With everything draped blue and gold, many people view Morgantown as a typical college town, where school spirit is the ethos that sustains.
But the home of West Virginia University is fast becoming a center of eclectic music, art and performance. The town regularly has the opportunity to see fantastic artistic displays, attend cutting-edge performances, and hear all types of traditional and experimental music.
The WVU College of Creative Arts, for example, has a partnership with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra that brings it to campus three times a year. In addition, WVU Arts and Entertainment has long-running collaborations that regularly bring Broadway shows, international dance companies and musicians of all stripes to town.
And with the opening of WVU’s new art museum planned in 2012, Morgantown is poised to become the artistic lynchpin of the region.
All around town, and throughout the calendar, Morgantown offers a wide mix of entertainment and cultural options.
But perhaps the crown jewel of Morgantown’s cultural and artistic life is Mountain Stage, West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s long-running internationally popular radio program.
The Jan. 17 live taping of Mountain Stage is just one recent example of how Mountain Stage gives Mountaineers the chance to soak up a remarkable evening of live performance.
With a lineup that included legends Mark O’Connor, Jorma Kaukonen, and David Bromberg; finger-picking virtuoso Tommy Emmanuel; the DePue Brothers Band’s renowned classical violinists; and infectious up-and-coming bands Among the Oak and Ash and Vetiver, Morgantown was treated to a mix of established and new musical talent that is rare to find.
Mountaineers have the chance often as Larry Groce, Mountain Stage host and artistic director, programs four live show tapings each year for the Lyell B. Clay Concert Theatre in the CAC.
Mountain Stage, normally taped in Charleston, has been coming to Morgantown since 2000, when former WVU President David Hardesty and a group of interested WVU Alumni sought it out as a way promote a broader impression of the University.
“Mountain Stage is a venue to show West Virginia in a different light,” Groce said.
“We’re here, in part, to bust stereotypes of West Virginia and West Virginians musical tastes. West Virginia is more than bluegrass.”
While the artists come to town to be part of Mountain Stage, the Morgantown audience supports them by filling the venue and creating an excitement that is palpable.
The artists, in turn, are awed by the warm welcome.
Andy Cabic, the singer-songwriter who fronts Vetiver, spoke glowingly of the Morgantown audience in particular, “Everyone is super-great and the venue is awesome.”
Vetiver is a San Fransisco-based indie band that plays with acoustic guitar and vocal harmony to surprise and illuminate the audience. Audience members at the Jan. 17 taping heard several other artists using music to break down barriers and free listeners from preconceived notions and tastes.
Morgantown may be just the place to undertake such trials. According to Don Liuzzi, DePue Brothers Band timpanist, college towns typically allow for more “genre-hopping” in musical styles and are more receptive to experimentation and willing to hear old music in a new way.
“I love college audiences. It’s an intelligent crowd and an audience open to new sounds,” Liuzzi says.
The DePue Brothers Band features four brothers, trained as classical violinists, who grew up playing both concertos and fiddle contests, excelling at both.
Liuzzi wants the audience to hear the precision with which the band plays bluegrass, rock-n-roll and folk music and understand the technique and skill is just as demanding as any classical arrangement.
“I want my audience to feel joy. I don’t want them to pigeonhole music,” he said.
Legendary fiddle player and violinist, Marc O’Connor, approaches the audience in a similar way, working through his music to broaden the world of string playing. He uses live performance as a way to educate disparate listeners and make all types of string music less foreign to their ears.
“I have an instructive notion that American string music can have a real forum and take off as a legitimate form,” O’Connor said.
“I’m giving audiences a new way to listen to music by bringing the organized camps of string music together to breakdown musical barriers and make the world of string music less divided.”
According to David Mayfield, Grammy-nominated recording engineer and session guitarist for Among the Oak and Ash, college audiences are more eager to see the show, hear the music, and be entertained. Mayfield contends such audiences are not into the scene that surround musicians, but are more apt to appreciate the work itself, which is different from many venues he plays.
Artists who experience the vibe in Morgantown spread the word that it is a place where risks can be taken and open minds will be met. Many of the musicians at the recent Mountain Stage show commented on the respectful and unpretentious atmosphere, what Larry Groce calls “the spirit of West Virginia.”
Once word gets out, WVU’s reputation as a college town with an artistic heart can only grow.
By Liz Dickinson
WVU News and Information Services
CONTACT: News and Information Services