Article By: Keith Doherty
What once started as space to simply handle the overflow traffic from the restaurant downstairs, The Grove in Fayetteville, West Virginia has turned into a cozy, cross of culture and community. And while it hosts anything from art exhibits, town hall meetings, book signings, or ping pong tournaments, it’s quickly becoming known as one of the premier music venues in Southern West Virginia.
“The Grove offers such a wide variety of events, artist receptions, different kinds of music- from Japanese punk to funk to bluegrass to rock and roll,” says music lover Kelly Jo Drey.
Local artist Aspen (Tree) Prather adds, “The Grove is everything that you would want in a city joint, without being pretentious. Everyone feels like a friend.”
And even though the traditional tourist season slows down quite a bit in the winter, many locals see wintertime as the true season in The Grove.
Owner Lewis Rhinehart says, “In the offseason, the availability of bands is better. They’re working on new records. They’re getting out to practice, basically doing these shows in small venues, almost as rehearsals. We get bands that are doing these runs through West Virginia where they play Beckley, Charleston, Fayetteville, Thomas, and Morgantown. So, a band can put together a six, seven-day tour just within the state. It’s kind of like the last frontier because there is a really hungry appetite for live music in West Virginia.”
In addition, many of these bands are playing festivals and larger venues in the summertime, and they are subject to proximity clauses in their contracts.
“They can’t play a venue within a certain mile radius. So, it limits the pool of bands during the tourist season,” says Rhinehart. In the wintertime, these restrictions don’t exist.
“And they have big names, and they get followed. And I just really pump it. Now people are actually starting to listen to me when I say ‘Tonight, you don’t want to miss. The bat signal is lit! Tonight, you really want to get here,’” says Rhinehart laughing.
The level of talent at The Grove has evolved over the years.
“One of the things that really has taken us to the next level was hiring a booking agent. His name is Matt Marks, and he’s a guitar player for one of the best bands in West Virginia right now called The Company Stores. He works for a booking agency out of Asheville called Speakeasy Artists, and he’s really helping us,” says Rhinehart. “We’re getting lots of national acts. Lots of bands that will eventually not be able to play here for sure. There’s nothing like being able to see a band like that that’s up and coming.”
“Travers Brothership, LITZ, Hustle Souls, and Dr. Bacon are all names that have been seen at The Grove and on bigger stages with bigger names. There is nothing better than supporting local musicians and seeing them flourish,” adds Prather.
Rhinehart says, “It’s a really exciting time in Appalachia right now- not just in food but also culturally, and especially with the emergence of Tyler Childers- bringing that whole country sound… but it's much more gritty, real country, real songs of despair- coal, death, whiskey, and murder ballad.
“On one hand it’s traditional, but on the other hand, it’s very pertinent right now- just due to the state of Appalachia.
“Looking at the whole scene, especially since I’ve started, we started off very small with duos or singer/songwriter-type people, with the occasional band. Some of the first bands that we booked were The Kind Thieves and the Parachute Brigade, who are now probably two of the most popular bands in Southern West Virginia. You mention bands like The Company Stores, Matt Mullins and the Bringdowns, Black Garlic, The Boatmen. All of those bands are just doing amazing things for music in Southern West Virginia.
“And then you have the individual artists like Andrew Adkins; he’s recently performed on Mountain Stage. His record has finished nationally in the Top 20 in the American charts this past year.”
Rhinehart also speaks to the rise of Travers Brothership and their relationship with The Grove.
“I’ve known those guys for ten years at this point. I went to high school with the keyboard player’s mom,” says Rhinehart. “And I thought ten gigs ago we’d never see them again because they were getting too big, and indeed, they are too big.
“But they love Fayetteville. They call Fayetteville their second home. They love playing The Grove, and these guys are playing huge festivals. They’ve played the SweetWater 420 Fest. They’re a headlining act at Floyd Fest this year. They got mentioned in Rolling Stone. They played here after all of that, and they’re getting ready to play here again.”
And it’s that intimate experience that works for the both the artists and the audience.
“One of the things that I love is how accessible the music is. The musicians are right there, close to the audience,” says Drey. “You can really get a close look at how they play their instruments and really connect with their energy while they are performing. And if you want to talk to them and get to know them or ask them questions, they are right there in the space with you during their break or after the show.”
Rhinehart adds, “We don’t have a stage. You’re on the same eye level with the band, which you don’t see at many places.”
Put it all together, and you have a music scene that is growing in Southern West Virginia. And those that know Rhinehart best are quick to credit him for playing a significant role in the transformation.
“Everyone who knows Lewis knows that he is incredibly passionate about what he does,” says Prather. “When he recognizes the fire in someone, he will be the biggest fan that stokes the flame.”
Drey agrees, “Lewis has such an exhaustive knowledge of music and appreciation for how hard musicians work- how different musicians influence each other and pop culture and how genres have evolved over time. He has a real joy for the ways in which music enriches our lives and elicits an emotional connection that helps people have fun, connect with one another, and remember and share important experiences. His enthusiasm is contagious.”
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