On Sunday at 7 p.m., Ohio University will host a Mountain Stage Live event at Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium. Mountain Stage is a radio program based in Charleston, West Virginia, that broadcasts weekly live performances across approximately 280 NPR radio stations, including WOUB every Saturday night from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m..
The concert will feature big names in music like Wilco, Guy Davis, Peter Case and Garrison Starr. The event will be hosted by Kathy Mattea and introduced by the WOUB director of radio, Rusty Smith.
Smith has introduced this event in the past and said that his favorite part is enjoying the show afterward.
“I’m kind of nervous getting up in front of a lot of human beings,” Smith said. “I do okay by myself in my little room on the radio, but standing in front of folks is different. But then I get to sit down and watch the good stuff.”
While the concerts are typically recorded at the Charleston Civic Center, the company does occasional performances on the road, with this year being their 16th time traveling to Athens.
“It’s a show away from home so to speak, but at this point, Athens has become one of our second homes,” said Adam Harris, the executive producer of Mountain Stage.
Harris credits this sense of familiarity with the team at Ohio University Performing Arts for working to create the most conducive environment possible for the Mountain Stage staff and the visiting artists.
Along with the comfortability of Athens, there are many other reasons that the radio show enjoys working with the college town. The Athens venue offers more seating than their home in Charleston, which will allow a greater number of people to enjoy the performance. Harris also believes that many people would accurately describe Athens as a “music town,” which makes it all the better for talented artists to convene in a location like this.
The staff at Ohio University Performing Arts and Concert Series views the relationship as equally symbiotic. The director of that program, Andrew Holzaepfel, believes that having Mountain Stage perform in Athens is an incredible opportunity for the town to expand its musical palette.
“Everytime the audience walks out, I know that most of them have added somebody to their Spotify playlist, just because they were there to see (the show),” said Holzaepfel.
Holzaepfel also believes that OU students and the surrounding community members are a consistently enthusiastic audience for events like these.
“Our audiences have always been great for radio, they’re very loud and engaged in the show, so I think [Mountain Stage] usually leave[s] here with a very good show to broadcast later,” said Holzaepfel.
The performances typically last between 2.5-3 hours and are edited down to a 2-hour radio show that is broadcasted sometime after the event. In this case, the Athens Mountain Stage show will be the first edition of the fall season, meaning the recording will air a few months from now. However, the runtime will be slightly altered for this show, since Wilco agreed to perform a 45-minute set as opposed to the typical 30 minutes.
Mountain Stage is about to celebrate its 40th year of introducing music to radio listeners.
“(We want) to help the world discover new music. We feature a variety of styles and that formula has served us well,” said Harris.
This “formula” typically features genres from folk music to jazz to alternative rock to world music. Harris also has another goal in mind: to enlighten the nation about West Virginia.
“We want to improve the image of West Virginia and not only invite people here but give them a reason to stay and hope they have a good time and come back,” said Harris.
The actual experience of witnessing a live Mountain Stage show is an important facet of the company’s mission. These performances are meant to expand the audience's perception of what a concert can be.
“The experience is really…cool because the audience is getting a behind-the-scenes (of) a live radio show being recorded,” said Holzaepfel.
According to Holzaepfel and Smith, the event will be replete with “on air” signs on either side of the stage, along with classic reaction indicators.
Due to the prominent nature of the featured artists, the show sold out almost immediately. One of the most remarkable aspects of the lineup is that Wilco reached out to Mountain Stage asking to be a part of the show, which is a testament to the atmosphere of the events.
Harris said that the best part of these shows is enjoying the communal atmosphere of the audience.
“There’s something energizing and invigorating about being in a room full of folks watching a performance and appreciating it in the same room together, and hearing the response that our artists get from the live audience is something that still gives me chills and it makes me proud of what we do,” said Harris.