Country Music Dance Hall Takes Honky-Tonk Fans Back in Time

August 15, 2014 |

Down in Greenbrier County, West Virginia the American Heritage Music Hall in Ronceverte has a devoted following. The venue started as a small informal living room jam among friends and soon grew into a non-profit organization with its own venue. Now the Music Hall hosts weekly jams and monthly concerts. Dan Schultz of Traveling 219 recently went down to Ronceverte to check out the Music Hall.

It’s Saturday night and the dance floor of the American Heritage Music Hall is crowded with couples swinging, stepping, and shaking to live country and rock ‘n’ roll music. The music hall is spacious and makes a perfect venue for live music. Its walls are strewn with banjos, guitars, and photographs of early country music stars. A tribute to American musical heritage. Tonight is one of the highlights of the month for the Music Hall, which hosts weekly jam sessions and one or two Saturday night concerts each month.

A lot of the folks in attendance are regulars, like Marjorie Hamrick, from White Sulphur Springs. “I’ve been coming to the music hall, probably about 10 years. I love the people and the dancing, and the music.”

“My name is Tom Bobbitt and I’m from Alderson, West Virginia. I like to dance. Come out and dance. They have good music. Good music. A lot of good people.”

Charlie Massie helped found the American Heritage Music Hall back in 1998. “We started, Jeannie Crane and I and Fred Bolt. The three of us started jamming in her family room, my basement, and Fred’s garage. We kept inviting musicians in and we outgrew our basements and family room,” Charlie remembers.

Charlie Massey founded the American Heritage Music Hall along with friends Jeannie Crane and Fred Bolt.

Soon enough, they found an old unused pet shop in Fairlea–just south of Lewisburg–to host the growing jam.

“When we first started it was 6 musicians, then it was 10 musicians. Then all of the sudden the musicians said ‘well, so and so would like to come listen to us’ and the first thing we knew we had 40-50 people to play to,besides the musicians,” says Charlie.

After over six years of playing music at the pet shop, the owner wanted to lease the building again, presenting a huge problem for the group. Without a home for the weekly jam, Charlie and co-founder Jeannie Crane weren’t sure if they wanted to keep it going.

“The two of us talked about ‘let’s just quit. Don’t do it anymore.’ Funny thing, our audience — we call our audience ‘family’ — they wouldn’t let us alone. ‘When you going to find us a home?’ They called almost every day. We pursued 32 places,” explains Charlie. They finally settled on an old unused roller skating rink in Ronceverte, the current home to the Music Hall. “It’s worked out good. Since we’ve been here we have had people from nine different countries visit us and almost all the states. Just about all the states. We never tried to grow. It just happened. But, the audience helps us, they make us grow.”

Nashville Departure onstage at the American Heritage Music Hall.

Tonight’s band is Nashville Departure, from up the road in Alderson, West Virginia. At set-break everyone in the venue grabs a seat at a table or files to the back, where a potluck dinner of pastas, pizza, and salad are served. I caught up with Randy Goodson, who sings and plays guitar and keyboards with the band. After Music Hall co-founder Jeannie Crane passed away in 2013 Randy was asked to become vice president of the organization.

“Yeah, this is a small crowd compared to what we usually have. We’ve had this place packed, you know, and the dance floor stays packed like that. It’s a lot of fun,” says Randy. “The people here is just really nice. It’s so family oriented, you know, it’s like one big family, you know. Everybody’s just really, really support each other and all that good stuff. Nice place.”

Despite the older makeup of the crowd here, the music hall still draws lively crowds. In a way, Charlie and the music hall organization are looking to Randy and his wife Renee to continue the tradition of the venue and possibly help inject new life into it, too.

“Yeah, we’re kind of, you know, just seeing what all happens, what it’s all about. When we first played it, it was all brand-new to us and right after, that’s when Jeanie passed. And so we told them we would come in and see what it’s all about and see what’s happening and see if we can take it from there, you know.”

More information, including concert and jam events can be found at their website:

This story was produced by Dan Schultz of the Traveling 219 project. The project is a production of Allegheny Mountain Radio with support from the West Virginia Humanities Council, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and Americorps VISTA.


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