By ELIZABETH GAUCHER ∙ For The State Journal
BUNNER — If you enjoy country music, live music venues and some American history, you need to get your family together and get to The Sagebrush Roundup.
In classic West Virginia style, the Roundup is proud but not flashy. It's cool but not trendy. And above all, it's about good people doing and sharing what they love.
In the years leading up to World War II, live-audience country music gatherings were growing in popularity. Radio station WMMN-AM started the Roundup in December 1938, and broadcast from the National Guard Armory in Fairmont. Buddy Starcher and Grandpa Jones were two of the original performers, and both went on to achieve national acclaim with their music.
WMMN charged admission and the artists shared in the gate receipts. CBS auditioned the show for possible nationwide broadcast. At that time, only shows out of major cities such as in Chicago, Nashville, Des Moines, and Atlanta — cities where stations had more wattage than WMMN — were getting airplay.
Post-war competition with other stations resulted in the decline of WMMN, and the Sagebrush Roundup broadcast its last show in 1948. The name held on, however, and in 1985 the Roundup saw a revival for some of the region's finest Appalachian, country and bluegrass music. A new music hall on Bunners Ridge is the current home for the Sagebrush Roundup legacy.
Though no longer a radio broadcast, the Roundup remains the magnetic core of West Virginia's country music; its roots mimic the Grand Ole Opry. In 1988, the Roundup became the official West Virginia Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, but it was several years before the current building was in place. A volunteer group helped put up the music hall, a 120-foot by 100-foot building that houses the weekly country music show. In the mid-1990s construction began on the Hall of Fame, and in April 2012 the first induction ceremony took place on Bunners Ridge.
Bill Janoske, president of the state's Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, said he takes great pride in the organization and its mission to recognize and honor those who have used their talents to promote and encourage country music.
"We help sustain the musical heritage of this area by caring for memorabilia and other artifacts," Janoske said. "We're also committed to cultivating, educating and encouraging new talent."
Above all is the environment for musicians and fans to enjoy country music and fellowship.
"The best thing about the Roundup is its people. This is a family-oriented place where you can bring your kids and family members of all ages and have fun. You can dine on some home-cooked meals and see all of your friends without the hassle of smoke and alcohol," Janoske said.
Admission to regular Roundup shows is $5 per person and doors open at 5 p.m., with people getting their meals and finding a table or other place where they can sit down and eat or just socialize with friends. The show starts at 6 p.m. with an open stage, where anyone may join the house band for a song. After that, the audience is treated to four hours of music featuring a variety of bands and single acts. Some performers are local, and many come from throughout West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.
The music hall has a hidden gem in the midst of the performers. Builders of the current stage included a piece of hardwood flooring from the stage at the Fairmont Armory, home of the original Sagebrush Roundup radio show. Though physically small and rarely noticed by ticket holders, today's performers know they stand on a piece of American history.
This year, the West Virginia Country Music Hall of Fame welcomed inductees Paul Hayhurst, Bud VanGilder, Floyd Priest, Granny Blosser, Pee Wee Austin, Kathryn Kusner, Paul Crane, Fred Ramsey and Davey Gorman.
The Sagebrush Roundup isn't going anywhere any time soon, but it seems certain that when a new location is required, the original stage board as well as some of the new floor will go along.
After all, West Virginians do love their history as well as their music. It only seems fittin' that the two stay together for the long haul.
Visit the official website for the Sagebrush Roundup at http://billjanoske.
tripod.com for the weekly line-up, driving directions and other information.