Some consider February a bleak month – the holiday season has receded into memory, but the first blossoms of spring still seem a long way off. Valentine’s Day brings little solace to those without a significant other to keep them warm. But for pickers, dancers, and fans of traditional Appalachian music, the Mountain Music Trail makes it easy to keep the blood flowing at a community square dance, jam with old-timers who learned this music the old-fashioned way and are eager to pass on the tradition, or just get cozy at one of the many great venues along US 219 and warm yourself to the live string band music that seems to spring straight from these mountains all year round.
Starting at the Northern end of the Mountain Music Trail, Tucker County is home to an abundance of great shows. Mountain State Brewing Co. in Thomas hosts local favorite Rebecca Wudarski, who combines her reverence for old-time with a bit of indie rock edge, on 2/7. Timberline Four Seasons Resort, besides stellar skiing, is also home to live bluegrass by the likes of Split String Soup on 2/27 & 28. And of course, the state’s most prolific music venue, the Purple Fiddle, is, as always, host to a killer lineup of traditional music this month: The Black Lillies (Knoxville-based roots, country, and Americana, 2/5), Morgantown’s old-time bluegrass crowd-pleasers the Hillbilly Gypsies (2/7), rustic yet refined (alt-) country and folk by Runaway Dorothy (2/9), one-man country-bluegrass-blues show Jason Ring (2/14 & 15), upbeat original and traditional music anchored in old-time blues and bluegrass from the Howlin’ Brothers (2/14), folk duo with unmatched depth and purity Cereus Bright (2/19), Girls Guns & Glory (Boston-based roots-rock with a twist of country, 2/27), and Hey Mavis (combining bluegrass, old-time, and folk with jazz and rock, 2/28). See the newly-revamped purplefiddle.com for a full lineup, including the less-traditional acts they also bring to Thomas each week.
Heading down to Randolph County, Elkins is arguably home to more old-time fiddlers and traditional dancers than any town its size, anywhere. Join a jam or just sit and enjoy the tunes at the Augusta Heritage Center’s weekly Pickin’ Indoors, held each Wednesday evening at the Myles Center for the Arts. Then, every Thursday evening, enjoy the warm atmosphere and local talent of the weekly old-time jam at Big Timber Brewing Co. On Feb. 6, Davis & Elkins Night on the Town: Fire & Ice will feature free ice skating, fire-breathers and jugglers, and other carnival-esque entertainment by the Ohio Burn Unit, not to mention traditional music and dancing by D&E’s Appalachian Ensemble. On the Friday before Valentine’s Day at Augusta, join in the fun at a honky-tonk and square dance with music by Jesse Milnes and Emily Miller. And the old Darden Mill, now the Appalachian Forest Heritage Area Discovery Center, has begun holding monthly concerts – on Feb. 26, Jesse Milnes and Emily Miller will be performing along with Jesse’s father, local old-time music authority Gerry Milnes.
Down the road in the tiny Swiss hamlet of Helvetia, the epic pre-lenten festival Fashnact happens to fall on Valentine’s Day this year. Follow the parade of eerie and downright frightening masks (meant to scare away Old Man Winter) to the Community Hall, where a square dance ends with the youngest reveler cutting down the Old Man Winter effigy from the ceiling, and the whole party spills outside to witness the burning of the effigy on the bonfire. Like a tiny mountain town’s take on Mardi Gras à la Switzerland – you can bet you’ve never witnessed anything like it. Helvetia is also home to a monthly square dance on 2/7.
Pocahontas County is a ski and snowboard mecca this time of year, and visitors to Snowshoe have plenty of chances to enjoy après-ski old-time and more. Every Thursday, join the Elk River Ramblers at the Elk River Inn and Restaurant for Celtic, old-time, and more. They also play the Fiddlehead Restaurant and Bar on 2/7. Just down the road in Dunmore, you can swing your partner (no need to bring one, there are plenty of folks happy to dance with beginners and experts alike) on 2/7 at the monthly community square dance.
Down toward Marlinton, check out the Young & Restless Pickers, local kids proud to carry on the strong tradition of old-time music in Pocahontas County, as they play dinnertime music at the Marlinton Motor Inn in Edray on February 13 and 27. The Pocahontas Opera House in downtown Marlinton hosts a very special Opry Night on Feb. 28, featuring the best bluegrass and old-time of the two Virginias, with bluegrass by Southern Rail Express and old-time, bluegrass, classical, ragtime, and more by local banjo virtuoso Bob Shank. See page 2 for more information on the Pocahontas County Opera House.
Head to the Pretty Penny Café in Hillsboro on 2/21 for a screening of Child of God, the dark James Franco film (based on the Cormac McCarthy novel) shot locally in Greenbrier and Pocahontas Counties. The Hell for Certain String Band, whose old-time tunes are featured on the movie’s soundtrack, will be there, as will actors and extras. Or just enjoy some bluegrass with your locally-sourced dinner each Friday, as the Pretty Penny Pickers resume their weekly jams after a winter hiatus.
Down in Greenbrier and Monroe Counties, Carnegie Hall in Lewisburg is holding a square dance on the stage on Thursday, 2/19. Lewisburg is part of the Mountain Dance Trail, a collection of communities who keep the art of traditional dancing alive in WV – check out mountaindancetrail.org to see when and where else you can join in the fun.
And down in Greenville, the Time Out building behind the old high school is the place to be every Tuesday at lunchtime, as a group of musicians and community members gather for food, friendship, and a bit of pickin’ ‘n’ grinnin’.
Check out mountainmusictrail.com for updates, additional events, tunes by local musicians, and more. Hope to see yall on the dance floor!
– Ned Savage, LBSPY #62. February 2015.