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Mountain Stage scarce -- at least in Charleston

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- If you're wondering where "Mountain Stage" has gone, you're not the only one.

West Virginia Public Radio's live performance show has only had a handful of shows in Charleston in 2012, the last being a month ago during FestivALL. Before that, "Mountain Stage" played most of its shows out of town.

That's not likely to change soon, according to executive producer Adam Harris.

"No one is going to be as happy as me to be back in the Culture Center, believe me," Harris said, wearily.

Initially, he thought "Mountain Stage" would be back at its regular home in Charleston by October, but the plans he was working on for a Charleston show fell through.

"I'm back to square one," Harris said this week. The next show in Charleston could be in November, he said, or even December.

"Mountain Stage" currently has six other shows to finalize, including two in Alaska, a pair in Minnesota and one in Ohio. The only scheduled West Virginia show is in Morgantown.

Those dates in August, September and October are already scheduled, but the show is still filling in holes in the guest list - which makes focusing on another show in Charleston more difficult, Harris said.

Taking the show on the road, even out of state, is nothing unusual. 

In 2006, "Mountain Stage" began making an annual trip to Bristol, Va., for the Birthplace of Country Music Alliance event. In 2007, the show went on an extended road trip called the "Moving the Mountain" tour that took it to New York, Philadelphia and Boston, then later to Ann Arbor, Mich., and Vienna, Va.

Last year, they took the show overseas and played the Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow, Scotland.

Traveling is good for "Mountain Stage," Harris said.

"The short answer is it's fortuitous for us to go on the road. Every time we take the show somewhere, it saves us some money," he said.

When it's away from home, "Mountain Stage" doesn't have to pay the rental on the performance hall and some of the costs associated with that. It also doesn't have to pay for lodging and other odds and ends associated with the guests, which add up.

"As soon as we pack the truck, we save a little bit of money," he said. "It costs a little bit of money for us to take the show on the road, but for the most part we save a little more."

Reducing costs, Harris pointed out, is something he has to think about, especially with the economy the way it is and with the climate in public broadcasting.

"It's good for us to remain sustainable. It's helpful to show we're generating more revenue, and the road shows are generating more revenue than ever before."

Harris said that taking the show on the road isn't entirely about money, though he acknowledged there's always room for a little more underwriting and that maybe if "Mountain Stage" had more to work with, it might not look to going on the road so much.

"Making money has never been a goal of 'Mountain Stage,'" he said. "But we don't want to be a total money suck. 'Mountain Stage' is an expensive show to produce, and I think other public radio stations would be pretty surprised at what we accomplish for the money we have."

Aside from revenue, leaving town also offers the show opportunities it can't get in Charleston, too -- like bigger theaters.

More seats equal more revenue, and the show can sometimes attract artists it might not be able to have appear otherwise.

Harris said a lot of critics of "Mountain Stage" are quick to say, "All the good shows are on the road" or "All the good shows are in Morgantown."

And there might be a grain of truth to that. Concert planning often comes down to routing and where a given artist happens to be. Morgantown, for example, is close to Pittsburgh and has better access to the more populous northern states.

It might be easier for "Mountain Stage" to get someone it wants, particularly a better-known performer, if the show happens to be in the neighborhood.

Likewise, certain name-brand artists can suggest a show in their area.

Harris explained, "If someone comes in and says we want to do a show Oct. 14 in Athens and that works in our schedule, we do it. Sometimes, they can only do that show in Athens. They're just not going to be Charleston."

Traveling also helps "Mountain Stage" reconnect with listeners, he said. "Mountain Stage" has more than 120 affiliates across the country.

"People forget we're a radio show."

It's also part of the reason, "Mountain Stage" likes to play around the state as much possible -- to connect with listeners and remind them to tune in Sunday afternoons and Saturday nights on their local public radio station.

"It's shocking how many native West Virginians don't know what 'Mountain Stage' is."

The shows in Morgantown, Huntington and Princeton are meant to help remedy that.

Still, Harris agreed that if "Mountain Stage" considers Charleston its home, fans in Charleston should reasonably expect to see a few shows

"Mountain Stage," he promised, will return to Charleston. Harris hasn't ruled out an October show getting onto the schedule, and if not by October, then maybe by November and certainly by December.

In December, Harris said, the show will host its 30th birthday in advance of its 30th season, which kicks off in January. It's also working on a Christmas-themed show.

"It's looking that way," he said.

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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