In its second year, the Deep Roots Mountain Revival is all about the music.
It’s no secret there were problems with the music festival that formerly occupied Marvin’s Mountaintop in Masontown. The crowds were huge, but not always in a fun way. Traffic jams caused headaches for locals. Rowdy festival-goers kept police busy.
But the root of all those problems, at least in C.J. Ryan’s estimation, was that the festival lost focus. It became more about partying than it was about music. So when Ryan launched his own event—the Deep Roots Mountain Revival—at Marvin’s Mountaintop last year, he resolved not to make the same mistake. “We’re a family-friendly event you can bring your kids to,” he says. “It keeps the focus on the music and things that are positive.”
Ryan has been a passionate music fan for years. He started going to concerts as a young man, but his love for live music really took off when he discovered the festival circuit, hitting up events like the Jerry Garcia Birthday Bash and the Recipe Family Cookout in Terra Alta, Bonnaroo Music + Arts Festival in Tennessee, and the early years of All Good in Masontown. He liked being able to see dozens of bands on the same bill and the experience of camping out on the festival grounds. “For some people it’s a lifestyle, not just a scene. And apparently I’m one of them now,” he says with a laugh.
It wasn’t long before being an audience member wasn’t enough for Ryan. He started holding mini-festivals in his backyard—he built a stage, booked bands from surrounding states, and invited friends to camp out for the weekend. Then he and his sister bought P.J. Kelly’s in Clarksburg. “I didn’t get into it to be in the bar business. I got into it to be in the music business,” he says. Ryan hosted live music four or five days a week, often booking well-known touring bands like Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds, Yarn, and The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band.
They sold the bar after a few years, but the experience gave Ryan a lot of contacts and fueled his passion for live music. He wanted to do something bigger. So, in January 2016, he decided to go after his longtime dream of running an honest-to-goodness music festival. And he gave himself nine months to do it. “It was either ambitious or stupid,” he says.
Ryan figured it was the right time, both personally and professionally. In the previous few years he’d gotten married, had two kids, built a house and moved into it, and sold two companies. He was ready for the Next Big Thing. Plus, it had been five years since All Good left Masontown, so Ryan figured locals wouldn’t associate his new festival with the one that had caused so much bad blood.
He began booking bands. “We were trying to do this blend of bluegrass and traditional country,” Ryan says. “We felt it was a void out there in the music festival scene.” In 2016, he wound up with an impressive lineup for a first-time festival, including newgrass bands like Greensky Bluegrass and Leftover Salmon, neo-traditional country acts like Shooter Jennings and Jamey Johnson, and renowned country/bluegrass figures including David Grisman, Ricky Skaggs, and Marty Stuart.
The lineup for 2017’s festival, scheduled for July 20–22, is just as impressive, with appearances by mandolin master Sam Bush, Americana songstress Brandi Carlile, the genre-bending Yonder Mountain String Band, Grammy-winning bluegrass band The Steeldrivers, and indie rock weirdos Dr. Dog, to name a few. And just like last year, 2017’s bill also includes lots of West Virginia artists. “That was extremely important for me,” Ryan says. “Any of the big festivals that were out there, that was never their priority. West Virginia bands had to beg to get into a festival like that. We wanted to make sure we were representing our state.”
Ryan tapped bands to represent all areas of the state, including The Woodshedders of Shepherdstown, Matt Mullins & The Bringdowns from Beckley, Qiet from Charleston, the Poor Taters from Princeton, and East Kentucky’s Tyler Childers, adopted son of Huntington’s music scene. “We’re not just throwing them on there because they’re from West Virginia. We’re throwing them on there because they’re talented musicians from West Virginia,” Ryan says.
He wants to build out the West Virginia connection in other ways, too. This year’s festival will feature workshops on traditional Appalachian music, including clawhammer banjo and flatpicking guitar. There will be an old-timey jam session, so amateur musicians can be part of the entertainment, and possibly a big square dance, too. Ryan is also bringing in 10 West Virginia-based visual artists to set up displays and provide workshops.
Local food vendors will be on hand to feed hungry music fans, and Jo’s Globe Distributing of Morgantown and Thomas’ Mountain State Brewing Co. will provide craft brews. And unlike other events where children’s activities are an afterthought, Ryan’s wife, Bri, has put together a list that might make adult attendees jealous, including yoga, instrument making, nature hikes, and inflatables.
But, true to Ryan’s original plans, Deep Roots’ focus is still mainly on the music. He’s looking forward to hearing headliners Carlile and Bush, but he’s also excited to showcase up-and-coming acts like JJ Grey & Mofro and White Denim. “My favorite thing about going to a festival is when I discover a new band that really gets me excited.” He’s happy to provide that opportunity to his fellow fans. mountainrevival.com