West Virginia’s iconic music performance and radio show, Mountain Stage, made a welcome and triumphant return over the weekend with a far from usual show in Huntington at Joan C. Edwards Stadium, where the Marshall Thundering Herd plays its home football games.
It’s been an intense and uncertain time for the program that has been a staple of West Virginia Public Broadcasting and National Public Radio for decades.
The program, which has a global audience, had essentially been on hiatus since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year. Staff and production had been trying to figure out the show’s future as vaccines were becoming available, only to have the brief shock and threat of not existing at all. Earlier this month, the West Virginia Senate, controlled by a Republican supermajority, proposed a budget that removed all of West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s funding.
The budget proposal left its allotment of $300,000 for Mountain Stage, but that only covers about a third of what it costs to put the show together over the course of a year. The rest of the money, along with considerable assistance and resources, comes from Public Broadcasting, the agency the Senate wanted to defund.
Cooler heads seem to have prevailed, with budget proposals eventually restoring Public Broadcasting’s funding. That allowed Mountain Stage to breathe a bit, and then think about how it was going to pull off a live show, usually recorded in the intimate setting of the small theater in the Culture Center in Charleston, during an ongoing pandemic.
The Joan provided plenty of space for a masked-up audience to socially distance, and the staff that put the show together was able to set up a stage on the field, without disrupting the Herd’s practices and without damaging the field — all first experiences for those who put the show together.
Somehow, the fickle West Virginia spring weather settled on being passive, and, although there was a chill in the air, the show went on. It wasn’t normal. Not by a long shot. But it was live music in front of a crowd for the first time since March 2020. After everything the show has been through — let alone everyone in West Virginia and elsewhere throughout this pandemic — the fact that it happened at all was a huge victory. It’s also somewhat comforting — a taste of a return to things everyone loved to do and experience before last spring.
Mountain Stage is still figuring out how to go forward. Right now, it seems the next show might be in Charleston, in June. Hopefully, things will be even better in West Virginia and the rest of the United States, in regard to the pandemic, when that time comes. For now, it’s good to know that Mountain Stage is alive and well.