The Blue Ridge Music Center
700 Foothills Rd
Galax, VA 24333
Milepost 213 on
The Blue Ridge Parkway

Music Center Info Call:
(276) 236-5309
Concert Info Call:
(866) 308-2773 x 213
To Purchase Concert Tickets
by phone (866)308-2773 x 212

2019 Hours of Operation:

Open Thurs.-Mon., May 4-21
Open daily, May 23 - November 3
10 a.m. - 5 p.m

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Remembrances of Joe Wilson

By Dudley Connell

I first met Joe Wilson around 1983, while working with the bluegrass group, the Johnson Mountain Boys.  We were playing at a 150 seat nightclub in Northern Virginia called the Birchmere.   It was mid-week and there wasn’t much of a crowd, but there we were in our three piece suits and cowboy hats trying our best to capture the sound of our heroes. 
Although I had heard of Joe Wilson, owned records he produced, read articles and record reviews he had written, we had never met.  Joe walked in with Ralph Rinzler and they took a front table.  Considering who these gentlemen were and what they represented to me, I was flattered that they crossed the river to see this young band.  Between sets Joe talked to me about an organization he was working with called the United States Information Agency.  As I think back on it, Joe was kind of a talent scout.  Imagine that. 
We arranged a meeting later at the offices of the National Council of the Traditional Arts (NCTA) on DuPont Circle in Washington, DC.  Joe approached us with the idea of traveling to Africa for five weeks.  Thus began a long and enduring friendship.
We did a second tour for Joe in 1988 to Southeast Asia and soon after, I decided to leave the road.
In 1993, Joe was largely responsible for pulling me out of early retirement to participate in a banjo tour he had organized with Ralph Stanley, Will Keys, Seleshe Damessae, Kirk Sutphin, Tony Ellis, Seamus Eagan, and Carroll Best.  Laurie Lewis and I were part of the backup band for this tour.  This experience put me back on the road.
I lost track of Joe for a couple of years until he called me one day out of the blue and asked me to attend a meeting with him and Julia Olin.  They approached me with the idea of digitizing the entire NCTA collection of recordings for the Library of Congress.  I had done similar work for Smithsonian Folkways, but this was pure archival work and it felt perfect for me.  The task of cataloging and preserving an Archive seemed more like a labor of love than any day job.  It must have been, for I’m still there.
At the NCTA, our schedules were at odds.  I’m kind of a morning person and Joe is - well, not.  I would come in and start my work early and plan to head home around 4:00.  Joe would come in around 3:00 and often pay a visit to my little studio say around 4:00.  He’d tell me stories, and I had a few to share too - he liked tales of the road.  He schooled me on fiddle bowing technics and their regional significance, early country radio of Tennessee, Virginia, and Western North Carolina, country music and life around the ‘Opry in the 1950’s, and writing about the civil rights movement in Selma, Alabama.  Oh lest I forget to mention, the Pythagorean Theorem and how it related to the neck of the guitar.  I’m not sure I ever got that one but I pretended to.  Hell, I had to go home sometime. 
Joe Wilson allowed me many opportunities.  To say that he changed my life would not be an exaggeration.  He gave me a day job at a critical point in my life when I needed one most.   He hired me for recording sessions with musicians who are now lifelong friends and who I would have probably never met or performed with.  I saw parts of the world I would have never seen had it not been for Joe Wilson.  I met politicians, foreign dignitaries and heads of state and ate some of the hottest food on the planet.   
There will never be another Joe Wilson and much will be lost forever with his passing.  However, I try not to dwell too much on that, but rather try and embrace all he did give in his life and all the people’s lives he changed just by being who he was, Joe Wilson. 
Goodbye buddy and so long for a little while.