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Country Music Hall
The Sagebrush Round-up takes place every Saturday night in this music hall, located on Bunner Ridge near Fairmont. Photograph by Carl E. Feather.

“Seventh Heaven”

Saturday Night at the Sagebrush Round-up

By Carl E. Feather

High atop Bunner Ridge, six miles east of I-79's roar and a half-century removed from its pioneering namesake, Fairmont's Sagebrush Round-up music hall provides a haven for West Virginia's practitioners and listeners of Appalachian, country, and bluegrass music.

This cavernous metal building is a place of remembrances. In the center of the music hall's 60-foot-wide stage is a rectangle of hardwood flooring imbued with country music history. It came from the stage of the Fairmont Armory, which stood on Jackson Street and was home to the original “Sagebrush Roundup” radio show from 1938 to 1948 [Roundup spelled as one word. –ed.]. It's a small piece of flooring, only 10x30 feet, yet it was enough to get Rex "no-relation-to-Montgomery" Ward shuffling down memory lane.

"I saw Grandpa Jones bake biscuits on that stage," says Rex, an octogenarian who was playing in the house band — the Stagecoach Band — in the summer of 2003. "This, to me, is seventh heaven. It is on par with the ‘Grand Ole Opry.’ There is so much music history on this stage, you wouldn't believe it."

Rex plays stage left, in the shadow of a railroad crossing sign, complete with lights that are activated whenever an act plays a railroad song. The lights honor the late Casey Reese, who sang many a railroad song on that stage before riding the Glory Train home in 2000.

The stage backdrop is that of a front porch, the kind of porch the Hard Cider Band played on when Paul and Donald Hayhurst were growing up down the road from the Round-up's present location.

"They just played square dances. They were back-porch entertainers," says Paul, whose father Blaine and uncle Glenn played in the Hard Cider Band along with Virgil Toothman, Vernon Heiskell, and Oscar Butcher. "They used to play all the old fiddle tunes: 'Mississippi Sawyer,' 'Soldier's Joy,' 'Ragtime Annie,' 'Redwing.’

"Mom said I'd lay in the cradle and cry from the noise, in tune with them, I guess," Paul says of those Hard Cider Band jam sessions.

In the back corner of the 17,000-square-foot hall – near the Country Store where Bob Cunningham sells T-shirts, CD’s, and cassettes – is a livingroom setting like one any visitor to a Fairmont-area home would have encountered 75 years ago. There's a hickory rocking chair, a fireplace, and a clock on the mantle. And hanging on the wall are a fiddle, banjo, and guitar.

The average visitor, however, is unlikely to see the patch of armory stage, the instruments high on the back-corner wall, or understand the significance of the railroad lights. They come for the music and camaraderie; for the 75-cent hot dogs; and the lemon, chocolate, butterscotch, and coconut-cream pies. And, if they are more than 70 years old, they come for the memories of the original “Sagebrush Roundup.”

You can read the rest of this article in this issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.