HILTONS, Va. — Rita Forrester choked up when she spoke about another year of loss.
Forrester says she recently lost a dear family member in the death of John Wolfe, the husband of her cousin Flo, who has worked at the Carter Fold for years, handing concessions.
Still, Forrester didn’t focus on a frowny face for long.
Annually, as the director of the Carter Fold in Hiltons, Virginia, Forrester pays tribute in memorial to fallen friends and family members.
Respectful remembrance, after all, is a big part of the annual Carter Family Memorial Festival, she said.
And that includes paying tribute to Forrester’s long-gone grandparents, A.P. and Sara Carter, two-thirds of the Carter Family, early pioneers of country music in the 1920s.
The Carter Family famously recorded their first records in Bristol, Tennessee, in the summer of 1927, after enduring a daylong journey from their Clinch Mountain homes in the Maces Spring section of the Hiltons community.
Since the 1970s, descendants of the Carter Family have gathered to pay tribute to those early country music recordings at the Carter Fold, a music venue in Scott County.
Usually, that happens on the first weekend of August.
Only, this year, there is a change: The festival runs just one day — Saturday, Aug. 3.
“And this year’s festival, it’s the 45th,” Forrester said. “So I think that’s a milestone.”
This milestone also means a grand musical celebration with Carter Family songs performed by Ronnie Williams and Lorrie Carter Bennett, a granddaughter of “Mother” Maybelle Carter, the third member of the original Carter Family.
The gathering also promises electrifying entertainment with a show by the Whitetop Mountain Band of Grayson County, Virginia.
Forrester loves that group, which features singer and dancer Martha Spencer, whose recent recordings were noted by Rolling Stone Magazine.
“If I had a show without Whitetop,” Forrester said, “I would feel like I’m not doing what I’m always doing.”
The Tennessee Mafia Jug Band is also on the lineup. And Forrester said she specifically asked that band to come to pay tribute to the late Lefty, one of the Carter Fold’s mascot dogs and a pooch who would come and lay down whenever that band came on stage to play.
Other performers include the Mountain Park Old Time Band plus Jake Krack & the Bing Brothers.
In all, Forrester said, this festival is all about time-honored tradition.
“And we do our best to keep things the way they’ve always been,” Forrester said. “It’s the best music and the best of Appalachia.”
And that, she said, is how her late mother, Janette Carter, the founder of the Carter Fold, might have handled things.
“I’ve done the best I could,” Forrester said. “And I don’t think I’ve done anything that she wouldn’t want me to do.”