Mountain State Apple Harvest Festival celebrates 40 years
Bluegrass is “feel-good music.”
“It’s down-home,” Libby Files said. “It reminds you of the kind of atmosphere you were around as a kid. It’s farmland stuff people can relate to. Just good, old down-to-earth music, I think.”
Files, of Hedgesville, W.Va., founded the Stoney Creek Bluegrass Band more than 22 years ago. The qualities of the band and the music it plays seem to go hand in hand with the feel of the Mountain State Apple Harvest Festival, which features apple pie-baking contests, agricultural activities, square dancing, pop-up shops, an arts fair and live music.
The Stoney Creek Bluegrass Band will perform at the festival Saturday, Oct. 19, from noon to 2 p.m., at the Berkeley County Youth Fairgrounds in Martinsburg, W.Va.
Now in its 40th year, the Mountain State Apple Harvest Festival, which is always held the third weekend of October, will celebrate the apple industry as a valued part of the history of West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle Thursday, Oct. 17 through Sunday, Oct. 20, at the fairgrounds and at various locations around Martinsburg.
The event was modeled after apple carnivals of the late 1800s, powered by local businesses, social organizations and individuals to promote the well-being of the community. Highlights this year include a Royal Gala on Thursday, Oct. 17 at the Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races; a celebrity brunch Friday, Oct. 18 featuring actor, author, motivational speaker and retired U.S. Army soldier Jose Rene “J.R.” Martinez in the morning, as well as Queen Pomona XL coronation in the evening; the Grand Feature Parade Saturday afternoon, Oct. 19; apple pie eating and peeling contests on Sunday, Oct. 20; and much more.
The Stoney Creek Bluegrass Band has roots in the Eastern Panhandle and is comprised of Files on vocals and upright bass; Brett Smeltzer on mandolin and vocals; Troy Stangle on banjo, dobro and vocals; Kenton Catlett on guitar and vocals; and Aaron Kilmer running sound.
“Their love for the music runs as deep as it does with me. We all grew up with it,” Files said.
Jammin’ at the country store
Growing up in Waynesboro, Pa., Files’ dad, Robert Kindle, played in a country band.
“He played guitar around the house all the time,” Files said. “He took me to bluegrass festivals all the time as a child. We would hang out, maybe overnight, listening to different bands.”
Around 12 years old, Files, now 54, started to play the guitar. While she listened to the old country tunes of acts like George Jones, Conway Twitty and Hank Williams, Files mostly played gospel.
“I would sing and play at church with my sisters,” she said.
As she got older, Files did not play much music at all, but she still went around listening to bluegrass bands with her dad. She loved the sounds of the genre’s founding fathers like the Osborne Brothers and Bill Monroe. During her late 20s, she began to play it for herself.
There was a country store down the road from the home she had moved to in Hedgesville.
“We’d go to French’s Sunoco station in Hedgesville there on Route 9. I’d go down there with my guitar and just play,” she said. “Other people would gather there, other musicians, and people would stop by just to listen to the music. Every Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, that’s what we would do. Jam down at French’s.”
At that time, she left the guitar playing to the other musicians who would gather, and she picked up the upright bass.
After a few years, she was booking gigs at churches and community functions, and soon she had the Stoney Creek Bluegrass Band up and running.
“When I was in my 30s, maybe 32 or something like that, I decided one day that maybe this is something I would like to try,” Files said. “I just formed a band.”
Fiddling at the fair
Audiences of Stoney Creek Bluegrass Band hear traditional and mainstream bluegrass and gospel, as well as originals written by Files and Catlett. Popular covers include “Rocky Top,” “Fox on the Run,” and “Listening to the Rain.” Among the band’s original recordings and YouTube videos are “Thirty Years,” “Fast Train,” “When the Sun Goes Down,” and “Come and Stay a While.” The CD “Live on Location,” consists of a blend of original songs and traditional songs.
Stoney Creek was named “Mainstream Bluegrass at Its Best” by Bluegrass Unlimited Magazine, and as “West Virginia’s Bluegrass Band” by Around the Panhandle Magazine.
While the band finds plenty of demand for gigs, the challenge is the availability of all its members, as most have day jobs. Files works as a bus aide to children with special needs.
She has attended the Mountain State Apple Harvest Festival, but has not performed at it in the past. She commended organizers for choosing a blend of bluegrass and country music.
This year’s musical lineup features bluegrass music Saturday afternoon followed by the country sounds of Nashville recording artist Nathan Bartgis, whose first EP, “That Kinda Man” was released in 2019 and earned two Cashbox Monthly Charts No. 1 hits with “Cold and Lonesome” and “Coming Home.”
Files is pleased to be part of a celebration of the heritage of West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle, she said, and to be entertaining those who attend the Mountain State Apple Harvest Festival.
“I didn’t think I would be doing this,” she said. “To go out there and play for the public, play for people, just to see the energy that goes through the crowd. That’s a great feeling to be able to do that.”
Top photo: The Grand Feature Parade of the Mountain State Apple Harvest Festival will begin at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 19, in downtown Martinsburg. (Submitted photo)