It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and here in the Allegheny Highlands of West Virginia, there are plenty of opportunities to celebrate the season with old-time music and family-friendly fun! The Mountain Music Trail promotes and presents the traditional music of the Highway 219 corridor in West Virginia. All throughout the region, folks are getting in the spirit with traditional Appalachian music, dance, and more, and we’ve compiled a short list of this month’s best seasonal celebrations for you to enjoy.
As Christmas approaches, celebrating the season takes on a number of traditional forms for the people of this area. The Durbin & Greenbrier Railroad’s magical Polar Express Train departs Elkins for the North Pole regularly until December 14th. Have dinner next door at the Rail Yard Restaurant, where local old-time string band the Elm Street Alley Cats play traditional holiday tunes before and after the train.
West Virginia native and Grammy-winner Kathy Mattea will be at Carnegie Hall in Lewisburg on Dec. 11 with a thoughtful blend of old favorites and music from her celebrated holiday albums. The ‘Songs of the Season’ concert is “more about the spiritual side of Christmas, and not so much about the holiday” – and the result is a performance that will bring both joy and reverence to this season of celebration.
The tiny hamlet of Helvetia, in Randolph County, holds tight to their Swiss roots, which will be on display at the Saint Nicholas Celebration and Square Dance on December 6. From 2:00 to 5:00, enjoy baking and decorating Christmas cookies and Swiss grittibanz, games, refreshments, reading of the traditional Saint Nicholas story, and a visit from Saint Nicholas himself. Potluck dinner starts at 5:30, followed by a community square dance at 7:00.
Speaking of square dancing, there’s no better way to get your blood flowing, keep warm, and have fun while working off some of those extra holiday pounds. On December 6, join Juanita Fireball & the Continental Drifters for an afternoon show at the Pocahontas Artisan Co-op in Marlinton; then follow them up to Dunmore, where they’ll be playing for an old-time square dance starting at 8:00.
The following weekend, head to Elkins, where the Augusta Heritage Center and Mountain Dance Trail are hosting a Honky Tonk & Square Dance on Friday the 12th, with music by the Jesse Milnes Square Dance Orchestra. As always, no partner or experience is necessary.
The American Heritage Music Hall in Ronceverte is also host to a slew of dances this month. In addition to their weekly Tuesday night jam/dance/pot-luck, they’re hosting dances with High Country on Dec. 6, Steele Country on Dec. 20, and Bill Evans & the Night Riders will play for a special New Years Eve party.
Being one of the biggest party nights of the year, there are lots more options to ring in 2015 with traditional music. There promises to be plenty of Irish cheer at the Brazenhead Inn, where Juanita Fireball & the Continental Drifters will be celebrating with old-time music at the traditional Irish inn and pub just north of Snowshoe, in Mingo. Just up the mountain, Snowshoe Mountain Resort is hosting a New Year’s Eve party with the wildly popular Davisson Brothers Band, who mix bluegrass, country, and southern rock to form a distinctive West Virginia sound. And up in Thomas, The Purple Fiddle hosts a very special NYE show with Pennsylvania bluegrass powerhouse act Cabinet. They’ll also play a New Year’s Day show for those who missed the previous evening (the show is expected to sell out), during which they’ll perform their brand new album, ‘Set II’, in its entirety.
And of course, the Purple Fiddle is the place to find quality strings music (and more) in a friendly atmosphere every weekend, and often during the week as well. Some highlights from this month’s schedule include an early dinner show with hypno-folk pioneers TWIN (12/6), traditional bluegrass foursome Drymill Road (12/12), Harrisonburg, VA-based Americana roots band The Steel Wheels (12/13), WV’s premier bluegrass band The Hillbilly Gypsies (12/20), a Christmas show with hard-driving Pennsylvania bluegrass outfit Jakob’s Ferry Stragglers (formerly the Weedrags)(12/25), Charlottesville, VA-based Tara Mills & Jimmy Stelling (of Hackensaw Boys & Stelling Banjos fame) (12/28), local favorites Loves It (12/30), and Brooklyn’s Grammy-nominated Americana group Yarn (1/2).
Plenty of other venues along The Seneca Trail play host to traditional music this month, though not all of it is holiday-themed. Just up the hill from the Purple Fiddle, Mountain State Brewing Company in Thomas hosts John Merrell and friends for a free dinnertime show on 12/6, and the following weekend come check out the holiday ‘Bizarre Bazaar’ with local art and craft vendors, immediately followed by a free show by Lewisburg’s own Allan Dale Sizemore.
In Lewisburg, you can catch the state’s longest-running and perhaps best-known bluegrass band, the Black Mountain Bluegrass Boys, as they bring their high-lonesome sound to the Sweet Shoppe on Dec. 12.
Up in Pocahontas County, the Marlinton Motor Inn is home to two shows by the Young and Restless Pickers on 12/5 and 12/19. These young old-time musicians are keeping the tradition alive into the next generation (banjo player Trevor Hammons is the youngest in a long line of talented Hammons Family musicians), and they put on a fine show besides.
And of course this time of year also brings plenty of snow to the mountains, and with it, skiers and snowboarders from all over the country. Snowshoe Mountain Resort treats visiting snow-bunnies and locals alike to some world-class bluegrass on January 9 and 10, as the Infamous Stringdusters are on the mountain for two shows, part of Snowshoe’s Beats on the Basin concert series.
From the folks at the Mountain Music Trail, have a wonderful holiday season full of family, friends, and live, traditional string band music and dance! See you in 2015!
– Ned Savage, LBSPY #60. December 2014.