Mountain Music: Roanoke and Franklin County, VA

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In Roanoke and nearby Franklin County, the hills are alive with music. The largest city in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, Roanoke hosts the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra (RSO). Just 25 miles south in Franklin County, the town of Rocky Mount, population 5,000, showcases music legends in a small venue with a big sound system.

Here’s a guide to a musical getaway in Virginia’s mountains.

Roanoke Symphony Orchestra

This isn’t your grandfather’s symphony orchestra. You can leave your cocktail dress or tux at home—or wear them if you like. Snooty is out and connecting people to music is in.

As music director of the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra (RSO), David Stewart Wiley presides over a schedule that presents such traditional works as those by Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Handel and Haydn; evenings that mix classics and jazz, as well as concerts of Gershwin tunes or pop music.

As part of the RSO’s Jeans ‘n Classics series, the orchestra, conducted by Wiley, performs the music of Led Zeppelin backed by vocalists and a rock band. Hearing “Stairway to Heaven” with a full orchestra may just be paradise. The concert takes place May 6th, in Salem, seven miles from Roanoke.

For those new to symphony performances as well as veterans of the magic of masterly music, the RSO is a gem and an affordable one at that. Tickets for the Led Zeppelin concert start at $32 and top out at $52, way below what you’re likely to pay at your big-city venue.

The Embers perform at the Harvester Performance Center© Candyce H. Stapen Photography

The Embers perform at the Harvester Performance Center.

Harvester Performance Center

The Harvester Performance Center, Rocky Mount, VA, is a surprise. Situated within an easy drive from Roanoke, the center showcases 175 performances per year, averaging some 15 events per month, mostly music, on two stages.

The April 9th concert by Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Gregg Allman has been sold out for months. With just 475 seats in the main stage and 200 in the downstairs Landing Pad, the Harvester gets you close to the musicians. The facility’s sophisticated sound system earns the Harvester a reputation as a “listening room.”

But you don’t just have to listen; let loose on the dance floor, a staple of toe-tapping, get-out-of-your-seats performances. At a recent concert by The Embers, many in the crowd danced an expert Carolina shag, smoothly in rhythm to the group’s “beach music” and renditions of iconic songs by Lou Rawls, Wilson Pickett and Sam Cooke.

Come here to get close up to country, folk, bluegrass and rock legends. With tickets averaging $25, the Harvester is a bargain.