The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

September 8, 2013

Mountain Music Trail: Opening a road to cultural tourism

By Tina Alvey
Register-Herald Reporter

— Winding through a verdant five-county swath in the heart of the Alleghenies, a new route to cultural tourism has emerged with the establishment of the Mountain Music Trail.

The trail counts among its partners tourism professionals and cultural venues in Monroe, Greenbrier, Pocahontas, Randolph and Tucker counties, all devoted to promoting, presenting and preserving West Virginia’s mountain music traditions.

“A group of us got together about a year and a half ago, trying to figure out how to develop and promote cultural tourism in the region,” says Cara Rose, executive director of the Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) and coordinator of the Mountain Music Trail.

“It took us about eight months to lay the groundwork — arrive at a mission statement, develop a logo, secure a website name. We became a real entity late last fall, and we’ve been applying for small grants and getting our Web page together since then.”

While traditional dance and folkways are a part of the Music Trail, the group’s primary focus is mountain music, including old-time bluegrass, regionally significant ethnic, country and gospel.

“Our No. 1 goal is to preserve the music,” Rose says. “We want to make sure we have a mechanism in place to share this music with residents and visitors and establish a brand to have an economic impact with this project.”

The five-county region whose CVBs have joined together in this endeavor suffers no shortage of prominent venues in which to showcase traditional mountain music. From the Augusta Heritage Center in Elkins and the Pocahontas County Opera House to Greenbrier County’s American Heritage Music Hall and historic Carnegie Hall, a traditional music aficionado has many options from which to choose.

“In West Virginia, there are probably not many multicounty, regional, themed projects like this,” Rose notes.

The Mountain Music Trail is now poised to capitalize on one of the region’s prime tourism seasons, promoting a spate of special autumn events centering on various aspects of traditional music.

The schedule began with a Sept. 6 performance by Hillbilly Gypsies at The Purple Fiddle Cafe in Thomas and continues with an old-time traditional square dance at Carnegie Hall, a performance by Little Sparrow at Festival in the Hills in Monroe County and the 20th annual Fiddlers’ Reunion at the Augusta Heritage Center.

Carnegie Hall and the Greenbrier County CVB are teaming up to present a square dance on the Carnegie stage from 7 to 9 p.m. Sept. 19, featuring the music of Sugar Run, with mountain dance callers Eugene and Ellen Ratcliffe.

Admission is $5 at the door; no reservations are necessary.

Carnegie hosts square dances in September, November, February, April and June each year, featuring musicians and callers from around the region.

Staged at the Salt Sulphur Springs Resort, 3 miles south of Union, the Festival in the Hills celebrates local arts, music and foods. The event will run from noon to 6 p.m. Oct. 19 and benefits the Monroe Arts Alliance.

Admission is $10 per person at the gate, with children age 10 and under admitted free.

Under the umbrella of Davis & Elkins College, the Augusta Heritage Center is known for its popular intensive, weeklong workshops focusing on West Virginia’s folk-life and folkways. But in early November, the center becomes the home of the annual Fiddlers’ Reunion.

A Halloween Square Dance begins the festivities at 8 p.m. Nov. 1 in the Great Room of the Randolph County Community Arts Center, with live music provided by the October Old-Time Week staff. Admission is $6 per person.

Augusta’s concert stage will be the site of performances all day Nov. 2, with a freestyle clogging and flatfoot dancing contest providing a change of pace at 4 p.m. Admission is free.

A gospel sing caps the event at 10 a.m. Nov. 3.

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For more information about the Mountain Music Trail, including a full calendar of events, visit www.mountainmusictrail.com.

“I encourage people to make our website one of their favorites, if they enjoy any type of traditional music,” Rose says. “It will become the place to go for information on performances in this region. It will continue to grow.”

— E-mail: talvey@register-herald.com