The Sagebrush Roundup has been a local presence since 1938, having outlasted wars, cultural shifts and changing tastes in music.
For the past six years, the West Virginia Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum Inc., located on Bunner Ridge in the Sagebrush Roundup’s sprawling complex, has inducted scores of accomplished musicians into its hall who have played on the roundup’s stage.
But 2020, of course, is no ordinary year as a result of the novel coronavirus COVID-19.
Delayed twice already because of the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s Hall of Fame induction festivities have been indefinitely postponed.
“It was originally scheduled for back in April, but we had to move it to July. Now we’re in July and we can see it’s not going to work, either,” said Bill Janoske, treasurer of the Sagebrush Roundup’s board of directors and leader of the house band.
This year’s slate of musicians scheduled for induction includes Chuck Comas, Thomas Dadisman, Matt Hanshaw, Ray McCartney, Jack Smith, Vic Snyder and Chuck Westfall.
Those individuals will now be inducted at a later date, said Janoske.
Whenever the ceremonies take place, the next inductees will mark the sixth class to be enshrined into the hall, which currently features 24 country music artists. The new class will add seven more members.
Janoske said the Sagebrush Roundup’s board prefers to wait out the coronavirus pandemic rather than produce a makeshift celebration under COVID-19’s social gathering protocol.
“We want to make this a special event. But we can’t make a special event in the current situation,” said Janoske, who has been active in the organization since 2002. “So right now, it’s postponed indefinitely. But it’s definitely going to happen as soon as all this coronavirus stuff is over.”
Comas, a lifelong Fairmont resident who has been involved with the Sagebrush Roundup since 1985, was scheduled to take his rightful place in the hall of fame this year prior to the postponement.
He remembers his first visit to the Sagebrush Roundup.
“I just happened upon it one evening and fell in love with the place. There was a lady standing on stage singing like Minnie Pearl. She had the heart of Minnie Pearl, I tell you. We started talking and she said, ‘You can get up here and sing.’ I got up there and sang ‘This Land is Your Land’ or something like that. I started going every Saturday night and haven’t stopped yet,” said Comas.
As much as he loves the Sagebrush Roundup’s music, Comas said, it’s the people who make the venue unique.
“Nice, nice people. That’s what attracted me to it. Everyone working together,” Comas said. “This place would have never had happened if it weren’t for the people of Bunner Ridge, the late Colonel Jack ‘Hardrock’ Bunner, and The Green Valley Pioneers, the house band.”
Comas said Sagebrush Roundup concerts offer a perfect antidote from the pressures of the everyday world, especially during these interesting times.
“It’s a chance to get out and relieve the stress of life. Everybody seems happy there. It’s a great place to go to unwind,” said Comas.
In most years, the Sagebrush Roundup plays live music every Saturday evening at its 33-acre complex located at 2580 Bunner Ridge Rd. In winter, the musicians perform inside at a 1,000-seat auditorium. In warmer months, fans enjoy music under the stars when musicians play on an outdoor stage.
The property also includes the Sagebrush Roundup Museum which is home to artifacts from performers that date back to the 1930s, a gift shop, restaurant, and on-site campground with utilities.
Because of COVID-19, however, weekly performances have been scaled back substantially.
“COVID has really kind of shut us down,” Janoske said, but added outdoor concerts with social-distancing measures in place have been and will continue to be held on occasion this summer as the pandemic dictates.
Comas said the organization is acting out of concern for its core patrons.
“A lot of the people who attend the Sagebrush Roundup are senior citizens and they’re afraid of catching the virus,” said Comas.
Residents who are interested in attending a Sagebrush Roundup performance should check the organization’s Facebook page for an updated schedule of performances.
“We’re going to try to host a couple outdoor performances a month. The COVID is a problem, yes, but when you move the show outdoors, the weather becomes a factor, too. If it’s a rainy day, we might have to cancel right at the last minute and that’s never a good thing,” Janoske said.
The Sagebrush Roundup was radio station WMMN’s response to the growing popularity of live-audience country music jamborees.
Modeled after the Wheeling Jamboree, Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry and comparable programs, the Sagebrush Roundup was first held in December 1938 and was broadcast on WMMN radio from the West Virginia National Guard Armory in Fairmont.
Over the years, the stage has been graced by notable performers. Grandpa Jones and Buddy Starcher are two Sagebrush Roundup veterans who went on to attain national reputations. Other prominent performers have included Cowboy Loye Pack, Cherokee Sue, Little John Graham, Wilma Lee, Stoney Cooper and Juanita Moore.
The last Sagebrush Roundup broadcast on WMMN occurred on October 2, 1948, but the name remained in use into the early 1950s on daytime radio programs featuring Hank the Cowhand and Blaine Stewart.
The current iteration of the Sagebrush Roundup was launched in 1985, however, today’s concerts are not broadcast on radio.
“The Sagebrush Roundup is a family place. There’s no alcohol or smoking allowed. It’s a place where you can bring any age, from your kids right up to your grandma,” said Janoske. “We play classic country. We’re not against new music or anything, but it’s an older crowd that wants to hear classic country music. It’s kind of like going to the Grand Ole Opry, but we’re not as big or famous as the Opry.”