“We have one rule: If you can’t have fun, why bother,” says Margaret Grimes, the guitarist and singer of a bluegrass, folk and gospel music duo called Wishful Thinkin’.
She and her partner Debi stepped up on a flatbed and played to an intimate crowd gathered behind Hackley’s general store in the community of Amissville, Virginia, on a recent Saturday. They had played here years earlier when the venue used to host local performers in the parking lot out front, ice cream social-style.
Other places around the county of Rappahannock used to do the same, keeping business flowing into the local general stores. (One regular gathering in the years before the #MeToo movement used to exclude women, the duo recall). Those neighborhood gatherings have slowly faded away but the desire for community has not. So this pickin’ party, as the musicians called it, was an attempt at a revival.
The grass was freshly cut, and attendees brought folding chairs and blankets. People parceled out slices of pizza and emerged from the store carrying cups of ice cream. A woman with a hand-written shirt that read “My heart belongs in Amissville,” passed around slices of watermelon. One older couple got up and danced on the lawn without a care.
A woman who used to run the store said how nice it was to see the people who came in every day at the gathering. In a town of just a few hundred people, the general store has its regulars.
Much as I did in my travels around Ohio, I’ve met people here who say they feel that sense of community slipping away. The places where neighbors treat one another like family have remained that way in large part because they’re still so isolated, a woman who works for a local non-profit told me.
That need for preservation is something I’ve seen echoed in other places I’ve lived and visited, be it here in Virginia or Indonesia.
Indeed, there is a warmth and happiness that comes with tapping your feet to the folksy tune of a banjo, and it's better when you know it's not happening as part of something manufactured but as an authentic coming together of people who want to be a part of something bigger than their individual wholes.
Preserving it is more difficult -- especially if it requires isolation. And yet being out here in the rural expanses of Virginia, I sense a hunger for it. Some folks I've talked with say what keeps them here is having found their community. For those still searching, or who want to reconnect, maybe it just takes a little music.