Growing up in Hurricane WV was a real blessing in my life. Hurricane and surrounding towns were a hotbed of bluegrass music lovers, with a wealth of fine musicians. I remember as a young man, when my dad took me to a little establishment outside Hurricane called Wesfalls to hear a fiddle player by the name of Clark Kessinger perform. Kessinger played with only a guitar backup, and I remember sitting there being overwhelmed by the sounds that came from that little stage.
Later in the 1970s Westfalls changed hands and became the Rose Garden Inn. The new owners, Troy and Connie Dunaway, were lovers of bluegrass music and decided to take a chance on bringing in a band for the weekend. They brought in JD Crow and the New South and it blossomed from there into a huge success.
For the next few years the Rose Garden was a stopping point for top notch bluegrass bands as well as local groups. The Bluegrass Cardinals, Lost and Found, The Virginia Squires, and The Lonesome River band are just a few that made the Rose Garden a regular appearance on their schedules each year.
I feel fortunate to have lived so close to a place that brought in top notch entertainment. The Rose Garden had a certain charm to it and the musicians that played there became friends with many locals. Those friendships still remain today even though the Rose Garden does not. When the bands came in, they were more than happy to get a picker or singer up on stage to play and sing a song or two. This is something that you don’t see so much anymore with the bigger name bands.
I personally made many lasting friendships at the Rose Garden. One such friendship was with Allen Mills. He gave me a copy of all of his albums, and I learned virtually every song that the Lost and Found recorded. On one weekend they were playing Friday night at the Garden, and then on Saturday night in Kentucky. I got there early because I wanted to get a good seat to see the show. When Allen walked through the door, he came and set down at my table and said ”have you learned any of our songs?” I told him that I had, and he smiled and said, “You want to pick with us tonight?” I was shocked but said “sure.”
Steve Wilson, the guitar player that was touring with the Lost and Found at that time, could not make the trip with them that weekend, and Allen needed a fill in. He said “I knew that giving you all those albums would pay off someday.” I played with them that night and even reprised Bubba Chandler’s skit of Martha White. Bubba would don a woman’s dress and blonde wig and act like he was Martha. I added trying to give Gene Parker a peck on the cheek, and the audience went nuts. It must have been OK because they asked me to make the trip to KY the next night and play that show too.
All the bands that came to The Rose Garden seemed to enjoy the relaxed atmosphere and, to me, they just seemed to perform better than when you would see them at a festival or stage show.
Many memories are still fresh in my mind about the Rose Garden, and I believe that this establishment played a huge role in the furtherance of bluegrass music in our corner of West Virginia. In my opinion, there need to be more places like this. I am sure there are small clubs all over the country that feature bluegrass, and this is in no way to take away from the great work that they do. The Rose Garden Inn, just has a special place in my heart, as it does for many others who were able to experience its charm.