Sat. Feb 18: Opry Night at Pocahontas Opera House!

There are several historic performance venues along the Mountain Music Trail, which runs along US 219 in WV.  One of the most unique is the Pocahontas County Opera House in Marlinton, which presents its annual “Opry Night” Saturday, February 18. This event features local bands each year. The 2017 groups are old time band Sugar Run and Stony Bottom Bluegrass.

The Opera House was built in 1910, in the heart of the lumber boom in eastern West Virginia.  (Carnegie Hall in Lewisburg is eight years older.) The building was constructed of poured-in place concrete and reinforced with steel logging train rails, and was the first reinforced concrete building in West Virginia. The building is approximately fifty feet (50’) wide and one hundred and sixteen feet (1 16’) long. The wood roof trusses were custom designed to span the fifty-foot room expanse. The tension rods that support the balcony were designed to allow an unobstructed view throughout the building – there are no internal support columns. Other notable features are the pressed metal ceiling and the thirty-two windows, which flood the interior with light. The flexible seating plan can accommodate up to 250 people.

In its heyday the Opera House featured a variety of performances, dances, and events like high school. The building was utilized by artists, local drama, minstrel shows, Lyceum Courses and movies. Productions from New York and nationwide were staged in the Opera House. The local basketball team played in the building. Roller-skating was also available with the fee for an evening of skating being 25 cents. A band composed of local people occasionally accompanied the skating. When the Marlinton Presbyterian Church was torn down in 1915 and the new one was being constructed, services were held in the Opera House. Many school activities were also held there.

However, when the boom faded it fell into disuse as a performance space, and was later used as a car dealership and a lumber storage facility. It gradually deteriorated over the years, until the Pocahontas County Historic Landmarks Commission, led by Ruth Morgan, purchased it in 1991. Several years of fundraising and renovation followed, and in 1998 the non-profit Pocahontas County Opera House Foundation was set up to operate the facility, which in 2000 was named to the National Registry of Historic Places.

The Foundation oversees a performance series which includes various musical genres from bluegrass to salsa to classical to jazz. The season also includes dance and theater.

The Opera House also serves as a community center. Many organizations host suppers, meetings, square dances, and there are even weddings at the facility.

From its promising start over a century ago, through many long years of decline, the Opera House once again shines as the cultural center of Pocahontas County. For more information, go to pocahontasoperahouse.org. Upcoming traditional music events there include Jesse Milnes and Emily Miller on March 18 and the Bing Brothers with Jake Krack April 1.

Other events along the Mountain Music Trail in February include: at the Purple Fiddle in Thomas,  alt-grass with Driftwood the 11th, folk-grass with Forlorn Strangers the 18th (and classic acoustic country with Charleston’s Blue Yonder March 3rd); an exhibit, “Music of the Coal Fields” at Carnegie Hall through the 24th; and a New Orleans style Mardi Gras blowout at the Irish Pub on Washington Street on the 28th.

– HashtagWV #86, February 2017.

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