New spins on Appalachian music leads to cultural understanding

By: Clarissa Cottrill

Appalachia is more than a stretch of land named for mountains, it is a culture with deep roots and its music tells a story foreign to the rest of the country.

Appalachian music is generally thought of as folky, bluegrass and even country. It historically draws from anglo-celtic immigrants that were the early settlers of the area and forefathers of the Appalachian culture. The sound that most think of is the old-time, banjo driven sound which is still around but has evolved, giving it a chance to bring more people in.

New artists are emerging on the alternative scene that draw from this classic sound, and stations like U92 at WVU are one of the few giving airtime. In the past few years artists like Lily and the Tigers, The Avett Brothers and Old Crowe Medicine Show have played on WVU’s campus, drawing in students from all backgrounds.

New takes on Appalachian music gives the melodies of the past a living, breathing and dynamic persona that can apply to more diverse groups of people.  The genre that is so specific to Appalachia, coal country and the past comes out in a new way that can appeal to younger listeners.

Students at WVU both from the state and from other areas are getting a chance to get at least some insight into our cultural history. It may be overly updated or not authentic , but it leads to something greater. Even a hint of appreciation and understanding may bring Appalachian culture into consideration for more people.

Currently Appalachia is filled with poverty, unemployment and unfulfilled needs like health care, education and even putting food on the table. People in the South and in our section of Appalachia, Coal Country, are being credited heavily with the rise of President-elect Donald Trump because of his rhetoric that he’s going to save us and we’ve been forgotten by the government.

Some on the outside of this area may not understand that, but many of us on the inside do even if we don’t agree. People in Appalachia feel like they  have no place in this world and that everyone is moving forward without them. While the arguments for the needs for innovation and progress are all valid, the cultural side could use some understanding. While music may seem like a minor thing, it is artistic expression and Appalachian music – old and new– are windows into where some of our people are coming from. If more people could understand even a minor part of that, perhaps Appalachia wouldn’t seem so off the map.

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There’s No Place Like Home

Looking at the music scene in Morgantown through the eyes of those who know it best- the artists. 

By Sarah Marino

As a kid who genuinely loved music, West Virginia did not strike me as a place where you could go to see good bands. Being 15, I remember my mom being a trooper and driving me to Pittsburgh to see all my favorite bands, or sitting in the hot sun at Warped Tour all day until I was old enough to drive myself.

Jared Miller, who is a native of Elkins, West Virginia, and also guitarist in the band Worst Kept Secret, agreed upon his first impression of Morgantown- the music scene wasn’t ‘all that.’

“I heard of this legendary music scene. It was just kind of stale. The same 4 or 5 bands would play every show,” Miller said.

This is what inspired him and the rest of Worst Kept Secret to start a band of their own, but what has changed?

Everything. Within the last couple years Morgantown has opened it’s doors to many outside acts coming from across the nation- and local staple 123 Pleasant Street alongside the newer, bigger venue, Mainstage Morgantown have sparked a musical revolution like none other.

But there are the downsides. Local rapper, Unkl Dadi (also know was Evan Michael Snider) is no stranger to the negativity associated with being from WV. People often associate WV with being hillbilly, and a place where people practice incest.

A veteran of the Marines, many did not even know West Virginia was a state- and made fun of him for wanting to be a rapper. This is why he coined Unkl Dadi, to make light of the situation.

Now attending school at Full Sail University in Orlando for his masters in business entertainment, Snider is no stranger to bigger markets of music, unlike the relatively small area that is Morgantown.

“The biggest thing about the music scene is building the entertainment industry. Especially hip hop, like there isn’t even a hip hop station [in West Virginia] – I think creating an entertainment industry would bring in tourists,” he said.

However he does see better things happening, with the opening of Mainstage, people who might tour in Orlando end up in Morgantown.

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Unkl Dadi and Machine Gun Kelly, via Facebook

Snider also believes hip hop is really an underrepresented genre in West Virginia in general because the state is very “traditional” and “separated from the Urban Culture.” He says, that can work to our advantage though because he considers it “untapped ground.”

