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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.