When thinking of West Virginia exports, coal and natural gas typically top the list. Then there’s the massive cultural export the state has in Mountain Stage, the live music show recorded (primarily) in Charleston that airs on hundreds of public radio stations across the country and beyond.
While showcasing regional and Appalachian music since the early 1980s, the show also has drawn to West Virginia some of the industry’s biggest names, including R.E.M., Wilco, Nick Lowe and Bill Monroe.
Unfortunately, like just about everything else that showcases live performances in front of an audience, Mountain Stage has been on hiatus since March because of the coronavirus pandemic. Rebroadcasts from the archives have filled the void over the past six months.
The good news is the show is looking for a way to resume, according to executive producer Adam Harris, who addressed the situation Wednesday before the West Virginia Educational Broadcasting Authority. The bad news is figuring out how to restart the show is going to be a difficult nut to crack.
One obvious solution would be to record without an audience, although it still takes a good number of people to put the show together. Compounding the problem is that many performers, quite rightly, aren’t traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic. That problem could be solved by featuring local and regional acts.
However, while there is certainly a lot of musical talent in West Virginia, Mountain Stage has set the bar high on the eclectic nature of the music it features and the big names the show attracts. As Harris put it, not only would the show quickly burn through the number of performers it could feature, but local talent on a national, iconic show might not meet listeners’ expectations.
In short, there are a lot of hurdles to clear. But there’s still hope. The show is going through a sort of dry run later this month, to see if recording while maintaining safety protocols is feasible. If it is, Mountain Stage producers might be able to convince artists they can come and perform in a safe setting.
In the meantime, perhaps another solution will present itself. Here’s hoping Mountain Stage finds a way to move forward soon.