Drawing crowds to a show poses different challenges for any act in Morgantown, and for various reasons, “For one, people would rather go to a house party or a bonfire. They might not have the money to go see a band and buy drinks at a bar. I love WV- but there’s no denying there is a drug epidemic. I think that’s another thing keeping people from living a regular life,” he said.

He believes, however, that relating to these people is the first step in integrating the culture, and truly inspiring others.

People write West Virginia off very easily, in Snider’s instance- but it’s not limited to that.

Naturally, Snider wants to inspire others, and spark the mind and wants to see big things for the Morgantown music scene.

“I Would like to see, record labels, managers, people who are trying to make the dream come alive. I wanna see doors to Hollywood open in Morgantown,” he said.

The good and the bad might manifest themselves differently to other musicians, though many may stay the same. For Worst Kept Secret, they see a rise in demand for music of all genres.

In fact they feel they really don’t subscribe to any one genre, though they did say they were Nascore, an original genre for those who like NASCAR, cheap beer, and strip clubs, but maybe take that with a grain of salt.

Ben Geelhaar (guitar), Shawn Fisher (vocals), and Jared Miller (guitar) are only three of the five man band that is Worst Kept Secret, sans Pat Cole, their bassist, and drummer Ryan Schuauman. The guys have been playing as a band for two years, but have been friends and have been playing together since they were kids.

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Worst Kept Secret

The guys think there’s lots of good bands of every genre and “If you’re a music fan, there’s something for you here,” said Miller.

Not only do local bands like The Manor and Friends pack houses, but people will come from all over to see big name bands from out of town play too. Worst Kept Secret is a big believer in friendship, and an organic following.

We try to work really hard, so many bands are just worried about Facebook likes and getting famous,” Miller said.

The band also wants a more inclusive music scene, where you can go to a show and see different bands of different genres. They are happy to play with just about anyone.

Geelhaar says they’ve met and played with so many awesome bands, and it’s not meant to be a “rat race, we just want to be friends, have a good time, and play music.”

As proficient as I am in music, there are plenty of homegrown bands Worst Kept Secret knows from all over the state I have never heard of. This lends itself to networking, and their acceptance of playing with anyone.

“Just booking shows with metal bands, we wouldn’t play with bands like We Are Funhouse or A Story Told,” Fisher said.

Worst Kept Secret acknowledges there are a lot of really good bands in the area, but they also believe, like Unkl Dadi,because of where we are they are easily discounted.

“West Virginia is a melting pot for good music, and people neglect it because it’s West Virginia. There are bands here that can compete with everyone,” said Miller.

The band wants to see people become more open minded to going to a show, rather than going out to a club on a Friday night. They want to put Morgantown on the map with music, and see the potential in many local acts.

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Poster of WKS most recent show, happening Saturday at 123 Pleasant Street

“Genre does not define quality,” said Geelhaar. These guys think what’s important is remembering where you came from, and agree there’s nothing like playing a hometown show.

“I go to 123 I feel like I come home. Those people love me there and I love there,” said  Geelhaar. Their fans have proven that they’re also friends, family, and diehards.

“Always in the back of my head is where you came from, you were that kid in the crowd,” said Miller.

Overall, what they hope for the future of the music scene in Morgantown is respect between bands, building the music scene, and of course a genuine love and appreciation of all music.

The Morgantown Music Veteran

By Andrew Perez

There are some genres that are not meant to to be given a modern twist. Dan Cunningham would argue that Appalachia music is not one of those genres.

Cunningham is an accomplished musician formerly playing for the Grammy nominated Phil Keaggy Band. While that offers some prominence, Cunningham spends most of his time playing live music in the greater Morgantown area. A place where he has been playing since 1990.

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Cunningham with the Phil Keaggy Band (second from left)

Some might stop and think why would someone with that much musical pedigree spend their time in a college town in Morgantown?

Cunningham is a live performance veteran in these parts. His genre may not be the most popular with this towns demographic, but he makes it work.

