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40 Years Of Mountain Stage’s ‘Outlaws and Outliers’ Laid Out On Compilation Record

Apr 30, 2024

40 Years Of Mountain Stage's ‘Outlaws and Outliers’ Laid Out On Compilation Record

Born out of humble beginnings in 1983, Mountain Stage has blossomed to become not just one of Appalachia’s most sought after musical platforms, but one of all of Americana and roots music’s most cherished stages. Broadcasting bi-monthly to nearly 300 NPR stations nationwide, the program has welcomed everyone from John Prine to Wilco, Wynonna Judd, and even Widespread Panic during its historic 40-year run. To celebrate the achievement, Mountain Stage and Oh Boy Records have partnered to release the 21-song Live On Mountain Stage: Outlaws and Outliers (released April 19).

According to Larry Groce — Mountain Stage host from 1983 to 2021 and one of the compilation’s curators — distilling 40 years of music into one album was quite the task. Deliberations began with a list of over 150 songs before landing on the 21 that made the album.

“At first we just looked at the artist named and began to narrow it down from there,” Groce describes the process to BGS. “After several narrowings we began listening to some of them, getting the list down to about 30 before cutting it further down to the 21 that made the album.”

Sticking close to the country, folk, and bluegrass sounds of the show’s West Virginia home, the album includes performances from Appalachia’s own – like current Mountain Stage host Kathy Mattea, Tyler Childers, Sierra Ferrell, and Tim O’Brien alongside A-listers like Prine, Eric Church, Alison Krauss, and Jason Isbell. Helping to attract and keep such a diverse array of talent returning has been the program’s artist-first approach, which caters to the performers and platforms great songs over all else.

“We’re not trying to be trendsetters and we aren’t trying to be hip,” asserts Groce, who broke onto the scene as a singer-songwriter with his song “Junk Food Junkie” in 1976. “We try to look at things in the long run by booking talent we think will last. Our goal has always been to put the artist at the center of the show rather than myself, the program, or anyone else. There’s people that would argue that we should always be pushing the brand, but that’s not the way we — or anyone else — operates in West Virginia.”

One of the many artists appreciative of that approach is Molly Tuttle, who last appeared on Mountain Stage in 2023 to support her album City Of Gold, which has since earned her a second Grammy win for Best Bluegrass Album. Born in California, Tuttle didn’t become aware of the show until moving to Nashville in 2015. She’s gone on to play the show three times, the first being a visit in 2018 that provided the performance of “You Didn’t Call My Name” that made the compilation.

Of the show, Tuttle says what she’s cherished most about her time on it is the chance to collaborate and catch up with her colleagues.

“It’s one of the few places where you get to meet, converse and collaborate with other musicians, which typically only happens for us on the road at music festivals,” explains Tuttle. “That really speaks to the trust Larry Groce and the entire Mountain Stage team have in giving the artists freedom to do what they want. What results is a well curated show that’s become one of the most important showcases around for this kind of music.”

In agreement with Tuttle is Tim O’Brien, a native West Virginian who made his Mountain Stage debut in the late ’80s with Hot Rize, an occasion he credits to his mother that has sparked too many follow-up visits to count.

“She called my sister and I — who were living in Colorado at the time — to tell us about it after hearing about it on the local radio back home,” recalls O’Brien, whose song “Cup Of Sugar” from a 2021 appearance is featured on the record. “She immediately thought we’d be a good fit for it, so she wrote them a postcard one day asking when they were going to get Hot Rize on. It was a good fit the first time, and always has been.”

“I remember writing her back saying ‘Your son’s band is much more famous than we are,” Groce jokes as he looks back on the moment. “The question is, does he want to go on the show, not whether we’ll have him or not. And sure enough, we booked Hot Rize shortly thereafter.”

40 Years Of Mountain Stage's ‘Outlaws and Outliers’ Laid Out On Compilation Record

The Indigo Girls perform on Mountain Stage. Photo by Brian Blauser.

It’s that attitude of never feeling above anyone or anything that has helped Mountain Stage to excel and have the lasting legacy that it does. It captures its home region of West Virginia and Appalachia better than most any other music-related program does, both in sound and in sentiment. It’s the latter that’s arguably been the biggest asset in attracting bigger names as the show taps into the majestic mountains around them.

“There’s many different kinds of people that live in Appalachia, but one thing that’s really bedrock is supporting one another, and that shows with Mountain Stage and how they put the program on,” reflects O’Brien. “It’s intimate and friendly, just like the state.”

Photo Credit: Tim O’Brien Band performing on Mountain Stage by Chris Morris; Molly Tuttle performs on Mountain Stage by Josh Saul.

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40 Years Of Mountain Stage's ‘Outlaws and Outliers’ Laid Out On Compilation Record
40 Years Of Mountain Stage's ‘Outlaws and Outliers’ Laid Out On Compilation Record