Folklife Apprentice Program Celebrates Virginia Arts, Crafts, Eats and Moonshine

May 18, 2018

The Virginia Folklife Apprentice Program opened its doors to the public this month – showing some surprising arts and crafts from around the Commonwealth. 

Chris Prillaman (right) and his nephew proudly make moonshine at the Twin Creeks Distillery in Franklin County.

You would expect to find banjo players like Jared Boyd at the Virginia Folklife Showcase along with fiddlers, dulcimer players and the people who make those instruments.  Guys who carve decoy ducks arrived from the Eastern Shore as did gospel singers from Richmond, candy makers from Chesapeake and logsmiths from Carroll County.

But perhaps the most popular booth was manned by Chris Prillaman from Franklin County who decided to make craft alcohol after a tour guide  at a South Carolina distillery asked where he was from.

“And I told him we were from Franklin County, and he said, ‘Gosh you all ought to be giving the tour instead of taking it, and I told my wife right then, I said, ‘We’re known more for liquor than anything else.  We’ve got two beautiful lakes and Ferrum College, but you mention Franklin County – it’s going to be something about liquor.’ So I come home and I got hooked up with the people that I needed to get hooked up with to get this thing going, and so here we are today.”

Twin Creeks Distillery now makes corn and rye whiskeys, moonshine flavored with lemon, cinnamon and apple, and fruit brandies.  Prillaman feels like the business is a perfect fit.

“A lot of the people I grew up around, that was their livelihood, and one thing led to another, and that’s how we got to where we’re at,” he explains.

“So your father made moonshine?” we asked.

“No, my daddy was a banker, but my daddy died when I was 14 years old, but my grandfather on both sides were in the whiskey business, and it’s just a thing handed down from generation to generation. It was our only way of making ends meet, you know.  You had to do something to survive.  They weren’t born to be bootleggers.  They didn’t have any other way.”

Also on display, a less traditional Virginia folk art – hot rod rigging. A crowd gathered around a souped-up Volkswagen, reminiscing about the days of the flower children and the beetles they drove.

“Yeah, I bought mine for $300.  The floor was rusty.  It had some holes in it, and when you were driving along you could actually watch the pavement down below you.  It was light blue, and it was a convertible actually.  It was white, and I always had a bouquet of flowers on the dashboard.  It was shaky on the highway.  It was fun trying to go fast in a very slow car.”

The sponsor of this event – Virginia Humanities --  also funds people who want to learn skills brought here  by modern-day immigrants – Iranian and Persian music, Sephardic ballads, Mongolian contortion and the making of empanadas and baklava. 

Click here for more information on Virginia Folklife Apprenticeships