Cunningham’s style of music is described as  “New Appalachian music that incorporates the essential simplicity of the rural mountains, drawing on both ‘primitive’ and more recent folk styles.  At it’s root is his accomplished finger-picking style guitar sound and songs influenced by the story-telling folk tradition.”

While his style is by no means generic, Cunningham has learned how to keep getting gigs. You don’t perform in the same place for as long as he has without knowing what the people want. Checkout the map below for the places he frequents the most.

“The audience, and by extension, the venue owner has to be pleased. You have got know what the owner/manager of the establishment is looking for,” Cunningham said. “In some cases, the goal is actually background music while the patterns dine and socialize. The music and show still needs to be entertaining for those want to be entertained.”

It might be warranted to say that Appalachian music and a town full of college kids don’t necessarily mix. However, Cunningham uses his unique fingerpicking style and a combination of familiar tunes and New Appalachia to keep the crowd in it. See below for an example of fingerpicking.

I usually get a good reception with a mixture of Appalachian influenced music and familiar tunes bent to a fingerpicking guitar style. I try to make the music fun for the most part. Hopefully, the crowd enjoys it even if it is not their favorite style.

As a musician, marketing yourself is important. Cunningham has his website that includes a performance schedule,  his background, tutorials and more. He also uses Youtube to get himself out there. He has a channel with 45 videos and 67 subscribers. According to Cunningham, he get hundreds of viewers a week.

“I’ve tried a number of different strategies, including paid promotion. I think it really helps to be on tour and exposing your music to different audiences every night. I was in touring bands in the 70’s and that seemed to be vital, Cunningham said. “Since I do not tour, I find the best way market is to cultivate fans over the internet that you pick up through Youtube videos, Facebook, and your website. It also helps to have loyal friends in other cities to champion your music”

 

 

DNC: A local rapper’s take on the 2016 election

By: Clarissa Cottrill

One area rapper is expressing his opinions on racism, public controversy and the 2016 presidential election through his music.

The results of this year’s presidential election have been nothing short of controversial,  spurring protests and causing many to question how much of a racist, bigoted ideology exists in the United States. Recently in West Virginia, two Clay County officials are under fire for making blatantly racist comments about First Lady Michelle Obama online and one musician is speaking out.

Cameron  Williams, also known as Elias Music on Soundcloud, saw news coverage on the incident and felt prompted to speak out through his medium, music.

“This entire election season was inspiration,” Williams said. “A few nights after the election I read a story about two Clay County officials who called Michelle Obama an “ape in heels” and the future First Lady classy, dignified, and beautiful. As to say our current First Lady isn’t. It just disgusted me that this man’s hate speech and bigotry has empowered others to speak out in the same manner.”

Williams wrote DNC (Dignity ‘N Class), released the track on Soundcloud and promoted it on his Facebook, which seems fitting since social media has played such a major role in this election and its aftermath.

In the song, Williams addresses his rejection of the President-elect and his bigoted, racist platforms, his perspective as a black man and a perceived regression the United States has taken by electing Donald Trump.

“I don’t acknowledge him (Trump) as my president in the song. And it’s not because of his policies and his plans as president,” he said. “He goes against so much of what I was taught to be right and moral as kid; he encourages violence, he’s extremely misogynistic.”

Williams is not alone in his view. Protests have erupted across the country, particularly on college campuses and even here  at West Virginia University.

 

With so much controversy and stimuli, Williams said this election has been particularly challenging as an artist.

“This election has been exhausting as an artist. I have so many thoughts racing around my head constantly and I can’t express them fast enough,” he said. “It’s like white noise up there.”

As we move further past Election Day, and closer to Inauguration Day even more uncertainties await U.S. Citizens, particularly minorities who are fearful of a Trump administration. In the midst of that, Williams hopes this song and other music can bridge a gap that’s growing between Americans.

” I just want to spread love and positivity through my music. And I hope this song inspires others to voice their opinion and be heard during a time when our nation is really divided,” he said.

