The honeymoon ends

An undercurrent of discontent runs through Floyd County lately, a buzz of unrest that signals, for some, a dream that has soured. You hear it over coffee in the mornings or in conversations at lunch: Sadness with a touch of anger. Since returning to Floyd in 2004, I've encountered a number of people who complain how things haven't turned out like they expected and they say maybe, just maybe, it's time to move on. For them, the honeymoon is over.

An undercurrent of discontent runs through Floyd County lately, a buzz of unrest that signals, for some, a dream that has soured.

You hear it over coffee in the mornings or in conversations at lunch: Sadness with a touch of anger.

Since returning to Floyd in 2004, I’ve encountered a number of people who complain how things haven’t turned out like they expected and they say maybe, just maybe, it’s time to move on.

For them, the honeymoon is over.

People move to a rural area like ours for a variety of reasons. For many, it is a desire to experience the country lifestyle while pursuing a second, third or fourth career – usually something that they dreamed of doing for most of their adult lives.

They sought an idyllic existence where life could be enjoyed while doing that they loved.

Problem is, doing what you love doesn’t always pay the bills.

Floyd County is awash is musicians, artists and craftspeople. Many are very, very good. Few, if any, make a living at their music, art or craft. Most have other jobs or exist on retirement income.

Some talk openly of their misgivings. Blues musician Scott Perry says he can’t make a living just playing music. He supplements his income by giving lessons.

Floyd may be an area known for its music but it too often treats musicians like second-class citizens. At most venues, musicians pass the hat and depend on a hoped-for generosity from those they entertain. At Floyd’s most well-known music venue – the Friday Night Jamboree – bluegrass musicians play for love of music, not money. Floyd County Store owner Woody Crenshaw recently started paying a small stipend that is, in reality, just gas money.

Restaurant owners and other music venue operators depend on the music to draw customers but can’t afford to pay the kinds of nightly fees that musicians with talent can earn elsewhere. Floyd is a low-margin area. Many restaurants barely get by, especially those that depend on tourist traffic that has been reduced significantly over the last three years by rising gas prices and other economic uncertainties.

Floyd’s artistic community is becoming well-known both regionally and nationally but local artists can’t make it just by opening a gallery and hanging out a sign. Landscape photographer Bill Bell and artist wife Joanne hit the show circuit each year to sell their wares which is how they have made a good living over the years. Pat Sharkey and her husband also hit the road. Both couples own galleries in downtown Floyd and do good business at the locations but it takes more than just visits from weekend visitors to pay the bills.

Some feel Floyd is on the cusp of real growth as a stop for tourists who come to hear music and buy arts & crafts but the day when artists can sustain themselves solely on their creative abilities may still be years away.

Many will hunker down and wait out the cycle but others may pick up stakes and move on. They came in search of a dream but dreams, even when they come true, often precede reality and, for some, the economic reality has turned the dream into a nightmare.

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6 Responses

  1. I suspect Im showing my age, but in the old days, very few blues or bluegrass musicians made their living off music. Most either had day jobs or toured constantly. nice to know that’s changed in the big cities, but still rather surprising – not the message I get reading BLUEGRASS UNLIMITED or one of the blues mgazines.

  2. my mom is a self-supporting musician, but she has always had to teach , do workshops, and travel exstensively to do so. one thing she has done that supplements her income is become an artist in residence for the public school system in several states. most states have a similar program set up.

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