There’s music in the mountains. From traditional tunes to classical symphonies, from indie rock to gospel, West Virginia’s music scene has something for every musical taste and many opportunities for musicians to play and audiences to listen.
“Music is embedded in our culture,” said Joe Tackett, West Virginia Symphony Orchestra president. “Many people enjoy playing music, and that is a strong foundation for audiences who seek out the music they like.”
Randall Reid-Smith, West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture and History curator, agrees. “Music is a language that everyone speaks,” he said. “Visit any county in West Virginia and you’ll find an exciting music scene.”
“Every state has marquee music names. Here in West Virginia, we have musicians, composers, songwriters and singers who have flown under the radar,” said Michael Lipton, West Virginia Hall of Fame director. “Because of the state’s isolation, it nurtured unique people whose music, regardless of genre, reflects that.”
West Virginia’s music scene isn’t flying under the radar now. People from all over the world are coming here for “Mountain Stage” and Appalachian String Band Festival. As they travel to the Mountain State for vacations and getaways, they are enjoying music along the Mountain Music Trail and at festivals around the state.
“‘Mountain Stage’ has been dubbed the state’s calling card,” said Vasilia Scouras, “Mountain Stage” associate producer. “For some, coming to Charleston for a show is like a pilgrimage. It’s on their bucket list!”
Ron Sowell, “Mountain Stage” music-director and band-leader, says the mix of musical genres that the show offers keeps it fresh and lively. He is especially proud of the opportunity the radio show affords local bands.
“From December through March, every ‘Mountain Stage’ show featured a West Virginia band,” he said. “Andrew Adkins of Fayetteville introduced his solo album on ‘Mountain Stage.’ It is No. 4 on the Americana Roots chart, and his single is No. 13.”
The Appalachian String Band Festival held each summer at Camp Washington Carver in Clifftop has an international following as well. People camp at the site or stay in local hotels. Others drive up for a day.
“There were 300 people here for our first String Band Festival” said Bobby Taylor who coordinates judging and competitions for the event. “Now, there are between 3,500 and 5,000 musicians and music fans there every year. They come from many countries including Australia, France and Japan, as well as the United States and Canada.”
“One of the things that makes the music scene more interesting now is the variety of venues that we have,” said Tim Brady, vice president of Sales and Marketing for Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Outdoor festivals like Symphony Sunday, FestivALL and Vandalia Gathering can bring many people together, but we have a lot of alternative venues like Rock City Cake Company that are offering opportunities for people to hear local and regional bands in smaller, more informal settings. It’s cool to go and watch a band play.”
Live on the Levee at Haddad Riverfront Park is a free concert series that runs every Friday evening from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend. It features national acts as well as local acts.
“In West Virginia, the whole community gets involved with supporting the music they appreciate,” Tackett said. “The West Virginia Symphony is excited to celebrate its 80th anniversary this year. And I encourage people who enjoy classical music to look for performances by Charleston Chamber Orchestra at West Virginia State University and the Charleston Chamber Music Society.”
The Capitol Theatre in Wheeling hosts musical events from the Wheeling Symphony Orchestra to the Wheeling Jamboree. The 101-year-old historic theater features up and coming country performers as well as gospel, doo-wop, Motown, oldies, jazz, blues and rock concerts.
Music lovers who enjoy quiet mountain time as well enjoy Jerry Run Summer Theater in Cleveland, Webster County. Jerry Run is a rustic indoor music venue located near Holly River State Park. From late April through early October the venue features acoustic bluegrass, folk and Americana music on Saturday evenings, and sometimes on Fridays, too.
Cafe Cimino in Sutton hosts the annual West Virginia Hall of Fame Garden Party. The outdoor concert will feature John “Some Kind of Wonderful” Ellison along with Larry Groce, Hello June, Jesse Milnes and other special guests.
The Mountain Music Trail provides traditional music fans with information about venues and events along Route 219 in Randolph, Pocahontas, Tucker, Greenbrier and Monroe counties.
“The trail has venues for traditional, ethnic, bluegrass and country options that offer authentic Appalachian music experiences,” said Cara Rose, executive director of the Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The Pocahontas County Opera House in Marlinton and Carnegie Hall in Lewisburg are great local venues for performing arts.”
The Purple Fiddle in Thomas is a popular music venue along the trail. “Owner John Bright has developed a great venue for local, regional and national musicians,” Rose said. “He hosts events throughout the year. The summer Mountain Music shows on Monday nights are popular with visitors in our area.”
The American Heritage Music Hall in Ronceverte is a family-friendly site where local musicians promote American heritage music. Along with live entertainment and dancing, it features open jam sessions.
L.J. Giuliani, owner of 123 Pleasant Street, Morgantown, likes the opportunities he has to showcase local and regional bands and musicians at his historic venue. “I am proud that 99 percent of the music we feature is original,” he said. “We try hard to showcase as many types of music as we can so that we don’t pigeonhole ourselves and to attract different audiences.”
Guiliani believes venues like his are important because they serve as good places for musicians to hone their craft, gain a following and have fun in small settings that always have great energy.
Zack Harold of The Sycomores likes the camaraderie he finds with musicians, regardless of their musical style. His band, which he refers to as Americana Gospel, performs primarily in churches and community venues. It has enjoyed performing at the LaBelle Theater, FestivALL and at Appalachian Power Park. The band is booked to perform at Haddad Riverfront Park in August at JesusFest.
Mt. Nebo, near Summersville, is the place for gospel music fans. The West Virginia Mountain State Gospel Singing Convention is held annually in June, July and September. For more than 60 years, the convention has preserved the traditions of old-time gospel camp meetings. The sings are among the oldest and largest nonprofit sings in the United States.
Ron Sowell is excited about the energy he sees in the state’s music scene. “It is reminiscent of the ‘70s and is great for musicians in the state,” he said. Added to that he believes the growing number of local recording studios also is helping West Virginia’s musicians.
“We are in for some exciting times in West Virginia. Just get out there and listen!”