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The Blue Ridge Country King

AP Photo/Steve Helber

John Lingan | Homeplace: A Southern Town, A Country Legend, and The Last Days of a Mountaintop Honky-Tonk| Houghton Mifflin Harcourt | July 2018 | 21 minutes (5,796 words)

Sure, there’s a quick way to the Troubadour Bar & Lounge: starting from Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, population 624, you simply turn onto Route 38/3, Johnson’s Mill Road, and head up into the Blue Ridge. Swing along pendulous mountain curves that ease past wide grass fields, up through dense tunnels of pin oak and pine. Take it slow at the one-lane wooden bridge and again at the hairpin turn by the vaunting power-line interchange. Past the cemetery, with its green-tinted graves so old that the names and dates are just half-disappeared scars. Then on through the final hypnotic stretch of forest, still on a roller-coaster incline that demands another inch down on the gas just as you might be compelled to slow up and address your lord.

Again, that’s the quick way, only 20 or so minutes of alert mountain driving. But if you aren’t coming from Berkeley Springs — if you’re coming from Capon Bridge, Gerrardstown, Hedgesville, Paw Paw, or any of the dozens of other panhandle towns too small for maps — then it’s even longer. Then it’s all woods, up and down hills with no visible end, past spray-painted houses made of plywood and exposed Tyvek. Look out for smeared snakes and exploded deer, and prepare for shaky trips across metal bridges high above the Potomac’s minor branches. Down below, to the boys swimming in T-shirts and waterproof shoes, your car’s faraway rumble might as well be distant thunder. Read more…