To the Stage

Local favorites The Manor and Friends talked with me about how they prepare themselves for a live performance.

By: Sarah Marino

Deep in the recesses of the neighborhood of South Park lies a house- but not just any house. Upon entering you might question if you’re in someone’s living room, but for seven musicians it’s not just where they live, it’s where they practice.

The Manor and Friends have been a household name in Morgantown for quite some time. Ask any local show goer they would at least tell you they’ve heard of them, if not seen them perform, and if they haven’t you’ve more than likely seen their stickers stuck to street signs and building walls all over downtown Morgantown.

A recent line up change has happened in the last couple months, but it’s nothing negative and to guitarist James Darragh it wasn’t starting over, it was starting fresh. Something all the guys are excited about.

Joining Darragh, a full house including Ivan Gonzalez (bass), JC White (percussion), Andy Flanagan (Drums), and Nate Morgan (vocals), and that’s not even the entire lineup. Missing was Nick Adams, another guitarist (who showed up a bit later), leaving only Jason Leech, who plays keys, out of conversation.

If you ask anyone of the guys what genre they would considering themselves, they would give you three words: Jam, funk, and rock– and it can go in any particular order. However, they do pride themselves on being able to play just about anything.

 

Over the summer the guys played at a couple music festivals, and they are just now coming off of a four gig stretch- which calls for rehearsing, playing a show- then back to rehearse some more.

The band is also playing November  18th at the Metropolitan Theater in efforts to support the flood victims in southern West Virginia.

With such a busy schedule, practice is essential. Tuesdays and Thursdays are their go to days for practicing, though between class and work it can be hard for them to meet before the sun goes down.

Luckily for them, they have understanding neighbors who also enjoy music- and also are neighbors with local band Worst Kept Secret, so nobody on the block is a stranger to rehearsal.

With the recent addiction of JC and Andy, the band is coming into their own with their new lineup, learning the material is one of the keys to success for any music act. “We’re learning their catalog and at the same time getting to know them and the music,” said Flanagan.

Every show has it’s own set of songs, and the guys try to tailor to who they’re opening for, or who they’re playing with. “We’re pretty laid back as to what order we play in. we want to add more so we can keep it fresh each show,” said Darragh.

Being in a jam band, what people might not understand is though songs have a structure, they might not always come out the same at every performance. Each time performed, it can be a variation, but this is what they’re good at.

“We’re pretty laid back as to what order we play in. we want to add more so we can keep it fresh each show,” said Darragh.

Sure, there are songs with a structure- but not every song does, and there are times where they wing it, “We have a starting and ending point but I don’t know how we’re going to get there in the end,” said Gonzalez.

The guys agree if they were to do that same structure 100 times they would get sick of their own songs. It’s always changing. It’s never a solid product. One person can change in the moment, and the rest follow suit- and sometimes the product is nothing short of amazing.

They said they can play the same song two weekends in a row, but they can go two completely different ways. Gonzalez calls it, “Being comfortable enough with the foundation and building on top of it.”

Coming off of a busy weekend, the guys played one gig, then played one the next Night at Mainstage Morgantown.

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The (not) current line up of The Manor and Friends via The Daily Athenaeum

Since the new line up the guys haven’t had a chance to stop, building momentum and playing gig after gig. After Friday, they’re excited to have some time to not have to practice for a show.

The day of a show is really about the brotherhood these guys share.  Something they’ve done recently is have a meal as a band, something they want to start doing before every show. They will practice and make sure everyone is feeling good about the songs.

Building confidence (but not too much confidence) is another part in preparing to take the stage.

“As soon as it starts you’re kind of in the zone,” says Morgan.

There are those nerves and high energy, and they all feel that energy from each other, and from the people in the crowd already getting hyped. They agree it’s nerves, and adrenaline- weather or not your ready it’s going to happen.

After a show, they guys love to hear how they did- weather it was good or bad, ” I Would hope for more criticism than praise. It always feels good when someone has something specific to say- weather it’s criticism or praise,” Darragh said.

