October may just be the perfect time of year in the Allegheny Highlands of West Virginia. Crisp, cool weather, gorgeous foliage displays, and lots of harvest celebrations after a summer of hard work. Traditionally in this region, a celebration just isn’t complete without some fiddle tunes, and the Mountain Music Trail makes it easy to find out about all the wonderful old-time string band music happening this month. Check their online calendar of events for a full schedule, but here are a few hand-picked highlights:
On Oct. 4, Huntersville Traditions Day features plenty of activities, demonstrations, food, and a wealth of old-time music by the likes of Juanita Fireball & the Continental Drifters, Mud Hole Control, East Greenbrier Strings, Homer Hunter, and J.J. Riley & Cody Burns. Afterwards head up towards Snowshoe, where The Fiddlehead hosts Binghamton, NY-based Milkweed for some old-time, folksy fun. Alternately, local favorites Rush Run Philharmonic grace the stage at the Pretty Penny Café in Hillsboro – also home to weekly Friday night bluegrass jams with the Pretty Penny Pickers.
Head to Marlinton on Friday, October 17 for a real treat at the Pocahontas Opera House. Americana roots duo Red Tail Ring is known for “infus[ing] each song with musical imagination, haunting harmonies and instrumental artistry on fiddle, guitar, banjo, mandolin, jawharp and plain-old foot stomping.”
The next day, Saturday, Oct. 18, Randolph County Community Arts Center in Elkins hosts Gandydancer, West Virginia’s premier mountain string band. Five respected musicians with almost 200 years of combined music experience, the group delivers traditional mountain music to listeners in a way they appreciate and remember.
Country music’s rising star Doug Seegers (pictured above) plays at Carnegie Hall in Lewisburg on Oct. 23rd. A typical Music City story, the frequently homeless, 62-year-old singer-songwriter-guitarist was discovered at a Nashville food pantry by a Swedish country music star. His remarkable debut album, Going Down To The River, is a fully realized version of the music he has been making on Nashville streets for decades. Emmylou Harris, who appears on the record, says: “When I first heard Doug Seegers’ voice, so full of soul and raw emotion, I was stunned. This man has lived these songs, not in his imagination but every long day over many hard years. He stands before you now – ready to testify. Listen and believe.”
Community square dances are abundant this time of year along the Seneca Trail. Beginners are always welcomed, and partners aren’t a necessity; local dancers are always happy to teach you a step or two. Harman, in Randolph County, hosts a square dance on Oct. 11. Helvetia Day celebrates the thriving culture of the tiny Swiss village with a festival and dance on October 18, followed up by another dance on November 1. Thomas hosts their monthly square dance on Oct. 24, followed by a country dance at the American Heritage Music Hall in Ronceverte on Oct. 25. The Augusta Heritage Center in Elkins is holding a very special Halloween square dance on Oct. 31 (costumes encouraged) as part of its Old-Time Fiddlers Reunion!
Speaking of Augusta, October Old-Time Week starts on the 26th. Expect intensive, week-long classes in a variety of old-time instruments, styles, & levels, special presentations, & lots of jamming. Registration is required. The week wraps up with the 21st Annual Augusta Old-Time Fiddlers’ Reunion featuring the aforementioned Halloween square dance on Friday evening; performances by older generation master fiddlers and younger accomplished fiddlers from all over West Virginia all day Saturday; and a gospel sing on Sunday morning.
And as always, the Purple Fiddle in Thomas boasts an unbelievable lineup of nationally-touring acts. A couple gems in the more traditional realm: Harpeth Rising (“The vanguard of a new species of progressive folk music.” Oct. 1); The Boston Boys (A supercharged Americana style they describe as ‘Future Roots,’ with backgrounds ranging from California Soul to New York Bluegrass. Oct. 8); Runner of the Woods (“A solid country core gives rise to a band that’s still keen to pack the dance floor whenever duty calls.” Oct. 17); and world-renowned mandolin player Johnny Staats & the Delivery Boys (Oct. 25).
Keep checking the music trail calendar for updates and additional info.
– Ned Savage, LBSPY #58. (Sept 29-Nov 3, 2014)