By Bob Heafner © 1991
Issue: September, 1991
It was a Friday night in Floyd, Virginia. The moon was rising full in a sky filled with stars and a gentle breeze made the night comfortable. Several hundred people were milling around in the alley between the two old frame buildings and the sidewalk that connected them. Suddenly a hush fell over the crowd.
Looking back, I cannot remember any sound being made for the briefest of moments. It was as if the world had suddenly turned mute. Then with an almost magical quality the strands of an old mountain song filled the night air.
The voices of husband and wife, Carlton and Janice Harmon, blending in perfect harmony, softly and without accompaniment, cast a spell over the listeners with the opening lyrics of "Going Up Cripple Creek." In a soft, slow melody they sang:
Going up Cripple Creek, going in a run
Going up Cripple Creek to have a little fun
Roll my breeches to my knees
Wade old Cripple Creek when I please
Going...., going...., gone ....
Then, after an almost imperceptible pause, suddenly Carlton's banjo kicked into a rousing rendition of the song. He was quickly joined by Janice on guitar, Lendell Craig on guitar (from Meadows of Dan, Virginia), Cliff Ragsdale on guitar (from Cascade, Virginia), Danny Smith on mandolin (from Christiansburg, Virginia), Paul Moore on bass (from Stewartsville, Virginia) and Paul Smith on fiddle (from Christiansburg, Virginia). When the song came to its close everyone listening burst into an overwhelming, spontaneous applause.
They were not a "band" - just a group of friends sharing their music, but this night, this song and this moment were somehow special. It was one of those moments that all musicians dream of but most never experience. A moment when not only the musicians but the audience, the time and the place all were synchronized in perfect harmony.
This occurred at Cockram's General Store - Friday Nite Jamboree where on any given Friday night there will be dozens of musicians - none paid - who drop by simply to enjoy making music. They include professionals, beginners, bands and individuals, who join together to form groups on the fly. All are bound together by their love of mountain music. They're all invited to take a turn on the small stage area in the store but the music always spills over to the sidewalk out front and the alley between Cockram's and Floyd Farm Service.
On this particular Friday night while Mountain Traditions, a band from Roanoke, Virginia, is on stage, a group of older folks are playing old time gospel songs on the Farm Service loading dock, three others have teamed with banjo, fiddle and guitar behind the store, another group is in the parking lot between the store and Peter Bartel's video store, another is across the street in a parking lot, and between the store and the Farm Service is the group with Carlton and Janice.
We had arrived in Floyd at dusk. By then, parking spaces near Cockram's General Store were full but we found a space in front of the courthouse. Already a crowd was lining the sidewalk in front of the store and the alley between the store and Floyd Farm Service was filled with people and music.
Inside, from a vantage point near the Pepsi box, one can look to the left toward the counter and see the popcorn machine sharing counter space with the fixings for make-your-own hot dogs. A glance down the right side of the store reveals it is filled with people sitting on an assortment of lawn chairs, benches and empty boxes. All are facing the small stage where Freeman Cockram, Glen Wilson and the Friday night regulars kickoff the music each Friday night. A small area in front of the stage is almost always filled with "flatfoot" dancers who range in age from four to eighty.
Shelves along the right wall are filled with merchandise ranging from mountain music tapes and records (supplied by County Records) to Liberty and Pointer brand bib overalls and Walker boots. However, if you want to buy any of those items you best get there at least several hours before the music starts because once the "listeners" and dancers get situated there's no getting through to the display racks. At 7 o'clock on Friday evening business as usual ends and the clock starts rolling back to yesterday.
On any given Friday evening there'll be folks from at least half a dozen states and more often than not, from several foreign countries. Many of those present have never been exposed to mountain music and are here because they heard about the little country store where, for a few hours every Friday night, one can take a trip down memory lane, make new friends and even strangers can feel right at home.
There's none of the over commercialized "touristy" type of artificial atmosphere that's come to be the norm in many places. There's no admission fee, it's just free homemade mountain entertainment.
The owner of the store, Freeman Cockram, is a native of Floyd County. He was born and raised six miles south at Tuggles Gap where the Blue Ridge Parkway and US Route 8 intersect. When he's not on stage picking his dobro, you'll find him winding his way through the gathering, welcoming strangers and greeting friends the same as he would if they were guests at his home. In work clothes and cap, his sincere "glad you came" and "if you need anything just holler" have endeared him to thousands of Jamboree visitors.
For me, going to Cockram's on Friday night is a tonic. I can be down in the dumps or worried about something but once I'm among so many smiling friendly faces with the sound of mountain music filling the air, the cares of the day are forgotten. The Friday Nite Jamboree at Cockram's General Store, like Carlton and Janice, is in perfect harmony.
Editor's Note: Freeman Cockram no longer owns Floyd Farm Service or Cockram's General Store; financial setbacks took away his beloved "Friday Nite Jamboree." Today the "Friday Nite Jamboree" has grown and continues to contribute to the economy of the little mountain town of Floyd, Virginia, but more important, it still introduces mountain music to new generations and the heritage that Freeman Cockram worked to preserve is still alive and well in Floyd every Friday night. He gets little credit today for the dreams he shared but all should know there would be no "Friday Nite Jamboree" if it were not for this soft spoken mountain gentleman. If you are ever in the vicinity of Floyd, Virginia on Friday night stop in and see what Freeman's legacy has become.