Wandering Around Washington: Crooked Road Founders Made Gold With Chance Encounter | Local News

Joe Tennis

David Crigger | Washington County News

Todd Christensen was one of the two founding fathers of The Crooked Road: Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail.

This tourism trail and economic development project began with a chance meeting between Christensen and the late Joe Wilson in Asheville, North Carolina in 2002.

Christensen was a housing and development guy with ties to Richmond, Va. — where he lives today. And, about 20 years ago, he worked to open the Ralph Stanley Museum in Clintwood, Virginia.

Wilson was a longtime concert organizer who helped develop the Blue Ridge Music Center in Grayson County, Virginia.

About ten years ago I sat down with these men in what was then called Heartwood in Abingdon, Virginia.

The couple told me how they started the music track with a series of ideas that would connect the Blue Ridge Music Center to the Ralph Stanley Museum.

Officially founded in 2004, The Crooked Road runs through Washington County on US Highway 58 – from Whitetop to the Scott County line near Ketron and Pullontown.

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This month, I reunited with Christensen, who lived for eight years in Abingdon while helping nurture Southwest Virginia’s new “creative economy.”

At 71, Christensen remembers The Crooked Road – and Weldon – with lots of laughs.

For one thing, businessman Christensen had to hire someone to live with the often dreamy Wilson to encourage Wilson to finish writing a guide to The Crooked Road.

It seems Wilson was in love with Grayson County but not so familiar with Wise, Dickenson and Buchanan counties — until he finally made an effort to visit those places, Christensen said.

Eventually, this book came out in 2006.

“Joe was a big help in making sure we had the right history,” Christensen said. “Joe was the king of content. He just gave us so much time.

The Crooked Road survived and thrived. But the two founding fathers will eventually leave the project.

“I loved Joe,” Christensen said. “I loved him so much.”

Christensen left the organization a few years after Wilson’s death and now does consultancy work – in fact, he helps other people start their own music tracks in other localities.

What began as a chance meeting in Asheville and headquartered in Abingdon was eventually emulated by tourism promoters in Tennessee and West Virginia, promoting their own musical legacies.

And while Christensen says The Crooked Road was a plan to develop communities with a new economy, he knows the ticket to success was built on celebrating the musical traditions and local hospitality of Southwestern Virginia. .

“We never claimed that we invented things from Mount Olympus,” he said. “We were trying to help Southwest Virginia save money [restructuring].”

Ultimately, Christensen wanted Southwest Virginia to be a brand, he said.

“You can call it things like Heart of Appalachia, and that’s fine. But no one knows what that means.

“A lot of it was to establish that brand,” he said.

“And music is key to your brand image.”

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