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Shooting Creek: Mixing Moonshine and Mountain Music

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Shooting Creek

A few months ago a friend and I were driving the back roads of Virginia on our way to see some old time music in Floyd. We were taking the back roads, through the area around the Patrick/Franklin County border. This wild and rugged area is the headwaters of the Smith River and lies at the very foot of the Blue Ridge.

While we were driving, we listened to a podcast of old time mountain music. I had downloaded the program from WNRV, a traditional radio station located in Giles County. It’s rare to hear bluegrass on the radio, but almost unheard of to hear old time music. As we cruised along the back roads, a catchy fiddle tune called Shooting Creek played on the radio.

We turned into a dark hollow that would lead us up the mountain to Floyd. The narrow road followed a rushing creek, twisting up through the steep canyon-like cove. I pulled out the roadmap to see where we were. A mile back down the road the street sign had read SR 860, but the alternate name on the map jumped out at me: Shooting Creek Road.

It was in that moment that I realized that, not only was I living in the moonshine capital of the world, but I was also living in the mountain music center of the universe.

going up shooting creek, going on a run
take my razor and a gatlin gun


The Floyd Country Store

Floyd is a small town on top of the Blue Ridge. It’s a quaint little town with a couple of stoplights. The music and arts scene attracts people from all over the country. Floyd is a weird juxtaposition of traditional mountain culture combined with a modern counter-culture movement. You can watch an old time string band while you sip a locally produced organic root beer. The main draw of the town is the Floyd Country Store. On the weekends, people come from all over to hear live old time music at the Country Store. During the warmer months, the store also attracts musicians and folks will gather on the sidewalks and alleys to jam. The town turns into a small music festival on the weekends.

The Floyd Country Store

After driving back home that evening, I fired up Google to research the origins of the song Shooting Creek. The title of the song does indeed originate at the Shooting Creek that we had driven along.

From the fiddler’s companion: (http://www.ibiblio.org/fiddlers/SHO_SHU.htm)

SHOOTIN’ CREEK [1]. Old Time, Breakdown. USA; West Virginia, southwestern Virginia. D Major. ADae or Standard tunings. AB (Krassen, Silberberg): AABB (Brody): AA’BB’ (Phillips). A popular and common tune in the Franklin/Floyd County area of southwestern Va. Alan Jabbour identifies Shooting Creek as a quick-flowing stream that rises in the Blue Ridge Mountains along the Floyd/Franklin County line, and flows down eastwardly through Franklin County in the Virginia Piedmont. The hollow along the creek had a reputation as a locale for moonshining in the early 20th century; it was much favored by bootleggers and became notorious during Prohibition.


The Moonshine Capital of the World

You just can’t get away from that moonshine history in Southwest Virginia. For those who aren’t familiar with the area, Franklin County Virginia is considered the moonshine capital of the world. It has been notorious for moonshine for at least 100 years. During Prohibition, at the height of moonshining in the area, folks said that moonshine was so prevalent in Franklin County that 99 out of 100 people in the community were either running shine or helping out in some way. The number of old still sites in the woods of Franklin County is staggering. You can walk up almost any creek in the county and find the remains of an old moonshine still. During the years of Prohibition, agents destroyed 3900 moonshine stills in Franklin County. From 1930 to 1935, 1 million five gallon whiskey cans were sold in the county. Even recently, a single feed store in the tiny town of Rocky Mount was discovered to be the single largest distributor of sugar on the East Coast. Even today, the amount of moonshine that comes out of Franklin County is more than many legal distilleries produce.

The area in Southwest Virginia, along the edge of the Blue Ridge, is rugged and remote. Many creeks dissect the edge of the Appalachian Plateau and create inaccessible coves and hollows. Shooting Creek, along with its neighbor and equally notorious Rennet Bag Creek, flow from the top of the plateau down to the Piedmont. They offer secluded coves that are ideal for hiding a still.


Charlie Poole

Charlie PooleCharlie Poole, an “Old Time” banjo picker from the 1920’s who lived in nearby Eden, North Carolina, had a version of the song Shooting Creek. Poole was familiar with the moonshine trade. In 1918 Poole and his fiddle playing partner worked with a local bootlegger making moonshine. His bootlegging profits enabled him to buy his first good banjo, an Orpheum No. 3 Special. A few years later the police raided their moonshine still while they were running a batch. Poole and his partners fought back and the revenuers shot at Poole while he was escaping. A bullet actually chipped his teeth and he had powder burns on his face.

Poole was known for his heavy drinking and would go on long drinking binges, disappearing for weeks at a time. Poole was familiar with the Shooting Creek area of Virginia because he visited there often, sometimes disappearing up the hollow for weeks.

