A small town’s music venue is a labor of love
Dusty Anderson built his 150-seat music hall in a part of central West Virginia so remote, there are probably more deer than people and only one paved highway.
But musicians and listeners have come for eight seasons to Anderson’s beautiful all-wood creation. Acoustic bands from across the state are keen to play there, drawn by the intimate setting, enviable acoustics and attentive audiences.
The hall’s in hibernation till spring — Anderson has drained the pipes so they don’t freeze — and people are already telling the Andersons how much they miss the concerts.
From late April to early October, West Virginians drive as much as two hours to the tiny community of Jerry Run in Webster County to hear live music on Saturday nights and some Fridays. For $5 ($3 for kids) they can sit downstairs or in the balcony beneath a vaulted roof and listen, mostly to bluegrass but sometimes gospel, country, folk or acoustic rock.
At shows, Anderson acts as sound man; his wife, Renee, handles concessions; and his mother, Amelia, sells tickets. His father, Judd, mows the acreage around the hall. They live in two houses across the road.
Jerry Run consists of a Methodist church, a woodworking shop, a building that’s idle, the music hall and about 25 houses, almost all scattered on a mountainside and out of sight. Blink and you’ll miss it. There’s a state park nearby but no real town for 22 miles.
Years ago, Anderson, a carpenter and jack of all trades who plays bass on the side, started saying a local venue was needed for music. There was none in this unusually poor county, which has only 9,400 people. Unlike much of West Virginia, which relies on coal, the main industry here is logging.
Then Anderson and his wife, a teacher at the little pre-kindergarten to eighth-grade Hacker Valley School nearby, helped stage a series of benefit concerts to save the school from consolidation. The concerts, held in the gym, raised thousands of dollars. Their success convinced Anderson that a community music theater could make a go of it.
He studied acoustics, made drawings and a scale model, and in 1995 hired a man to help pour the foundation. He worked on the project whenever he could. Many local people pitched in for a few hours at a time, but usually he worked alone, and progress was slow. Along the way he also constructed a bunkhouse, sleeping eight to 10 people, for visiting bands and a smaller cabin for tourists.
For the hall he built and raised 12 trusses from the floor to the 21-foot-high ceiling. “I would wait till someone came by with a four-wheel-drive or real low-geared truck and talk them into pulling it up,” he said.
Then a neighbor with a tractor told Anderson that when a truss was ready to sound two short blasts and one long one on a car horn and he’d come. The neighbor raised the last two.
Anderson traded his labor for 12,000 board feet of poplar from a lumber mill and paid a homeowner less than half-price for a flatbed truck’s worth of shingles. A musician friend who was a night watchman at a college alerted him that they were replacing the seats in the science building. Anderson made three or four trips to haul the old seats home.
It took him 10 years to complete the hall, which he calls one-of-a-kind architecturally. By then, 2003, he was already arranging the first concerts at the Jerry Run Summer Theater.
Attendance averages about 90 people a show, though a few have sold out. The crowd is mostly older people who grew up on bluegrass and gospel music, and their grandchildren can sometimes be found playing down by the creek. Some fans don’t miss a Saturday night all season.
They like the music, the corny jokes onstage, the chance to talk to other people at the break and the musicians after the show, and the Anderson clan’s friendliness to everyone. Dusty and Renee seem to know everyone by name and like to talk, and Renee makes a mean hot dog for $1. Judd Anderson says some people joke, “We’ve come out for dinner tonight too.”
Rose Ann Cowger, a local crafter, calls the concert series “a service to the community.” Previously, hearing live music meant driving a long way. There are few gathering places in Webster County apart from the county fair and annual Woodchoppers Festival.
Those events are a long way off. Just the other week, the area got 16 inches of snow, so Webster County will, as it always does, hunker down for the winter and wait for spring, when Anderson’s little concert hall will be filled with music once more.
Slavin writes for The Times.