Hiltons is little more than a wide spot in the road, yet every Saturday night at 7:30, the hills and hollers come alive with old-time and bluegrass music. Thousands of people from around the world pour into this tiny town to visit the world-famous Carter Family Fold and hear the music made famous by The Carter Family–A.P., Sara, and Mother Maybelle.
The town itself houses a school and two gas stations, as well as access to paddling and fishing opportunities in the lazy North Fork of the Holston River that flows nearby. The town is located along U.S. highway 58, which winds all the way to Virginia Beach, providing many miles of scenic travel on what was once an important transportation route.
Hiltons was named for the Reverend Samuel Hilton, who moved to the region from North Carolina in 1795. In the 1880s, Hiltons became a vital link for goods being transported both to and from the region when a railroad was constructed from Bristol to Appalachia.
In 1927 Ralph Peer, representing the Victor Talking Machine Company, came to Bristol to find and record local talent performing old-time Appalachian Mountain music. Peer found several groups that impressed him enough to invite them into the studio, but only one of the groups would turn the music world upside down — the Carter Family.
A.P. Carter, his wife Sara, and his sister-in-law Maybelle, performed mountain songs they had written, as well as some that A.P. had discovered while visiting the hills and “hollers” of the Appalachian region. Their style was simple, soulful, and unique. Sara’s clear strong voice placed the music in your soul while Maybelle’s pickin’ on songs such as Wildwood Flower transformed the guitar from a rhythm instrument into a lead instrument. The events of 1927 and the Carter Family resulted in the birth of what we now call “Country Music”.
Although they did not know it at the time, the original Carter Family were musical giants and their traditional mountain music would sustain and transform music for years to come. Years later, A.P.’s children–Jeanette and Joe–created the Carter Fold in their hometown of Hiltons, Virginia. The purpose of the Fold was to keep Jeanette’s promise to her father and keep the family’s music alive. The Carter Family Fold opened its doors in 1979 and has been going strong ever since. In keeping with the traditional music style, no electrical instruments are allowed–all music is acoustic.