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About three years ago, an email correspondence among various music venues and interested folks in southeastern West Virginia floated an idea. The idea was to create something similar to the 333-mile-long heritage music trail in Virginia called The Crooked Road.
There were certainly enough crooked roads in the West Virginia region under consideration, which was the crisscross trail traced by U.S. Route 219 through Monroe, Greenbrier, Pocahontas, Randolph and Tucker counties.
“We coordinated a meeting in November 2012. We started with just contacting a variety of venues and musicians in the five counties that were connected through Route 219,” said Cara Rose, executive director of the Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“We felt like we already had a basic product in place that we could work from. We’ve been meeting since and growing the whole concept.”
The result is the Mountain Music Trail, which now boasts more than 30 partners, “ranging from music venues like the Purple Fiddle in Thomas and Carnegie Hall in Lewisburg, to events like the Pickin’ in Parsons Bluegrass Festival and Brew Skies craft beer and music festival in Canaan Valley.
The trail also includes performers who play regularly in the region, such as the Black Mountain Bluegrass Boys, the Hans Creek String Band and Juanita Fireball and the Continental Drifters, as well as instrument maker Bill Hefner of Hefner Guitars and workshops like Allegheny Echoes in Marlinton and the Augusta Heritage Center in Elkins.
Partners pay $100 a year to be listed on the Mountain Music Trail, whose website, mountainmusictrail.com; Twitter feed, @mtnmusictrail; and Facebook page, facebook.com/mountainmusictrail, broadcast an ongoing lineup of events up and down the trail.
“Of course, economic development is one of the primary reasons we wanted to start this project,” Rose said. “But it’s also about preserving the music. It’s about sharing the music of our region and our culture.”
And not just music, since the trail also intersects with another partner, the Mountain Dance Trail, a project of the Augusta Heritage Center of Davis & Elkins College that highlights square and contra dancing events in the region.
They don’t yet have a highly accurate metric for how much the trail has meant in terms of new visitors to events and venues, but there are some markers for its impact.
“What we do know is that we are getting a lot of website visits. It is a calendar-of-events-based website. So it’s a live calendar, changing every day,” Rose said.
“I think it really is fair to say that people are going from that calendar to walking in the door. I don’t think there’s any question about that. I think venues would tell you they are getting traffic. I don’t think we have anything that could actually measure that specifically right now. But I think we are making some kind of an impact.”
They are considering other measures that might help get a better handle on what the Mountain Music Trail has meant to the area, she said. “It could be a season pass or something like that.”
Website metrics are another measure of its impact, Rose said.
“The venues can measure how many people go from the website to their sites. So, the venues can actually see that whenever they look at their Google Analytics. We see that from our end as well. For instance, the Purple Fiddle or the Brazenhead Inn — those are a couple of venues that regularly show up in the top 10 of referrals back to our site as well. So, there is cross-promotion going on and we can measure that part of it.”
The calendar is weighted toward traditional music and dance and related events in the region. “We do ask that the venues do need to present some form of music that fits our criteria. That includes bluegrass, folk music, gospel, ethnic music tied to our place, such as Irish and whatnot. That kind of entertainment music does need to be part of their overall entertainment presentation,” she said.
“If, for instance, the Opera House here in Marlinton has 12 events listed for the next six months and five of those events fall within the criteria of the music trail, those are the events that get listed on our music trail calendar. The other events that don’t meet the event are not listed on the calendar.”
They are always on the lookout for new members who fit the mission of the trail, said Ned Savage, an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer who has lent a hand to the effort and recently added an Instagram and Google Plus account to the trail’s social media.
“We’re a pretty diverse group, made up of various musicians and venues and festivals and anyone else dedicated to promoting and presenting the traditional music, dance and folkways of the Allegheny Mountain region,” he said.
“We have banded together and are trying to make it easy for folks, whether they’re here in this region or are folks from outside who want to come and enjoy the traditional music of this region,” Savage said.
“We try to make it easy on folks. We put it all in one place, make it obvious what’s happening, and try to get more folks through the doors of these wonderful venues and community events that are happening which don’t necessarily spend a lot of time or effort marketing themselves to folks outside of the area.
“Folks in the community are aware of them, but folks outside of the community haven’t had a good way to know what’s going on. So that’s where we have tried to step in and make it easy to figure out what’s happening.”
John Bright, owner of the Purple Fiddle, has a Mountain Music Trail banner on the side of his establishment. “I’m sure it draws people. I definitely think it will lead to increased business as we go forward.”
Bright said the trail’s emphasis on the area’s traditional music has got him thinking about his bookings. “I think it is going to change part of my business mindset. I think it’s going to force me to pay attention to more bands whose music is steeped in the Appalachian tradition. Who knows, we might even have a square dance.”
(c)2014 The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, W.Va.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.