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Mollie O'Brien recalls good times -- and weird ones -- on 'Mountain Stage'

WANT TO GO?

"Mountain Stage" 30th anniversary celebration with Todd Snider, Lucy Wainwright Roche, Diego Garcia, Mollie O'Brien and Rich Moore; special appearances by Deni Bonet, W.Va. Poet Laureate Marc Harshman and others

WHERE: Culture Center Theater

WHEN: 7 p.m. Sunday

TICKETS: Advance $15, at the door $25

INFO: Call 800-594-TIXX or visit www.mountainstage.org

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W.Va. Public Radio will air the hourlong special "Mountain Stage at 30: A Radio Retrospective" at 8 p.m. Thrusday, 6 p.m. Sunday and 9 p.m. Dec. 11. It explores the history of the show, which is the longest-running live performance radio show on public radio, as well as its reach and meaning to listeners worldwide.

Interviews come from the show's producers, established and emerging artists who have performed and public radio program directors nationwide who have carried the show. Some of the artists interviewed include Tim O'Brien, Kathy Mattea, Jason isbell, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Bela Fleck and Billy Bragg.

_____CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The band and crew at "Mountain Stage" have a million stories about things that have happened behind the scenes. In 30 years, they've met their share of musical heroes and heels. They've seen when things have gone incredibly right and when they've gone incredibly weird.

They have their stories, but they aren't the only ones. Some of the artists who've appeared on the show have stories, too.

Mollie O'Brien, who performs Sunday for the "Mountain Stage" 30th anniversary celebration at the Culture Center, sure does.

"The first time I played 'Mountain Stage' was probably 1987 or 1986," she said. "They recorded the show, I think, from 3 to 5 in the afternoon at the Capitol Theater in Charleston, and we would always take off right away, just as soon as the show was over."

O'Brien said most of the time she and her brother, Tim, didn't have a lot of time to hang around after the show. They had to catch a flight, usually back home to Chicago.

"We always played 'Mountain Stage' at the tail end of a weekend of gigs," she said.

The radio program was a much smaller operation back then, and host Larry Groce was sometimes the guy who picked up guests at the airport and got them to their planes after the show.

O'Brien said, "I don't want to say that it was a shoe-string operation, but this was before they had state vehicles to pick you up at the airport in -- and so Larry had this van.

"It obviously had some miles on it."

One chilly night after a show, Groce started up the van by the loading dock behind the theater and let the engine run, probably to give the vehicle's heat time to kick on. Since the O'Briens would be carrying instruments, the "Mountain Stage" host left the side door open.

"When we got out to the van, there was a drunk passed out in the middle seats," O'Brien laughed. "He was just completely s---faced, hammered."

None of them were sure what to do at first. The singer said they worried the bum might take a swing at one of them if they got too close, but they went ahead and roused him anyway.

"And he just reeked," she said. "But we got him up, got him situated and sent him on his way."

And then Groce got them to the airport.

O'Brien has been on the show many times. In fact, she can't say for sure how many and the dates sort of jumble together. She remembers meeting Kathy Mattea on the show and even The Roches.

She said, "We all had young children -- my youngest was 1 1/2 -- and we talked about how hard it was to leave them to go away for work. Now, 24 or so years later Lucy Wainwright Roche is on the show with me on Sunday -- one of the little ones we had to leave at home."

O'Brien loves the show. Her entire family has been fans of it and friends of the program almost since its inception.

 "My parents were huge fans, especially my mom," she said. "She used to bring cookies to the shows when we played."

O'Brien's mom also went to bat for the show.

There was a time when funding for the show wasn't secure. Word got around that "Mountain Stage" might not get renewed.

"Our mother was a terrific publicist. If she believed in something, she worked the aisles to make it happen."

The O'Brien's parents were friends with Governor Arch Moore and his wife, Shelly. O'Brien said her mother talked to them about it.

"And I think it helped," she said.

She hoped so.

"Mountain Stage" has been a great experience for her. Aside from being a good show, it's run by good people who've never made her feel anxious or nervous.

"You never felt like you'd get the hook if you went over the time limit on your songs," she said. "They're just fantastic people, very down-to-earth and good musicians. They work their butts off."

She added, "They've always made me feel like I'm a star." Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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