When you think halls of fame, bet you think Cooperstown (baseball), Canton (football), Nashville (country music) and Euclid, Ohio (polka). Not a mountaintop in the middle of nowhere in West Virginia.
But there it is, humble as can be: the West Virginia Country Music Hall of Fame, six miles east of Berkeley Springs, high up at the end of winding Highland Ridge Road in Morgan County. It’s a beautiful spot, with 360-degree views of the hills surrounding “the Springs,” as locals call the colonial town in the valley.
Don’t look for bronze busts in this HOF — cardboard cutouts are more like it — but do stay for dinner. “We’re known for the best steak around,” says Bertha McCoy. You don’t hear that in Canton or Cooperstown.
The West Virginia Country Music Hall of Fame exists as a massive montage of photos, posters and plaques on the walls and as haphazard exhibits of everyday items on display racks in the corners of the Troubadour Lounge and Park, a 26-year-old tavern with an associated entertainment complex that is as down-home country as it gets. The collection reflects one man’s life on the fringes of old country and hillbilly music. It’s all Joltin’ Jim McCoy’s doing, but you can thank Patsy Cline for getting him started.
You know you’ve finally arrived when you see the jaunty red, white and blue fence that surrounds the gravel parking lot. Two long, narrow structures form an L at the top of the lot. To the left is the Troubadour Lounge; to the right is McCoy’s home and the complex’s office; in the middle, beyond the gate in the connecting fence, is Troubadour Park, with a small recording studio, assorted tables and a barbecue smoker shaped like a giant six-shooter.
Step inside the lounge on a bright afternoon, and your eyes make the rapid adjustment to the dimly lit restaurant, quiet and cool, the sunlight softly muted by mauve lace curtains. The room has a genuine ’50s feel, highlighted by the curved, buttoned, brown leather booths that seem to have a vintage glow of their own.
Wander to the back where the two pool tables are and you see music symbols everywhere, note-laden music staves dangling from the ceiling and images of guitars plastered to the walls.
Clearly, it’s all about the music here.
“Robert Byrd, a lot of people don’t know he played music,” Eddie Sturba tells me, indicating an autographed photo of the late senator from West Virginia sawing on a fiddle. Sturba is a jack-of-all-trades at the Troubadour, helping out the McCoys in the lounge and the park, and giving informal tours when he’s not in the kitchen grilling those steaks.
Much of the memorabilia on display is promotional material, handout photos (most autographed) and framed posters of country music acts through the ages, among them George Jones and Dottie West. Mixed in are plaques commemorating inductions into the Hall of Fame, including Kathy Mattea, Little Jimmie Dickens, Red Sovine, Mel Street, Johnny “T” Triplett and Jim McCoy. (What? Wait . . .) And those are the ones you might have heard of. Among the more obscure inductees are Penny DeHaven, Wilma Lee Cooper and Rudy Lewis.
It seems that most of the memorabilia boasts a personal connection to McCoy, who is now 82.
For instance, Ernest Tubb, already a major star when McCoy was just starting out, became an acquaintance and eventually a friend; Tubb, whose nickname was the Texas Troubadour, is the namesake of the lounge, and that’s his smiling face painted on a sign offering “Thanks” as you pull out of the parking lot.
And then there’s Patsy Cline.
“You wouldn’t believe how many people we get for the Patsy Cline days,” Sturba says, referring to the twice-yearly musical celebration of the singer’s life. “It’s the biggest thing; people park up and down the road. It gets pretty crowded.”
A native of nearby Winchester, Va., Cline was one of the first artists to cross over from country to pop, which she did in 1961 with “I Fall to Pieces.” But she might never have been discovered had McCoy not put her on the air, as a guest singer with his band, on Winchester’s WINC-AM.
McCoy, then 17, had a half-hour show on Saturday mornings to showcase his music when the 14-year-old Virginia Patterson Hensley begged to sing on the air. She became part of the regular ensemble, knocking listeners out with her renditions of “Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey,” “Lovesick Blues” and “San Antonio Rose.”
Hensley eventually left the group, married, changed her name to Patsy Cline and went on to stardom — and a tragic early death. She’s immortalized by the nearly life-size cutout on the stage inside the Troubadour.
There’s a second stage on the premises, an amplified bandstand at the bottom of a slope in the park. It’s a throwback to when country and bluegrass were played in small, open-air pavilions for picnickers, before corporate influence turned live music into an impersonal big business.
Then, just as you’re beginning to enjoy the time warp that is this place, Bertha McCoy asks, “Have you heard our Internet radio station? It’s really good.”
818 Cacapon Lodge Dr.
This 6,000-acre mountain retreat includes cabins, cottages and an inn. Rooms average $80-$90 a night.
110 S. Washington St.
The town’s central spa resort. Rooms from $109.
3299 Cacapon Rd.
Views of three states from high on a mountainside. Entrees start at $17.99.
141 Independence St.
Extensive menu served family style. Entrees start at $9.95.
25 Troubadour Lane
Open 1-10 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday; until 11 p.m. Thursday; until 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Hall of Fame free; admission during performances varies. Bands begin at 9 p.m.
McClain is the rugby columnist for NBC-Universal Sports and editor of the print and online publication “Selling to Seniors.”