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Joe Wilson honored with reception

Johnson County native Joe Wilson was honored with a reception Saturday evening, September 22. The event was held in the conference room adjacent to Heritage Hall. Although he has been highly successful in his promotion of old time, folk and bluegrass music, Joe remains unpretentious about it. He has received many honors during his career, including being named a “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress in 2009. He is known as an authority on mountain music and has known many of the great artists in the field of traditional music. He has received many other honors including being awarded a National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2001.
Joe was Director of the National Council for the Traditional Arts (NCTA) from 1976 until 2004. It was during those years that he planned 42 music festivals, took several musicians on international tours, and produced 131 albums of traditional music. During his career, he visited 33 nations. He directed many NCTA festivals, including the National Folk Festival, the nations oldest festival and the Lowell Folk Festival, the nation’s largest.
He was a driving force in the building of NCTA’s Blue Ridge Music Center in Galax, Virginia and is now manager of the Center. He lived in Maryland for many years but he and his wife Kathy now live on the bank of the New River in Fries (pronounced freeze), Virginia, near Galax.
Among other successful projects, Joe spearheaded the group that developed The Crooked Road, a 253-mile stretch of highway that meanders across Southwest Virginia that connects some of America’s most musical communities. He is also the author of a book titled A Guide to the Crooked Road, a very interesting read that includes a history of old time and other traditional music. Among other interesting information, the book contains a history of the various instruments that are used in that genre of music. Moreover, there are two CDs of old time music included in the back of the book.
Joe’s picture and comments were included in Smithsonian Institution’s magazine story about the music center in Galax. More recently he was shown on PBS television in a program about the Crooked Road.
Joe was raised in Trade, Tennessee, which is touted as the oldest unincorporated community in Tennessee. He is a graduate of Johnson County High School. He and I are members of the class of 1956. He is my friend and while he has been away from Johnson County many years, I have followed his career and rejoiced at his successes.
For Joe there have been many miles and many years between the little community of Trade and the big cities of America and the bustling cities of Europe and the Asia but through all the fame he has not forgotten his roots.
Prior to the stage show that followed the reception, Joe was called to the stage to receive an award as folk music historian and preservationist. Linda Moon made the presentation. After that the show got underway. Performing were Joe’s special friends Wayne Henderson, Jeff Little, and Helen White. Henderson is a virtuoso on the guitar and is a well-known maker of guitars. Little plays bluegrass, fiddle tunes, and other traditional music on the piano, and his playing technique is amazing. White is proficient on fiddle, guitar and other instruments as well as having a beautiful voice. The show was great — a good way to finish the evening.