There are two common denominators when it comes to musicians: They all possess memories of that first time when they performed for someone other than a shower stall, and they all can recall that very first for-pay gig.
They were nervous. They forgot a lyric or two. Their interaction with the audience was minimal. They were desperate for applause and enthralled with every clap.
“It gets better the more you get out and play in public,” said the talented Adrian Niles of Shadyside. “But the thing with the audience never goes away. You always hope that the crowd pays attention and gets into your music the way you do.
“Sometimes it happens, and sometimes it doesn’t,” he admitted. “I like to play a lot of my original songs, and there are times when that’s not something that the people in the crowd want on some nights. When that happens, though, you just have to keep playing and keep believing in what you do and why you do it.”
There are a lot of differences when it comes to the local talent pool in the Upper Ohio Valley, a place famous for producing men and women who have been talented enough to emerge on the national level. We are all aware that Brad Paisley hails from Glen Dale in Marshall County and that John Corbett was raised in Wheeling, but there are several others: Tim O’Brien, Mollie O’Brien, Billy Cox, Leon “Chu” Berry, Nan Wynn, and Joyce DeWitt. And there are several more that have chased it and attained it in Nashville, New York City, or on the West Coast.
Performing their music as a full-time job is the dream-come-true.
“I think we all have that big dream in our minds the first time we pick up a guitar or some kind of instrument for the first time,” said Gregg Molnar, a veteran musician in the Upper Ohio Valley who has been a member of many bands over the past two decades. “If it happens, it happens, but for most of us it’s all about getting out there, making a couple of extra bucks, and doing what we love to do.
“The music scene here in the Valley has changed over the years, but I think we’re seeing something of a revival now because there are a lot of people fighting to bring it back,” Molnar said. “There’s more support from venue owners, from the people who organize the festivals in the area, and from some of the media in the Valley, and that’s what we have needed. We have to be good, too, but there’s more of a chance for our local musicians now than there’s been in a long time.”
Most of the musicians in the Upper Ohio Valley have day jobs that pay the bills, but they continue their dedication to their music at a plethora of local venues and events throughout Marshall, Ohio, and Belmont counties. This weekend, for example, Robert “Moose” Doddrill, Brett Cain, and the members of Hit Play, The M-80s, and the Catch Blues Band all will entertain on the main stage for the Upper Ohio Valley Italian Heritage Festival and locals with the Allegro Dance Company also will be featured on the Italian Stage in the “Little Italy” area.
“I believe that speaks to the talent that we have here,” said Molnar, who will play with The M-80s Friday evening. “The Italian Festival doesn’t have to hire locals. Those folks can hire anyone they want from wherever, so it’s really cool that they give us a chance on a big stage in front of large crowds.”
C.A. House Music will offer an opportunity, too, to local musicians by staging its annual Guitar Competition on the Italian Festival’s main stage on Saturday from 1:30-2:30 p.m., and Melissa Ceo-Hartle said the contest is open to any guitarist whether or not they have played professionally. Those with interest can find the details on the website – www.cahousemusic.com – or they can call the St. Clairsville location at 740-695-5929.
“They can be in a band, or they can just come and compete,” she said. “It’s just something we wanted to do to give everyone a chance to hear some of the amazing talent we have here in the Valley.
“It’s really easy for us to support our local talent because we have so much of it, and they are really, really good,” Ceo-Hartle continued. “And there are a lot of them who are our customers, too, and we’re very thankful for that, but that’s the only reason we do what we do. It’s about the music, and it’s about doing something to help it grow.”
(Photos by Steve Novotney)