Back Home Festival putting New Martinsville on the map

Here is a great “power of bluegrass” story, sure to warm the hearts of music lovers, and fans of small town life.

New Martinsville, WV is a small town of about 5,000 people which serves as the county seat for Wetzel County. Located in the northwestern part of the state, the town sits close to the Ohio state line and has benefiting from the oil and gas boom the is revitalizing much of the state, as well as parts of Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and Ohio. New hotels have popped up to accommodate visiting oil workers, and the town leaders started thinking about ways they could continue to attract tourists to New Martinsville and contribute to the local economy.

After many discussions, it was decided that a bluegrass festival would be something that area residents would enjoy, that might also bring in folks from Morgantown, Pittsburgh, Columbus, and other nearby communities. And so the Back Home Appalachian Arts & Music festival was born.

They held their first event last month, during which time the town’s population doubled, with locals and visitors alike thronging the downtown streets to join in the fun. Music stages and vendors lined Main Street and a fine time was had by all. Artists and artisans displayed their wares, and all kinds of foodstuffs were offered for sale.

Robby Parsons, Marketing Director for the Wetzel County Convention & Visitors Bureau, funded by the county hotel/motel tax, said that since this was not envisioned as a for profit festival, they mostly tried to find sponsors to cover the costs, with their return coming from the food, beverage, and accommodations taxes collected.

“One of the first conversations we had as an organization was the price of admission for such an event. It was decided unanimously that we would make the event free to the public. We are proud of our community and thought, ‘What better way to show our Appalachian hospitality than to have an event and welcome all people to attend free of charge? In order to do such a thing we needed to get the approval of the New Martinsville city council and the Wetzel County Commissioners. They were 100% on board with our idea, and gave us their blessing.

The first year was a huge success. Our three day festival culminated on Sunday, July 2nd, 2017 with Johnny Staats & The Delivery Boys followed by a fantastic fireworks display. Over the course of the three day festival, 5,000 people were estimated to have attended our event.

The week after the 2017 festival we once again went to city council where we were greeted with a standing ovation. Our festival was definitely a success and it is only going to keep getting better and better.”

Organizers have already booked talent for 2018, with big names like Del McCoury Band, The David Grisman Sextet, and The SteelDrivers scheduled to appear. Residents of New Martinsville have fully embraced the festival and are happy to welcome strangers to town with smiles and friendly faces. In addition to free admission to hear the music, the New Martinsville Parks & Recreation Department offered free camping to visitors at the local marina.

Most any new festival would be overjoyed to see 5,000 people attend during the first year. Back Home is giving Wetzel County residents something to be proud of, and music lovers a new destination to enjoy bluegrass with locally-prepared food and drink. And that amiable Appalachian hospitality.

What a great way to promote your community! Other small towns, take note.

Find full details about the Back Home Appalachian Arts & Music festival can be found online.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.