By ANN ALI ∙ email@example.com
PETERSBURG — Music is a lot like religion in West Virginia.
It connects people to their past, grounds them in the present and puts people on common ground.
And like most believers, musicians want to spread their gospel as much as possible.
Country Store Opry found a home in an old country store building in 1967 in Pansy. The weekly show was a night of music put together by friends who simply enjoyed making music together.
The building's owner, Ernie Mullenax, died in February 2004, which left the show without a home until the organizers decided to take the show on the road to different locations throughout the Potomac Highlands.
"It started out as a few people who liked to get together and play music," said Darlene Nelson, whose husband, Wendell Nelson, is one of the founding members of Country Store Opry. "I don't know if any of them believed it could last 45 years."
These days the Opry can be seen and heard in the auditorium at Pendleton County High School in Franklin, the Landes Arts Center in Petersburg and The Bottling Works in Romney depending on which Saturday.
The Potomac Highlands isn't a very populated area, but that doesn't stop tour buses from coming to the area to see the seven-piece band that comes together from several towns in the area, and sometimes those faces change throughout the years.
The Opry doesn't play every single Saturday, and the summer schedule stays a little empty so members can enjoy area festivals, fairs, family reunions and vacations that cause a dip in spectators as well. The shows run from 7-9:30 p.m., with a short intermission.
And what might be the most important part of the Opry is the music it brings to life and keeps alive each Saturday.
"It's been a fun thing, and a good thing for the community," Nelson said. "And it's keeping classic country music alive — George Jones, Conway Twitty, Patsy Cline.
"There's a market for it."
Michael Lipton with the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame pointed out the worth of the Opry and local venues like it throughout the state.
"Not only do they preserve the music that is such an important part of West Virginia's heritage, but they continually introduce ‘our' music to new audiences — both from West Virginia and out of state," Lipton said. "Appalachian music is seeing a great resurgence, and many young musicians from across the country are studying and emulating the music that many West Virginians grew up with. And the Country Store Opry is one of the venues that is helping keep that music alive."
The current players come from different backgrounds and have been making music throughout their lives.
Tammy Western, a native of Grant County, started playing piano at age 6, played music in her church and then with various local groups. She joined the CSO in 2001. Wendell Nelson, who has recorded in Nashville, lives in Franklin. He started playing acoustic guitar and singing in a family bluegrass group at the age of 13. Carolyn Simmons grew up on a farm in Friends Run, just outside Franklin. She also grew up playing music with her family and in church.
Grey Cassell grew up on a farm near Cass, and as a child his doctor recommended the harmonica to strengthen his lungs to fight off double pneumonia. Cassell lives on a farm in Brandywine. He retired after 35 years working in education. Harold Cupp, a Virginia native, moved to Sugar Grove after retiring in 2004, and he brought his flat top guitar skills with him. Cupp has a bluegrass background, and in the late 1970s his band appeared as guests on the Opry. Jeff Broschart, who has played drums since the age of 8, teaches drums from his home studio near Beverly.
They players don't receive much money, and they all have to travel for each show, but the Opry remains a value in entertainment. Tour groups are charged a little more, and Nelson explained that it was to give a break to the local fans who support the show regularly.
All the details of the shows can be found at countrystoreopry.com.
During the months of July and August Country Store Opry is on summer break.
All shows start at 7 p.m.
Pendleton Co. High School
147 Maple Ave., Franklin
The Bottling Works
426 E. Main St., Romney
Landes Arts Center
18 Mountain View St., Petersburg