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Festival to bring best of bluegrass to Montrose

August 14, 2013
The Inter-Mountain

Award-winning bluegrass performers will bring their talents to Montrose Aug. 24 for the third annual Allegheny Highlands Trail Festival.

Presented by the Highlands Trail Foundation, the festival will welcome mandolin sensation Johnny Staats to the stage at the Montrose Community Park. Four-time state fiddle champion Johnny Cochran will also perform. The show starts at noon and lasts until 7 p.m.

Born and raised in West Virginia, Staats caught the bluegrass bug right from the start. With his mother playing piano, his father playing guitar and his sister on the banjo, it seemed only natural that Johnny would join in. Staats got his first mandolin at the age 7.

Article Photos

Photo courtesy of Rich Schaffer
The Allegheny Highlands Trail Festival features mandolin sensation Johnny Staats and guitarist Davey Vaughn in performance Aug. 24 at the Montrose Community Park. Advance tickets are available at B&J Music, Joey’s Bike Shop and Parsons City Hall.

"Just as I started to take mandolin lessons, my teacher passed away," Staats said, "So, I took matters in my own hands and learned to play by ear from listening to records and eight-track tapes of Bill Monroe, Country Gentleman and many more. There were many nights I listened to those guys all night long."

The young musician joined his first band at age 9, and became a regular at competitions starting at age 13. Driven to succeed, he devoted countless hours a day to practice and never once entertained the thought of playing sports in school for fear he might injure his hands.

The native son established dominance on his home turf as a young man at Charleston's prestigious Vandalia Gathering, winning mandolin championships in 1996, 1997 and 1999. In 1997, he pulled off the rare feat of also winning the guitar title and placing third in the fiddle competition.

When he finally made his way to Nashville, Staats was treated with respect by the best of the best, demonstrating his dazzling mandolin expertise with a stellar cast of bluegrass legends including John Cowan, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Jim Hurst, Tim O'Brien, Sara Evans and Kathy Mattea. He brings a new element to bluegrass music with influences as varied as Bill Monroe, Sam Bush, Eric Clapton, Mozart and Beethoven.

Staats has traveled to France and Taiwan, where he wowed the crowds with his lightning-speed performances. He has appeared several times on The Grand Ole Opry and at The Station Inn, Nashville's premier bluegrass club.

A devoted husband and father of two, Staats makes his home in Sandyville near Parkersburg. His musical accomplishments are all the more impressive for having been achieved around family and job responsibilities. In the Sandyville area, he is well-known not only for his music, but also as a driver for the United Parcel Service.

Staats will perform with guitarist Davey Vaughn at 5:30 p.m.

Johnny Cochran's Trio will take the stage at 1:30 p.m. Cochran will be joined by Mark Hamrick on guitar and Lee Sines on electric bass.

A child prodigy, Cochran began his musical career at age 3. By the time he was 4, he was performing for the public on WWVA'S live Radio Show and "The Wheeling Jamboree" broadcast from the old Capital Theater in Wheeling.

He began performing with his father, Frank Cochran, and soon his sister and three brothers joined in to form the bluegrass and country band known as The Cochran Family. Hailing from Diana, W.Va., The Cochran Family traveled extensively during the 1970s. While skilled on all of the string band instruments, Cochran found his heart playing the fiddle and helped to build a fan following for the group.

Over the course of his career Cochran's tremendous talent has led him to play with legendary icons including George Jones, Johnny Paycheck and Lynn Anderson. A former cast member of the American Mountain Theater, Cochran lives in Elkins.

Traditional bluegrass will take a break in the festival lineup at 3:30 p.m. with the "jam grass" sound of the Halftime String Band.

Since 2003, the Halftime String Band has entertained audiences throughout the Appalachian region, and as far away as Alaska, with their unique blend of acoustic Americana music. The music has a strong bluegrass influence, but with neither banjo nor fiddle in the group, it does not include the standard elements of a traditional bluegrass band. The song selection covers a wide array of musical styles, including original compositions and unique arrangements.

Popular at The Purple Fiddle in Thomas, the Halftime String Band hails from Morgantown.

The festival will open at noon with a set featuring Jesse Milnes and Kevin Chesser of the Elkins-based band, Lonesome Moonlight Wolf. The duo will deliver "no-fuss, straight-shooting early country and southern string-band music" on fiddle and guitar.

As solo performers and with prior ensembles, these musicians have performed far and wide, including the West Virginia State Folk Festival, the Appalachian Stringband Festival, the Los Angeles Old-Time Social and the nationally syndicated radio program, "A Prairie Home Companion."

The Allegheny Highlands Trail Festival is made possible by support from B&J Music, the City of Parsons, ComforTech, Davis Trust Company, Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad, F.L.Y. Market, First Energy Foundation, Joey's Bike Shop, Kingsford Charcoal, Papa John's Pizza, Stonewall Resort, The Inter-Mountain and WDNE 98.9 FM.

Tickets, priced at $20 for adults and $5 for children under 12, include music and a pulled pork barbecue meal complete with coleslaw, fresh corn on the cob, baked beans, lemonade and homemade desserts. Music and food will be served from noon to 7 p.m.

Advance tickets may be purchased at B&J Music or Joey's Bike Shop in Elkins or at the Parsons City Hall.

A limited amount of picnic table seating is available. Guests are invited to bring lawn chairs or blankets and make themselves comfortable in the shade of the park's oak grove. Children are welcome at the family-friendly festival. Dogs are not permitted in the park.

All proceeds of the event benefit the Highlands Trail Foundation and contribute to the organization's work promoting and developing the Allegheny Highlands Trail. Now complete from Highland Park to Hendricks, the rail-trail is expected to reach the Elkins railyard in 2014.

For more information, including directions to the festival venue, find Highlands Trail foundation on Facebook or email info@highlandstrail.org.

 
 

 

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