The charming small town and surrounding rural county of Floyd, Virginia, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, is one of the most beautiful regions in the country. Floyd is also home to a unique coexistence of traditional Appalachian culture and a distinctly bohemian lifestyle. Beginning in the 1960s, the picturesque, sleepy mountain community of Floyd became a destination for counterculture youth seeking to participate in the “back to the land” movement and the pursuit of a more communal, alternative lifestyle. Rather than result in hostility and conflict, this confluence of cultures was, and has remained, remarkably harmonious. On Friday nights, for example, one can flatfoot dance to old time music at the weekly jamboree at the century-old Floyd Country Store, and then dine on locally sourced organic food at one of the many local eclectic cafes.
The so-called “Republic of Floyd” remains a welcoming and inspiring place for some of Virginia’s most visionary artists, but few embody the creative passion of longtime resident Barb Gillespie. For more than a decade, Barb served as “Director of Ambiance” at FloydFest, employing her skills of creative landscaping, set design, and lighting. It’s a title we have been honored to bestow upon her at the Virginia Folklife Area at the Richmond Folk Festival. Barb is alternately a sculptor, a batik artist, a painter, a belly dancer, a massage therapist, a singer-songwriter, and a gifted baker. She first learned the art of baking from her parents who participated in the natural foods movement of the early 1970s. She has been baking bread in Floyd since 2001, supplying local restaurants and farmers markets throughout Southwest Virginia. She opened the much loved “Grateful Bread Bakery” in 2011, showcasing her old-world-style sour bread and other baked masterpieces of her imagination.