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Containing the oldest English settlement in the United States, Virginia has deep roots in the nation’s music history. The folk tradition sparked in this state is linked to some of the most quintessentially American genres, including bluegrass, blues, gospel, and country. For a glimpse into the scope and allure of Virginia’s music today, keep reading.

Virginian musicians are actively building inclusive spaces

Everyone has been in situations where live music was inaccessible. Maybe you were too young to enter a venue, and that fake ID did not convince the bouncer. Maybe your outfit and image did not match that one club’s vibe. Maybe you felt like you stood out as the only woman, only person of color, only immigrant, only disabled person, or only transgender person. There are barriers to being included and feeling secure in most social scenes. Virginia’s underground music community is working to resolve these issues. Good Day RVA is a nonprofit leading the way. They are a collective filled with filmmakers and artists devoted to promoting Richmond’s artistic community, history, and culture. Good Day RVA’s strategy taps in to underground entertainment by by selectin filming performing locations that consist of basements, garages, and backrooms across the city.

House shows offer a different energy than traditional venues. These DIY venues are hard to access, formed by webs of personal networks and texts between attendees. Yet, the atmosphere is worth it. Connection between performers and audiences is inevitable and encouraged. Young listeners—often turned away from quality gigs and craving more than cut and dry high school performances—are impassioned by the opportunity to see dynamic, experimental music up close and personal. While the function and value of safe spaces is debated in sociopolitical discourse, Good Day RVA supports the concept and makes a conscious effort to foster safe, comfortable spaces for diverse groups of listeners. For these reasons, Virginia’s private, exclusive spaces are remarkable environments in which to appreciate local art.

Virginia has an influx in artist collectives, which empowers musicians, brings their music to larger audiences, and generates sound diversity in local scenes

In addition to Good Day RVA mentioned above, other musicians in Virginia are organizing to strengthen the music and artistic communities. A collective is essentially a group of people who unite to work on a common project, void of internal hierarchies. With collectives like Satellite Syndicate, *B.ckwards Haus Ops, and Mutant Academy coming together in recent years, rap and hip-hop artists have exemplified this movement. Collectives benefit members by encouraging collaboration among artists, sparking conversations about the collective’s focus areas, teasing out nuances between artists in the medium, and working towards shared goals. On a more practical level, collectives polish and promote artists, which enables members to approach traditional venues with professionalism and artistic integrity.

What does all of this collective business mean for people who want to watch concerts? Mainstream venues in Virginia are increasingly likely to book divergent, inventive musicians. For listeners who want something new and different but of high quality, follow the collectives. A decade ago, few would have guessed that Virginia would become an anchor for rap and hip-hop artists, but with the power of intentional organization, they have carved a niche and found an audience.

In some nooks of Virginia, the past is preserved and celebrated in artistry

While budding innovations are steered by contemporary musicians in Virginia, the state maintains a connection with its old-time music. Back in the day, rural farming families would seek the assistance of neighbors on intense tasks, offering music and dance as thanks. Spiraling into huge events with as many as fifty families, the string groups delivered powerful, propelling, pounding rhythms with Irish, English, and African influences. Current groups in Virginia ingrain these concepts in their music, including John Cephas, Phil Wiggins, and John Henry keep music history alive. A long line of predecessors passed on tradition, ranging from Dock Boggs to Virginia Mountain Boys to Rufus Kasey to The Stanley Brothers. Today, concert attendees can learn about Virginian history through the lyrics and textures of historic pieces and styles.

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