County and that Billy's provides them a place to play so that residents and visitors can both enjoy some good mountain music.
Tell us in the comments below...where is your favorite place to hear live music in Martinsville-Henry County?