Singing It Pretty

How the Phelps brothers turned South Norfolk into a musical hotbed that is still celebrated with an annual summer festival

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Country Musicians Phelp BrothersWhen the brothers moved back home in 1947, they started a stampede on the local music scene. The first coup was buying the prime riverfront property that would become Fernwood Farms. “They had 88 acres that they bought for $7,700. And now that acreage is probably the most well-known condominium development in the city of Chesapeake.” Ed Beard says.

“It was a black amusement park first, and then it was a dance hall called the County club,” Bobbie continues. “When they bought it, it was an old rundown hotel and the dance hall and what used to be the bathhouse. They turned the old hotel into a recording studio and turned the bathhouse into a horse stable. There was an apartment out there used by the groundskeeper.”

The studio was hardly high-tech, even for the era. “It was like a big cow barn,” Roy Ellis remembered to archivist Brent Hosier in 2008. Ellis and his sister Jeanie Lee recorded two sides of a 45 record at Ferwnood Farms in 1956 and got the tracks manufactured through the brothers’ custom pressing service. “I had a hard time finding it; it was hidden out in the woods.” Ellis recalled that the studio was “one great big open room.”

Nearby stood the Fernwood Farms dance hall, where the Virginia Rounders would headline a country jamboree every Saturday night. Among the local musicians playing way out in the woods was a young Link Wray. The legendary guitarist and his brothers Ray and Doug performed often at Fernwood Farms as Lucky Wray and the Palomino Ranch Hands.