Christmas at the Carter Family Fold

For more than 40 years, the Virginia landmark has championed country music tradition with Saturday night concerts. At the holidays, they let Appalachia’s next generation of players take the stage

Photo: William W. Robinson

The Carters are revered today as country music’s first family, but there was a time when the patriarch worried that his folk-gospel sound would die with him. “He thought our music would be forgotten,” says Rita Forrester, A. P. Carter’s granddaughter and the executive director of the Carter Family Memorial Music Center in Hiltons (a town in the Poor Valley near the Virginia-Tennessee border). “My mother promised him that she would see that his music lived on.”

photo: Courtesy of Carter Family Museum, Rita Forrester
The Original Carter Family in 1930. From left: A.P., Maybelle, and Sara Carter.

Since 1974, Forrester—and her mother, Janette Carter, before her—have made good on that promise with Saturday night concerts at the Carter Family Fold, where generations of Carters grew up. A museum occupies what was once a country store, and next door stands a low-slung performance venue that prohibits both alcohol and electric instruments.

The Carter Family Fold.

“We keep it old-timey and mountain-style,” Forrester says. The Fold has hosted the likes of Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash, but an annual Christmas show (December 14) gives the next generation a stage. “These are the children who will pass our music down,” Forrester says of the Junior Appalachian Musicians, student players from Independence, Virginia. In lieu of an admission fee, audience members bring a canned food donation for a local food bank—and a dish to share at the finger-food potluck.

photo: Carter Family Fold Facebook
The Junior Appalachian Musicians perform at the 2018 Christmas show.

Check here for the full Carter Family Fold concert schedule.