Among the many wonderful music festivals in West Virginia, one of the longest-running and most successful is Music In The Mountains, the Summersville bluegrass festival. Started in 1980, the 33rd annual festival recently took place and Valerie and I had the pleasure of performing there again. After our first appearance at Summersville in 1983 (the first full summer after forming our group, then called Steadfast), we performed there on a number of occasions before “retiring” in 1999 from active touring while raising our family.
Over the years, we had the pleasure of seeing the festival grow from very modest beginnings to become one of the biggest festivals in the country, both in terms of attendance as well as a lineup boasting over 40 bands, nearly all touring professionals. In the 1970’s, most of the festivals in West Virginia were what might be termed “wild.” Out of control might be a little more accurate.
I have vivid recollections of a festival in the late 1970’s where various illegal substances were sold at a table in the concessions area. For lovers of bluegrass music who ventured out to attend one of these events, drawn by a flyer or poster which included groups like Bill Monroe or The Osborne Brothers, only to gaze in horror at naked bikers, drug concessions, or the occasional shooting, the time was right for a turn in the opposite direction; enter Eunice and Edgar Kitchen. Retired school teachers, Mr. and Mrs. Kitchen built a festival with zero tolerance for drugs and alcohol and its popularity skyrocketed in a few short years.
By the time Valerie and I decided to get back into performing and touring a few years ago, I had heard the Kitchens were no longer running the festival, and had donated the property to the Church of the Nazarene. Unfortunately, the church knew nothing about organizing and running a bluegrass festival and various problems caused the festival to suffer. At the Kitchens’ request, Adams and Anderson have taken on the task of rebuilding the festival and we were pleased to be invited to be a part of this year’s festival. We had a great time and enjoyed being a part of such a prestigious event.
We visited with all the performers, and donated some space under our canopy next to our product table for the Gibson Brothers to get out of the sun (enjoyed picking Leigh Gibson’s brain about their experiences in the business). As always, Kenny Ingram and the Larry Stephenson Band tore it up (first time I’ve ever heard him play J. D.’s Bear Tracks). I reminded Kenny of the time he and I were the only two competitors at a banjo contest in Cumberland Furnace, Tennessee about twenty years ago. I had to talk Valerie out of entering, so Kenny and I would have a chance.
Having been on the promoter side of the fence myself, we try not to get in the get there-play-get paid and leave mode. We stayed around four or five hours after our last set to jam with some campers, and after two shows on stage and a couple hours jamming, I felt like I was getting in the groove (it takes a little longer than it used to) and it felt good. It was nice to meet Sherry Boyd, Galax area DJ and M.C. extraordinaire, for the first time. She complimented us on our shows and our last CD, It’s My Turn, and we made plans for a studio interview in the near future.
One of the highlights of the day was getting to see Mr. and Mrs. Kitchen, still feeling well enough to vist the stage area to listen to the music. Mrs. Kitchen proudly proclaimed her age at 95 (I’d be proud, too!) and looked much as I remember when we were last there 14 years ago.
It was a little disappointing to see the crowd down from what it was in the 1990’s, but I’m sure if anyone can rebuild the festival, it would be Norman Adams and Tony Anderson.