“Rock n Roll is back, baby!” Fletcher’s Grove, the opening act of Mountain Music Festival, proclaimed.

The excitement was palpable as festival goers began to head up the mountain to Ace Adventure resort in Oak Hill, W.Va.. As folks arrived, everyone smiled and greeted each other. It was clear how desperately live music and the feeling of community was missed during the past year of pandemic and quarantine shutdown. One of the most surprising things was how much love everyone had to give. It was almost like everyone had been storing it up for this past year and MMF was the perfect place to let it all flow out.

(Michelle Waters)

Thursday was the perfect lineup to let everyone dance away what stresses and inhibitions they had left over from the outside world and really just lean into the love, acceptance, and non-stop dance party that was the rest of the weekend.

MOV gems, Jake Dunn and the Blackbirds helped kick things off Friday morning in one of their first performances since quarantine began. They stayed busy during the shutdown though, managing to put out a fantastic new album. Jake summed up how it felt to be back playing live after taking so much time off as a warm ray of sunshine.

“I haven’t had so much to look forward to and be hopeful about in a long while,” he said, “so it is really just great. I could not be more excited about it.”

Moon Hooch, from New York, set the crowd on fire Friday evening with their mix of saxophone and percussion dance music and their unbelievably charismatic stage performance. They are definitely a must see if you have the opportunity to see them perform.

(Michelle Waters)

Saturday was absolutely jam-packed (pun fully intended) with amazing artists running from 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 a.m. Sunday. Arlo McKinley was a personal favorite. As his merch so perfectly states, “Arlo made me cry.” His particular brand of devastating honesty is something so many fans find relatable.

Local favorites, The Kind Thieves closed out the festival with a dynamite set. The crowd, though sleep deprived, fed off their energy and kept the dance party going until the very end. Clutch MOV spoke to Colby from The Kind Thieves before the festival and he was most excited about being back around friends and family.

(Michelle Waters)

“We’ve worked up a ton of new material and can’t wait to play it for everyone!” he said.

One of the most interesting things about Mountain Music Festival is the diversity. With the genre-spanning musical lineup, water park, multitude of workshops offered (Witchin Kitchen with Tara Caldwell was particularly enjoyable), nature hikes, fantastic food trucks, drinks from local breweries like Greenbrier Brewing Company, whitewater rafting, zip lining, rock climbing, and more, this festival truly has something for everyone.

With so many wonderful qualities, it can be difficult to summarize the festival with just a few words – so, we asked for help. Throughout the weekend, Clutch MOV spoke with several festival goers, staff, and musicians, including Arlo McKinley and Casey from Buffalo Wabs & The Price Hill Hustle (another favorite from Saturday), to describe the vibe of the festival in three words. Favorite answers include “Stress free, easy, love, vibrant, laid back, silly, release, nostalgia, and home.”

Event organizer Chris Colin said that preparations differed this year from last year. “We were very cautious as we moved forward. We knew we had to start planning the event last summer so we were very optimistic. We held back on printing, marketing and contracting vendors until just recently,” he said.

“In most years we have this all lined out months in advance but no one knew for sure if the event could actually take place. It wasn’t actually until about a month ago that we knew 100% we were moving forward.”

(Michelle Waters)

New River Gorge is America’s newest national park, located in the heart of the mountain state. “Having the National Park designation is the gold star in the park world and this part of West Virginia is truly beautiful,” said Colin. “It is pretty unique to visit a place like ACE Adventure Resort which is over 1,500 acres in size and situated in the National Park.”

After the festival, our team, with some fantastic directions from the helpful staff at ACE, visited a gorgeous scenic spot on the river. The river, while called the New River, is one of the oldest rivers in the world. It is beautiful with plenty of spots to white water raft, fish, or just dip your toes in a bit. The mountain itself was tranquil and at night, it feels like you can see a million stars in this part of the state.

(Michelle Waters)

Music is alive and well in the hills of West Virginia and you’d be hard pressed to find a community more loving, accepting, wild, and diverse than these local music fans. Clutch MOV is excited to come back next year – we miss it already.

All photography by Michelle Waters