In January, Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Cara Rose received a phone call from West Virginia Division of Tourism Commissioner Amy Goodwin. Goodwin’s request was simple – “Tell me about the Mountain Music Trail.”
Two days later, Goodwin informed Rose that she had an idea, and together with West Virginia Public Broadcasting and Mountain Stage, the idea came to fruition eight months later in the form of a video project.
On Thursday, contributors, locals, musicians, and visitors gathered at the Pocahontas County Opera House for the video’s premiere.
“Tonight is happening because of an incredible partnership with the Mountain Music Trail, West Virginia Tourism and West Virginia Public Broadcasting,” Opera House manager Brynn Kusic said in her welcome. “The Mountain Music Trail, in our community, was lucky enough to have [Mountain Stage Executive Producer] Adam Harris and [Mountain Stage Associate Producer] Vasilia Scouras – who worked tirelessly to put together this footage to be in our communities, to attend our events, to interview musicians, to interview folks who work at the venues along 219 – and Ned Savage, who worked tirelessly to get the Mountain Music Trail off the ground, to keep this project going and was a great partner to them. Without their dedication and going above and beyond, we would not have what we have here today.”
Harris explained how the video project came to be.
“The partnership started through Commissioner Amy Goodwin,” he began. “She came on board as an underwriter of Mountain Stage, and she pitched us the idea. We collaborated on the whole idea of doing a series of videos to promote the Mountain Music Trail.
“It’s been a wonderful partnership – both with Amy and the West Virginia Division of Tourism, but also with our local CVBs, who have been indispensable when it came to producing these videos, setting us up with the right people, getting the right interviews and getting us permission to get into all the right places. We really couldn’t have done it without the folks like Cara and their local community partners who helped us feel welcome in each of the five counties we traveled to.”
In addition to Thursday’s premiere, the video project will premiere in the remaining Mountain Trail counties in the coming weeks.
Following Greenbrier and Monroe County premieres, Scouras will head to Wheeling to premiere the project, in its entirety, at the Governor’s Conference on Tourism.
Ten videos, along with an interactive map, will be available at the end of the month at mountainmusictrail.com, and a documentary-style special is in the works and will air on West Virginia Public Television upon completion.
“Like many people living in this region,” Rose began, “one of the earliest exposures I’ve had with our traditional culture came in elementary school. During Physical Education, we learned how to square dance. All of us thought it was hokey music and icky to swing your partner, but we learned it anyway, having fun even though we didn’t want to admit it.
“Back then, I didn’t truly appreciate the heritage behind the music or the importance of preserving our unique culture. I was simply a participant having fun like a lot of people. Today, many years later, as I’ve watched tourism expand exponentially in our region, experiential travel has become highly valued to travelers, and consequently, to destination marketing and product development. Through this project, not only have I renewed my enjoyment of the music and square dancing, I have also gained a much richer appreciation for the importance of carrying on local traditions and sharing the experience. Thank goodness so many people over the decades have carried out this rich tradition and taught others so the rest of us can enjoy it.”
The Mountain Music Trail began in 2012 as a way to promote a five county region – consisting of Greenbrier, Monroe, Pocahontas, Randolph and Tucker – as a heritage-based destination in the Allegheny Mountains. The hope was to promote and preserve the traditional dance, music and folkways of the region, while promoting cultural tourism and sustainable economic development along Route 219.
“Like all regional projects, it takes a huge commitment to make it work,” explained Rose, “and that’s the beauty of this project – the commitment by people who believe in the project and the authentic product in place that is so easy to sell. As we all know, music is universal.”
With the help of Gill Willis and Gibbs Kinderman, the Mountain Music Trail grew. Forty partners came together in support of the project’s initial development and traveled along 219 to attend planning meetings and provide start-up funds.
“Without this core support and seed money, the Mountain Music Trail and this partnership we are celebrating tonight would not be possible,” Rose said.
According to Rose, the Mountain Music Trail is an important project on so many levels – from preserving the art of traditional music, to creating a marketing program to promote the richness of our heritage and traditional music and sharing them with visitors – and it has economic benefits for our region, as well as the state.
“All this matters independently and as a whole,” she continued, “and I’ve realized, through a special partnership, how beautifully it can all work together and meet so many different objectives while providing a meaningful experience for visitors, musicians and residents alike.”
In addition to the video premiere, guests were treated to a number of performances by local musicians.
The Young and Restless Pickers were the first of the night’s three performances.
“We are so lucky,” Kusic said. “Both Ben Davis and Trevor Hammons performed twice during the month of September on this stage, and not only are we so lucky to have these traditions in this community, but to have these traditions passed on within our families, between our neighbors, our friends and to take these traditions and bring them into the present this way, is what keeps the music alive.
Davis and Hammons, along with Emily Casto, Trevor Jordan and Tessa Kiner, can be found performing at the Marlinton Motor Inn every other Friday night.
Following the Young and Restless Pickers, audience members were treated to a performance by the Sugar Run Band. The band played a number of songs, including “Cold Mountain Rain” – written by bassist Bonnie Johnson – “Down in Monroe County” and “Cold Frosty Morning.”
According to banjo player Mike Johnson, “Cold Frost Morning” was one of the first songs he learned to play at the age of 12.
In addition to Bonnie and Mike, the Sugar Run Band is made up of Rachel Johnson, on the fiddle, and Stanley Asbury, on the guitar.
Following the premiere, the Elk River Ramblers – consisting of Galen Watts on bass and vocals, Terry Richardson on guitar and Paul Maganian on fiddle, guitar and vocals – rounded out the night’s performances and ended the night with a lively encore.
“I think the program is a great thing to promote,” Sara Casto, mother of Young and Restless Picker Emily Casto, said. “The Mountain Music, the Appalachian music and the old-time music – I thought this program was great, I thought the video was wonderful, and I’m anxious to see more of them.”
“Every time I listen to young folks like Trevor Hammons and his group play traditional music, see young people getting on the dance floor to square dance and watch visitors enjoy Juanita Fireball and the Continental Drifters here at the Opera House, I continue to be inspired to do my part in making the Mountain Music Trail successful,” Rose said in closing. “The roots of this music do run deep.”
The Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau would like to thank the Pocahontas Communications Cooperative, in conjunction with the Convention and Visitors Bureaus of Greenbrier, Monroe, Randolph and Tucker counties and the Monroe and Pocahontas County Commissions, for providing financial support for the AmeriCorp Vista position; Ned Savage, a former Pocahontas County Vista, for going above and beyond in his Vista position to grow the Mountain Music Trail project; the West Virginia Division of Tourism and Commissioner Amy Goodwin for having the vision of the partnership and recognizing the value the Mountain Music Trail offers to the West Virginia Tourism industry; West Virginia Public Broadcasting and Mountain Stage for partnering with West Virginia Tourism to bring the Mountain Music Trail stories to the screen; and most importantly, the musicians who create the Mountain Music Trail.