In Memory: Joe Wilson

Ever since he helped create it, The Crooked Road has been blessed with Joe’s inspiration, guidance, and creativity.  He will be missed in our counsels, but his great lessons on the value of our region’s musical heritage will long be relied upon in all our future endeavors.

A Tribute from Bill Kornrich

Some 13 years ago Joe Wilson, then Executive Director of the National Council for the Traditional Arts, and Todd Christensen, then Associate Director for the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, met at a Creative Economy conference in Asheville. That random encounter created the seed which has become The Crooked Road: Virginia’s Heritage Music Trail.

“He most enjoyed being with the many musicians with whom he felt the strongest kinship.”

Joe had an encyclopedic knowledge of music traditions and unwavering respect for the traditional musicians (and other traditional artists) of Southwest Virginia and across the nation. His life’s work was invested in presenting and supporting these artists and the cultures which nourished them. The creation of The Crooked Road and the development of the Blue Ridge Music Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway are lasting reminders of his influence on and commitment to Southwest Virginia.

I have known Joe for 40 years, prior to the NCTA chapter of his life. Several of those years the two of us were at NCTA, housed in a cramped office on Dupont Circle. Working with Joe was empowering for me. He gave me the freedom and responsibility to take on and direct projects and tasks which I had no experience in.

He was at ease with all kinds of people - members of Congress, store clerks, craftspeople, wealthy donors, auto mechanics, refugee Cambodian dancers, and occasionally even bureaucrats. I do think he most enjoyed being with the many musicians with whom he felt the strongest kinship.

How many festivals, recordings, articles, music tours across the nation and around the world did Joe produce or assist in? I think no one has kept track. I know he was looking forward to emceeing the opening concert for the Mountains of Music Homecoming Festival featuring National Heritage Award winners (of which he was one) from Southwest Virginia at the Carter Fold in June.

Yet with all these activities, I will most remember the impish mischievous smile, the twinkle in the eye, the crap detector glance, the baseball cap, and the vitriolic letters to those who ran afoul of his beliefs. Cantankerous? Could be. Dogmatic? That too. Impassioned? Certainly. Purist? Yep.

Joe was raised in Trade in the hills of Tennessee. It is here that his lifelong passion for the music of this region began. His last years were spent in Fries in the hills of Virginia in a house he and his wife Kathy remodeled, overlooking the New River. These geographic bookends - a distance of about 50 miles as the eagle flies - encased a life rich in accomplishments, stories, and music.