Mountain Music Concert Series Offers Escape from Summer Heat

Jul 19, 2015

An annual summer concert series held in the mountains outside Morgantown has become a favorite destination for musicians and fans alike. The venue’s high elevation often provides a respite from hot and humid weather, making it a fun, family-friendly experience.

 

Telling stories and interacting with the crowd are what Hillbilly Gypsies front man Trae Buckner appreciates most about the Mountain Music Concert Series at Chestnut Ridge Park. 

 

The Hillbilly Gypsies' Jamie Lyn Buckner (from left) and her husband, Trae, and Dave Asti play during a show at the Mountain Music Concert Series at Chestnut Ridge Park & Campground.
Credit Jesse Wright / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

The five-piece band from Fairmont have played their brand of foot-stomping bluegrass at Chestnut Ridge almost every summer since the series began, in 2004. The stage that hosts the series’ bands sits at the bottom of an old sledding hill surrounded by tall trees, giving it the acoustic feeling of an amphitheater.

“Oh, it’s excellent,” Fred Crozier said. He’s the mandolin player with Halftime String Band, a three-piece acoustic group from Morgantown. Crozier said Chestnut Ridge Park is one of his favorite venues.

 

“The sound is really good because it’s kind of a bowl with the trees here and there’s a flat area down in front for dancing. And you always see children large and small out there dancing during the show, so it’s really fun to play here and watch the crowd.”

Kids play at the top of an old sledding hill above the stage at Chestnut Ridge Park.
Credit Jesse Wright / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

5 Degrees Cooler

Chestnut Ridge Park & Campground is off Interstate 68, 10 miles east of Morgantown. The park is nestled up in the mountains between Coopers Rock State Forest and the West Virginia University Research Forest, giving it an advantage over other venues during the summer.

 

Steve Berry and his wife, Karen, have been coming to shows at Chestnut Ridge for the past five years. They were among the crowd on the slope waiting for Halftime String Band to begin their show. 

 

“It’s always a few degrees cooler than it is down at the bottom of the hill at Cheat. Cheat Lake, it’s always about 5 degrees difference, cooler,” Steve Berry said.

 

The sledding hill is perched above a playground and pond, where a lifeguard watches over the kids splashing around in the cool water. People often bring coolers and blankets to the show so they can eat dinner while enjoying the music as the sun slowly sets. 

A view of the pond from beside the stage at Chestnut Ridge Park.
Credit Jesse Wright / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Dogs are allowed, as long as they’re on a leash and the hill provides a place where kids can roll around, dance and play.

 

Family Atmosphere

Crozier said that family-focused atmosphere keeps the bands coming back year after year.

 

“It’s a great venue for all of the local bands to come and play and there’s been a more diverse lineup of bands over the years,” he said.

 

The concert series mainly draws on musicians from the Appalachian region who play bluegrass, newgrass and americana — like Romney-based Lonesome Highway.

 

An early summer storm drenched the campground and forced Lonesome Highway to play their June show indoors this year. But for the crowd, a summer storm doesn’t necessarily mean the show is over. 

 

Lonesome Highway play Saturday, June 20, at the Chestnut Ridge Park dining hall at rain from the remnants of Tropical Storm Bill comes down outside.
Credit Jesse Wright / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

  Rain or Shine

When the weather is bad enough to keep people indoors, the park has a rain venue — the campground dining hall. The dining hall has an open layout with benches and picnic tables, but there’s plenty of room for dancing, too. The wood floors and paneling seem to lend a richness to the sound that the outdoor space doesn’t.

 

Banjo player John Arnold is one of Lonesome Highway’s founding members. He said he doesn’t mind playing indoors.

 

“We’ve been together for 19 years as a band and played music for 30 years, so we’ve found that when rain happens or some event happens that changes what you have to do, it’s sometimes better,” Arnold said. “I love inside like this. It’s a little more intimate and you can kind of get involved with the crowd a little more, so we’re kind of looking forward to, what an awesome place to have it.”

 

Huddled Around the Stage

The Hillbilly Gypsies’ Trea Buckner said that when they’re outside and a storm hits, sometimes the band will keep playing anyway.

 

“And you know some of the crowd would leave, but we just turned off the sound system and everybody huddled around the stage and that really made a nice, intimate, fun — you know, the rest of the night was all acoustic — but it sure was fun to have everybody kinda huddled up around the stage.”

 

Eleven years into the Mountain Music Concert Series, musicians like Buckner say that the friendly vide and family atmosphere, rain or shine, is what keeps it going strong.

 

Children dance to a Hillbilly Gypsies tune in front of the stage at Chestnut Ridge Park.
Credit Jesse Wright / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

If You Want To Go

Concert series shows are held from 6-8:30 p.m. on most Saturdays through August. Tickets cost $5 person and children under 6 get in free. Each ticket gets entered into a raffle drawing. Hot dogs, hamburgers and the like are available for sale during the shows. 

 

Chestnut Ridge Park is planning a bluegrass festival as the final send-off of the year. Held on Aug. 29, it will feature groups like Halftime String Band, Circa Blue, Logantown, among others.

 

Music for the audio version of this story is courtesy of the Hillbilly Gypsies, Halftime String Band and Lonesome Highway.