Dusty Anderson’s vision for an off-the-beaten-track music venue at the mouth of Jerry Run in the mountains of Webster County seemed a bit far-fetched to some of his neighbors — in fact, Anderson himself wasn’t sure anyone would come once his Field-of-Dreams theater project was complete.
“After driving by the building for the seven or eight years Dusty worked on it, I’m sure some of our neighbors thought it would never be finished,” said Anderson’s wife, Renee, a retired teacher.
“I just like music and building things,” said Anderson, a recently retired carpenter who plays electric bass. “I thought that if no one came to play or hear music here, at least I’d have a good place to jam with my friends.”
But Anderson’s dream turned out to be a shared vision. Jerry Run Summer Theater is now in its 13th season of connecting musicians with music lovers, some of them traveling hundreds of miles for the chance to spend a Friday or Saturday night dining on hot dogs in the theater’s concession area, managed by Renee, and then reclining in the theater’s spacious seating to take in some live bluegrass, gospel, rock, blues, or Americana folk music channeled through a sound system operated by Dusty.
“A friend of ours said it’s a good cheap date night,” said Renee. “For $20, you get food, a show and at least some of the gas to get here.”
Tickets are only $5 for most acts, hot dogs are $1.50 and pepperoni rolls are $1.25. Debbie Schoolcraft, the chef at nearby Holly River State Park’s restaurant, provides the pepperoni rolls, the home-made chili sauce for the hot dogs, and brownies.
While most of the talent that performs at Jerry Run is West Virginia-based, including brother-and-sister traditional bluegrass duo Marteka and William Lake, who live just over the mountain from the theater and Charleston’s Carpenter Ants, other acts come from Nashville and beyond. On Saturday, the Nashville- based Clinton Gregory Bluegrass Band will perform here, followed on May 30 by the South Carolina bluegrass band Ken Scoggins & Miller Creek.
Last October, Jerry Run Summer Theater hosted a performance by rising indie folk star Iron & Wine, aka Sam Beam. “His manager read an article about the theater and thought it would be a good place for a show,” said Renee.
A 30-minute video of the concert, and about the Andersons and their theater, titled “Dreamers and Makers Are my Favorite People,”(viewable on YouTube) was released to promote Beam’s newest album, “Archive Series Volume No. 1,” a collection of some of his earliest work.
“Sam’s a down-to-earth guy and a great performer,” said Dusty. “He gets around. He was on Letterman a few weeks ago, singing with another guy (Ben Bridwell of Band of Horses).
The Andersons bought the land on which their theater is situated, just across W.Va. 20 from their home, in 1992. Three years later, Dusty began making drawings and models of the theater he envisioned, started the footers, and began exchanging carpentry work for locally harvested poplar lumber at a nearby mill. After assembling support trusses for the theater, Anderson waited until a friend with a truck or a four-wheel drive vehicle came by to help him pull them into place.
“Dusty’s big on re-purposing things,” said Renee. “These doors came from the old church across the road, and the seats came from the science department at West Virginia Wesleyan, after the college replaced the seating.”
After working on the large, all-wood theater for so many years, “I think I got an idea of what Noah felt like” building his ark, Dusty said.
Some Jerry Run Summer Theater regulars reserve seats by printing their names on masking tape stuck to the arms of their favorite chairs in the 199-seat venue, and leave personal footrests next to the chairs for added comfort during shows. A bunkhouse is available free of charge to visiting bands, and a cabin is available for out-of-town theater-goers to rent.
“We’re not trying to make money with this,” said Dusty Anderson. “If we break even, we feel good.”
“I just wish we could compensate our musicians more,” said his wife. “We pay them on a percentage basis, and we only charge $5 for most shows. They don’t make much money, but they still like coming here. Bands like the sound, the roomy stage and the audience. Here, they feel they’re really being listened to. And when people have a good time playing music and listening to music, it lifts us up, too.”
“It’s a place built just for music,” said Dusty. “It’s a little rough, but it works. Roy Lewis of the (Georgia-based) Little Roy and Lizzy Show, which plays here a lot, says that old wooden buildings have the best acoustics. Maybe, like an old guitar, our building will sound even better with time.”
The Jerry Run Summer Theater hosts bands from late April through early October. The theater is located along W.Va. 20, 1.5 miles north of the main entrance to Holly River State Park. All shows start at 7 p.m. No alcohol or smoking is allowed in the theater. Tickets for Saturday’s Clinton Gregory Bluegrass Band will be $10. Tickets to all other shows, unless otherwise noted, are $5 for adults and $3 for children 5-12.
Other acts appearing at the theater this season include:
Marteka & William Lake, bluegrass, May 23; Ken Scoggins & Millers Creek, bluegrass, May 30; LoganTown, bluegrass, June 6; Rachel Burge & Blue Dawning, bluegrass, June 13; West Virginia Travelers, bluegrass, June 20; Full Cirkle, soft rock, July 3; One for the Road, bluegrass, July 4; Little Roy and Lizzy Show, bluegrass and country gospel, ($10) July 10; Dog and Gun, acoustic Americana folk, July 11; The Band Wagon, bluegrass, July 18; Cherry Run, bluegrass, Aug. 1; Mountain State Bluegrass Express, Aug. 8; Chester Winkler, acoustic pop, rock and country gospel, Aug. 15; Blue Steel, bluegrass, Aug. 22; Johnny Cochran, Emmalea Deal and the Lilly Mountaineers, bluegrass/country, Sept. 4; Mark Chapman, gospel, Sept. 5; Rocky Road String Band, bluegrass/country, Sept. 12; Buck & Company, bluegrass, Sept. 19; Soldiers of the Cross, gospel/bluegrass, Sept. 26; Country Fried, country, Oct. 3; Norfolk & Southern, bluegrass, Oct. 10.
For more information, call 304-493-6574, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit http://members.citynet.net/jerryrun/
Reach Rick Steelhammer at email@example.com, 304-348-5169 or follow @rsteelhammer on Twitter.