However, the uncertainty of what’s next is part of what a jam band thrives off of- and somehow it ends up working. “Somehow it all comes together right when it needs to. Weather it be the day of the gig or 15 minutes before the gig” said Flanagan.

“Most of the fun is exploring that area where not knowing is going to happen next. The unknown is the most fun part of this,” Adams said.

Though some would argue certainty is key to a good set- anyone in The Manor and Friends would probably disagree, “If you’re certain about anything you’re probably not going to get anywhere,” said Darragh. So far, this philosophy has worked out for them, and love it or hate it this is who The Manor and Friends are.

Coming off their busy month, in the future they hope to play some festivals in the summer time and getting physical material on YouTube. Recently, they even shot a 360 video. Next year is shaping up to be a busy one, hopefully with shows out of state, and getting some studio time to record.

Catch The Manor and Friends Friday November 18th at the Metropolitan Theater, check out their Spotify or find them on Facebook. They even have their own website themanorandfriends.com.

Old School, The Best School

By Andrew Perez

U92 F.M, the college radio station of WVU, has been using vinyls since it’s inception and has not looked back since.

When most think of radio, they think of digital music and new technology. However at U92 FM, The Moose, vinyls have been a staple at the station forever. Even when the CD revolution took radio by storm, U92 weathered it out and stuck with vinyls.

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Vinyl shelf at U92

Not only has the radio station survived on vinyl, but U92 was recently named the Four-year college radio station of the year from the College Media Association. According to U92 FM’s General manager Matt Fouty, they might be the only college radio station still using vinyls.

“It’s unheard of, vinyl really went out of style in the mid to late 90’s,” Fouty said. “Thats when the CD transition took hold.”

While being a pioneer presents challenges, sticking with the old while virtually everyone else is switching to the new fad takes commitment. U92 has a vast collection that needs to be housed and updated frequently.

Vinyl has had a resurgence in recent years, and there is definitely a market for it. There are stores like Retrotique and Vintage Videos & Games in Morgantown, but they bank on the nostalgia aspect for sales. U92, a place where vinyl never went out of style,  uses online retailers like Amazon to expand their collection.

The sound quality of vinyls compared to CD’s has always been a debate. While the case of improved technology for CD’s is valid, vinyls have there benefits. According to Fouty, vinyls provide more versatility than CDs.

“Vinyl has a wider response as far as the audio spectrum goes. So you hear audio frequencies you normally wouldn’t hear on a CD,” Fouty said. “You hear frequencies that are lower, you have a deeper, punchier bass response. actually  Digital media is the worst when it comes to quality.”

If your ever curious as to what vinyl sounds like, flip to 91.7 F.M on your radio. Whether the difference is distinguishable or not, the station itself has distinguished it self as one of the best college radio stations in the country using vinyl for its entire existence.

What a WVU music industry degree will actually get you

By. Clarissa Cottrill

West Virginia University offers a multitude of degree programs, and  the School of Music is described as an option to “prepare students for a future in music,” but it is debatable what that means.

A major criticism of fine arts degrees like music is that they’re useless, and cost wise, people are better off pursuing those fields independently if your goal is to be a genuine, full-time musician.

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The Grimsby Institute

But, these days people are looking at doing more than playing the harp when it comes to earning a music degree.

The WVU School of Music has and 87 percent  acceptance rate, which is 20 percent higher than most other schools. To balance that, such a large rate of students have several choices on what musical path to pursue.

Students can pursue degrees in; Music performance and composition (which is what most people probably imagine when they hear music degree), music industry, music therapy  and music education.

The music industry degree touts an extensive list of possible careers ranging from music production to concert promotion. That’s a long way from playing with an orchestra, but for many students it can be a way to combine passion and profit.

The degree program is relatively new, but such a program has outlets for internships and possibly higher employment stats depending on career paths. So, while some WVU School of Music degrees have the potential to bring bleak outcomes, the Music Industry degree may set students apart.