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Review: Friends old, new help 'Mountain Stage' mark 30 years with live broadcast

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- "Mountain Stage" closed out their 30th year with a show put together for longtime fans.

The radio show got a decent crowd, though it was by no means a sell-out.

To finish up the year-long celebration, for the first time in almost 20 years, the show was broadcast live over the radio, as well as simulcast on the Internet. Broadcasting the show live, warts and all, seemed like a cute gimmick -- a little nod to some longtime fans who've romanticized about the good ol' days.

The gimmick stopped being so cute after the opening act, Diego Garcia, rolled into town a couple of hours late. The 7 p.m. start got pushed back to give the crew time to run Garcia's band through the very necessary sound check.

The swaggering Garcia mostly managed to redeem himself for the delay, turning in a decent performance with about a half dozen songs, mostly about love or loss, but he also managed to come off as a little arrogant.

It might have been nice if Garcia had said, "Hey, sorry we're late. Traffic was bad" or "the driver overslept," but he never got around to it.

Host Larry Groce might have tossed in a dig about Garcia's tardiness when he mentioned that Lucy Wainwright Roche had driven from a show the previous night in New Jersey to be on time.

Still, even though the show started off a little raggedly, it more or less righted itself as it got in motion.

Roche, by the way, might have been the highlight of the night. This was her fourth time on the show and she played songs off her latest recording, "There's a last time for everything." Roche, performing alone, sounded amazing and turned in a soul-crushing version of Robyn's dance-pop hit, "Call Your Girlfriend."

A close second would be former Mountain Stage band members Deni Bonet and John Kessler, along with members from the current band, tearing through an old Stark Raven song called "100 Million Reasons." It was, by far, the most rocking moment of the night.

Meanwhile, Mollie O'Brien returned for her 18th appearance on the show, along with her husband, Rich Moore. They served up some fun, folksy tunes.

Todd Snider was his usual weird, but charming self; telling stories meant to make people laugh a little and maybe think about what they're laughing at.

As kind of an unusual treat, "Mountain Stage" also brought out West Virginia Poet Laureate Marc Harshman, who performed his poem, "A Song for West Virginia." Spoken word is an uncommon item on the "Mountain Stage" menu, but Harshman delivered his poem, commemorating West Virginia's sesquicentennial with fervor and passion. He got a standing ovation and earned it.

As part of the celebration, "Mountain Stage" brought back some of the people who'd left the show over the years, including Kessler, stage manager Don Wafer and show co-creator Andy Ridenour, who were interviewed on stage by WV PBS reporter Dave Mistich to try and fill the time it takes for the crew to set up for the next act.

For the folks listening at home, these dead spots are edited down or removed entirely, but for a live broadcast, they had to do something.

The mini interviews did the job, even if they didn't reveal much.

Like several of the "Mountain Stage" shows over the last year, the program was packed with old friends. They were looking back over the last 30 years, but by the end of the show, were talking about the year to come and looking to the future.


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