With each passing week, the mountainous landscape of eastern West Virginia becomes more verdant and inviting. Likewise, this time of year there seem to be more and more options each weekend to engage with our region’s traditional Appalachian music. The Mountain Music Trail seeks to connect fans, both visiting and local, with the wide variety of heritage music and dance the area has to offer. This month, we have hand-picked a few highlights from our calendar that you won’t want to miss. Check out MountainMusicTrail.com for more information and a full listing of shows, dances, festivals, and more.
Head up to Elkins on Thursday, May 7, where Davis and Elkins College’s student string band and dance troupe, Appalachian Ensemble, play for their hometown crowd. Hang around Elkins Friday for the monthly square dance hosted by the Augusta Heritage Center and the Mountain Dance Trail, with round-robin calling and music by local pickers Red Run. As always, beginners are welcome (there’s a workshop at 7:30 before the dance gets started) and no partner is necessary. On Saturday, make your way north on 219 to Thomas, where the Purple Fiddle boasts a lineup of nationally-touring musicians multiple nights each week. Singer-songwriter Davey O plays the free lunchtime set, followed in the evening by seven-man band The Hardin Draw, whose high-energy show combines eclectic backgrounds ranging from metal to bluegrass to rockabilly.
Friday, May 15, lace up your dancing shoes for an evening at the American Heritage Music Hall in Ronceverte. The community of folks who gather for the recurring pot-lucks/jam sessions/dances held at the re-purposed skating rink will go to great lengths to make you feel at home. Saturday, the old Greenville High School ‘Time Out’ building in Monroe County is home to a monthly pot-luck and dance, this month with Sugar Run, who play old-time and bluegrass music about such themes as love-gone-bad, train wrecks, bad-men and hangings, murders, ghosts and hauntings, moonshine whiskey, and death and Redemption, plus peppy fiddle tunes suitable for flat-footin’, square dancing, or just standing around and tapping your feet.
Memorial Day weekend, ring in summer with any number of traditional music events. Toward the southern end of the Mountain Music Trail, start the weekend off right with some BBQ and “chicken-friend gospel soul” by the Carpenter Ants (pictured) at Carnegie Hall’s Main Stage Season Announcement Party. Friday, head down to Greenville, where the Ruritan Club hosts their annual square dance with music provided by Monroe County’s own Hans Creek String Band. Saturday, celebrate the hearty and determined dandelion at the annual WV Dandelion Festival in White Sulphur Springs, with music by the state’s longest-running and perhaps best-loved bluegrass band, the Black Mountain Bluegrass Boys. Sunday, savor a pint at the Irish Pub on Washington Street as you enjoy the traditional Celtic sounds of Patrick O’Flaherty.
Alternately, the northern end of the Mountain Music Trail, Tucker County, is hosting its annual arts festival, ArtSpring. The weekend’s schedule is chock-full of great art, music, and dance. Some of the more traditional offerings include ‘edgy mountain Irish’ music by Aurora Celtic at the silent auction reception Friday, followed by Heather & Ben Nelson at Cottrill’s Opera House and finally a square dance, all in Thomas.
Saturday and Sunday, public stages on Front Street in Thomas and in the heart of downtown Davis host music by the likes of Carrie and Michael Kline, Douglas Falls, the Sugarfoot Stompers, Walter King of the Elm Street Alley Cats, Bickelsnob, Richie Musgrove, EMay, and many more. The Purple Fiddle also hosts an array of great traditional musicians throughout the weekend, including Four Profit String Band, AnnaBeth McNamara, Annie Stokes, and Davis Bradley Duo. Round out the music calendar with an old-time jam at Salud apothecary, and live dinnertime music at Mountain State Brewing Company, in addition to art workshops, openings, happenings and parties, and you’ve got a full weekend of celebrating the art of Tucker County.
The last weekend of May, Helvetia in Randolph County is home to a very special event, Dare To Be Square, a weekend of workshops and dances for aspiring and experienced square dance callers, musicians, and dancers. This is the third and final year the Mountain Dance Trail will be hosting the event here in the utterly unique Swiss hamlet, Helvetia, which, hidden away in some of the state’s most remote mountains, harkens to a more traditional, simpler time.
These are only a smattering of the great traditional music events happening along US 219 this month. Whether you’re a seasoned old-time picker or just curious to see what this region’s living musical heritage might have to offer us in this day and age, there are countless opportunities to participate in our vibrant traditional music scene. Check out MountainMusicTrail.com or look for us on social media to learn more. Hope to see you participating in a jam circle, swinging your partner on the dance floor, or just smiling and tapping your feet at a show real soon!
– Ned Savage, LBSPY #65. May 2015