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Further visits south of my backyard

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Earlier this month, I visited Luray Caverns with my son. After passing by the kitsch of a huge parking lot, overly-touristy shops and people rushing to get a photo in front of the Luray Caverns sign, I experienced the most extensive and interesting cave network I have ever visited. One caving website says that some of the formations are partly human-made. In any event, it is a very interesting cave, right up there with the Narusawa Ice Cave, which was formed from lava from Mount Fuji, which I visited over twenty years ago.

Through free association, I thought I remembered that a church I had been meaning to visit was in the same county as Luray Caverns, which is Page County. However, when I learned that day on Google on my Blackberry that the church was in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, I mistakenly thought I was mistaken that the church was nearby, not realizing at the time that Page County is in fact in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The church I sought is the Fellowship Independent Baptist Church, in Stanley, Page County, Virginia, just a little down the road from Luray Caverns. The church interests me, because it was covered in my 1981 college ethnomusicology class with Professor Jeff Todd Titon (see here, too), whose study into the church and its music is entitle Powerhouse for God (see the YouTube video). Professor Titon showed us a film or video covering the church, including preacher Sherfey being shouted out through his own preaching; Sherfey said that the lord shouts him out. In one clip, hands are laid on a church member who has an illness, and Professor Titon remarked to the class that Sherfey felt he was there to help the member, no matter whether he smelled or not, and no matter anything else about him.

My ethnomusicology class was at Tufts University in Massachusetts, far away from this church. I will try to visit. I will also try to visit the southwestern Virginia part of Appalachia beyond just driving through it, and more of West Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky; and I will try to learn more about bluegrass and other regional music traditions. 

During my first few years in the Washington, D.C., area, where I came for law school, I remained resistant to learn much firsthand about the South any further south than Northern Virginia, save for Florida, where I had vacationed a few times. By now, I have driven roundtrip from Washington, D.C., to Florida, and have visited such places as Plains and Atlanta, Georgia, and coastal North and South Carolina. My trial work has taken me to many counties in Virginia. The history of Virginia and the rest of the South include deep ugliness, to say the least. That is not to say that the rest of the nation does not include ugly pasts and presents, including the parts where Native Americans were unjustly slaughtered and marginalized; where land was forcibly taken, or purchased without the participation of indigenous people; and where racism has been practiced at different levels of virulence and overtness. If I am going to understand my clients, judges, jurors, prosecutors, jailers, and witnesses, I best stay out of ivory towers, rub elbows with the people around me, and get a better idea of what they experience with their own eyes, senses, and feelings.