Sculpture unveiling a highlight of this year's Papa Joe Smiddy Mountain Music Festival

J. H. Osborne • Sep 4, 2018 at 10:00 PM

DUFFIELD — Music took center stage for the balance of this year’s Papa Joe Smiddy Mountain Music Festival, but a milestone event will long stand as the most memorable highlight.

The Cove Ridge Foundation and its Cultural Arts Council unveiled a sculpture of the festival’s beloved founder and namesake during the annual Duffield Daze event, which took place Sunday.

Leading the unveiling was Dr. George Culbertson, a longtime friend and colleague of Smiddy’s. Culbertson said he first met Smiddy when Culbertson was a student and Smiddy the man in charge of the institution then known as Clinch Valley College. Later, Culbertson became an employee at the school and worked for Smiddy.

“Joe was a terrffic guy, as you know,” Culbertson said to the hundreds of folks gathered for the unveiling. “He was outgoing. He was encouraging. He encouraged those people around him to be better than they thought they could be. Think about that. He encouraged people around him, whether it was students or people who worked for him, to be better than they thought they could be. He found the gifts within himself. And he shared those gifts with others. He encouraged those around him to find the gifts within themselves and share those gifts with others.”

Culbertson offered some keystones from Smiddy’s long career: took his first teaching job in Lee County; started the first marching band at Jonesville High School; helped start the band at Pennington Gap; became principal at Jonesville; became a businessman; became the first biology teacher at Clinch Valley College; after two years, in 1956, became head of the institution and remained such for 29 years until his retirement in 1985.

Dr. Joseph C. “Papa Joe” Smiddy passed away May 1, 2017 at the age of 96. A talented banjo player with the Reedy Creek bluegrass band for  more than 44 years, Papa Joe sought to preserve Appalachian music by teaching and inspiring greatness in the youth of the community. He was a prolific storyteller and audiences remember him fondly. He worked tirelessly to promote the old-time, bluegrass and good old mountain music of our region for decades, and the Cove Ridge Foundation honors his legacy each year through its Pickin’ in the Park​ summer series and the annual Labor Day weekend event bearing his name.

Among anecdotes Culbertson shared about Smiddy: 

One day a fellow showed up at the college looking for Smiddy and, after finding him, went in his office for a bit. When he came out and went to his car, Smiddy rounded up Culbertson and others to “come down to the lecture hall and we’ll learn something.”

That fellow was Jimmy Driftwood, writer of “The Battle of New Orleans.” Culbertson and the others spent the afternoon listening to Smiddy and Driftwood tell stories and sing. Culbertson cited it as an example of “his outreach and people reaching out to him, a characteristic which fostered the exchange of knowledge.”

Another time, on the first train trip Culbertson made with Smiddy, they spent three nights in Atlanta to attend preparation courses geared toward gaining accreditation for the college. Smiddy told Culbertson and another administrator from the school, “You guys take care of things. Take some notes. I’ve got some things to do.”

Where did Smiddy go? To Underground Atlanta to a place called Ruby Red’s. What did he come back with? His own set of notes on an old song:  “Butter Beans.”

Clinch Valley College, established in 1954 at Wise as the only public college in Virginia west of Radford, became the University of Virginia’s College at Wise in 1999.

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