Charlie Poole’s Shootin’ Creek:

Poole’s version of Shooting Creek sounds different than the Blue Ridge style of Shooting Creek that was played in Floyd and Franklin Counties. Poole’s version of Shooting Creek is actually the song Cripple Creek, the old time and bluegrass standard. Incidentally, there is an actual Cripple Creek a few miles to the west near Galax. Alan Jabbour, noted field recorder and old time music historian, theorized that the song Cripple Creek got its name from the creek near Galax, Virginia. In fact, many old time songs reference locations in Southwest Virginia. For example, Wreck of The 97 is about a historic train wreck in Danville, Virginia.


Old Time Music

It’s not that old time music originated or is exclusive to Southwest Virginia. Old time was played in much of the South until the first half of the twentieth century and it was especially strong in the isolated southern mountains. However, in modern times it has essentially died out. If you go to one of the many mountain tourist towns, like Maggie Valley, NC or Pigeon Forge, TN, you might be able to find a street musician performing old time music, but you won’t be able to find an old time jam. You won’t find any locals playing the music or continuing the old music traditions. In these crowded mountain towns, old time music is played for the tourists who come for that “authentic” mountain experience.

In Southwest Virginia however, those old music traditions are still being practiced by the people that live here. The music is a part of daily life here. You can go and watch an old time performance, not just in a tourist town like Floyd, but in almost any town in Southwest Virginia. More importantly, you can find many regular people that actually still play old time. People still get together to play the banjo and fiddle, on porches or at dances. If you happen to be in Grayson County, Virginia you can find an old time jam almost any night of the week!

There’s really no place else in Appalachia like Southwest Virginia. I’ve traveled the mountain towns from Alabama to West Virginia, and I’ve never seen a place quite like the western corner of Virginia. The old traditions are still alive here, and you won’t find that anywhere else in the mountains. People still make moonshine here. People still play the fiddle. People still go to dances in barns. I don’t know why the old traditions are still so strong here, but I certainly appreciate living here.


What is old time? – Mike Seeger

Floyd Country Store Photo By: richardtoller

Appalachian Life, Moonshine History

11 Comments to “Shooting Creek: Mixing Moonshine and Mountain Music”

  1. My mother was born in Floyd – she’s 91. We passed the Floyd Country Store today twice: on the way to the “Nolen Family Reunion” and my return home – I do this every year. I wish to return and stay long enough to enjoy the music, pat my feet and breath the air.

    • My name is Jeff Nolen. I met my great great grandmother when she was over 100 and when i was probably 5 . Always remember it ,,,almost got bit by a snake in outhouse. would love to find out more info Most of my family is in West Virginia. Im in houston

  2. I am planning a trip to the area that you describe. I believe that my 4-gr-grandfather may have been living in the general area that you describe sometime in the decade before 1800. Do you have any other suggestions of what I might do in that area? Could I please add the map that you have on your blog to my blog? marsha moses

  3. My mother’s family is from Grayson County, Virginia. Cox family came over from Ireland and settled there, been there since the War for Independence. My great-grandpa in the same family was a moonshiner up in South Dakota, as well. We found the remains of his old still years ago.

  4. Is there a book with the name,Shooting Creek : Mixing Moonshine and Mountain Music. If so, I want to buy it. Please respond!

  5. The Galax [Va] Old Time Fiddler’s Convention in early August every year is ABSOLUTE HEAVEN to Old Time Mountain Music lover’s. You see kids-teens- wearing bib over-alls and carrying instruments and forming up and playing Old Timey Music. Old timers set around jamming, with folks walking by carrying their own dancing boards or sheets of plywood laying on the ground for folks to “flat foot” on. I swear you go back 75 years in time when you go down there. Just ride the backroads and small towns and strike up a conversation with locals at a yard sale or in local diners to meet the nicest ,friendliest folks you could ever meet! The scenery is breathtaking while listening to WPAQ 740 AM in Mt. Airy ,NC which plays Bluegrass and Old Timey Music 6am to 6pm.

  6. My wife’s family (extended) great grandmother, grandmother, aunts, uncles, and her family used to be the only ones with houses on Shooting Creek. Beautiful, remote place. Her Grandfather was known to pull a log or two off the mountain for his legit job. When the mules weren’t used for logging they were the hillbilly alarm system, they would keep one just down from the still site with someone holding his rope. IF his ears twitched that let them know something else was in the woods with them and they would high tail it out of there lol. You have to love ol’ time mountain ingenuity.

  7. […] good ole FC, and well needed netflix and showers. We eased down down the “locally” infamous road/birthplace of NASCAR, Shooting Creek back towards Ferrum (accompanied by Disney music and […]

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