By DAVE MISTICH
FOR THE DAILY MAIL
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Sometimes it's all too easy to take something for granted and miss out on it when it's right around the corner.
This weekend, there's one thing happening in the region that shouldn't suffer that fate: the reunion of West Virginia's two finest arts institutions, the Marshall Artist Series and Mountain Stage.
Sunday at Huntington's Keith-Albee Theatre -- with a little help from Arlo Guthrie, Paul Thorn, Michael Cerveris and Loose Cattle, and Delta Rae -- Mountain Stage helps the Artist Series celebrate 75 years of presenting quality arts and entertainment performances.
You're probably thinking, 'Why get distracted by arts programs when time and energy (read: money) could be spent on fixing social and economic issues?'
Research from a study in 2000 from Harvard University's Project Zero, an arts education-based program at the university, refuted the contention that arts programs improve students' abilities in other subjects. However, this widely cited study has been scrutinized for omitting some beneficial effects of arts classes. And even Harvard researchers acknowledge the value of arts programs.
Regardless of research, there's something to be learned from the arts in and of themselves, right?
Let's use Sunday's show as an example of what these programs bring to the table.
Arlo Guthrie needs no introduction, really. The son of folk icon Woody Guthrie, he has put his own stamp on the politically inspired brand of folk his father etched into the American psyche in the early 20th century. The epic story told through the lyrics of "Alice's Restaurant Massacre" has been a Thanksgiving Day staple since it's release in 1967 and chronicled the civil unrest during the draft days of the Vietnam War.
Professional-boxer-turned-modern-day-folk-hero Paul Thorn certainly holds his weight on Sunday's billing. Thorn has toured with some of popular music's biggest names, including Sting, Mark Knopler, Robert Cray, and John Prine. His most recent album, "Pimps & Preachers" delves into his upbringing in the South and the influence from family members with differing worldviews. His forthcoming release, 'What The Hell Is Going On?', is an obscure set of covers by the likes of rock legends Buckingham/Nicks and Americana pioneers such as Ray Wylie Hubbard.
Michael Cervaris, who was raised in Huntington, is a Tony Award-winning Broadway performer, television actor, and musician who spent his youth roaming the very same venue where Sunday's performance will take place. He's won a Grammy for his participation on The Who's 'Tommy,' currently performs in a stage production of "Evita," stars on the hit Fox television series "Fringe," and has even made pals with punk rock icon Bob Mould of Husker Du. He brings his country group, Loose Cattle.
Last but not least, newcomers Delta Rae from Raleigh, N.C., make a stop in Huntington on an extensive American tour. Having made a name with its independent debut EP, the group mixes pop sensibilities from various genres for a sound that's sure to make a large impact on the charts soon enough.
But aside from the stellar lineup, there's plenty more to be said about Sunday evening's show. These two programs have a mutual respect for one another and also the work they do on their own.
"It goes without saying that we love working with Mountain Stage. We've had a lot of great performances together and this one, the fact that they're putting it together as a tribute to the artist series, is amazing," said Angela Jones, spokeswoman for the artist series.
The Marshall Artist Series has enjoyed a long and storied life of its own. Sunday's performance puts the cap on the 75th year of the series. It has provided arts presentations of all shapes and sizes, from ballets, operas, live music, and educational lectures. Collaborating with Mountain Stage gives the Artist Series a chance to further make a name for itself.
"Once we announced our season back in July and August, Mountain Stage was selling without even knowing who the artists were," Jones said. "Once they announced the artists, sales almost went through the roof. It has a reputation for quality and great performances and having that exposure -- throughout the state, throughout the U.S., and around the world on NPR -- is really something. Money can't buy that kind of exposure."
"It also goes without saying they're about quality. You can go to a Mountain Stage performance, not know an artist, and walk away a fan. That's because they curate very well. We always look to them as a quality organization and a really great arts organization for the state as well," Jones added.
It's probably no surprise that the folks at Mountain Stage hold their colleagues at the Marshall Artist Series in high regards, too.
Mountain Stage artistic director Larry Groce said the two organizations have worked with one another at least a decade. Their initial union was a logical one, he said.
"It's a venerable, prestigious series. It's certainly one of the oldest and best in West Virginia," said Groce. "It was close by and they wanted to be involved with us, so we wanted to be involved with them."
Even though the collaboration between the two programs offers each a chance to cross promote and extend their reach, the union works is a practical one for Mountain Stage, which celebrates its own big birthday, its 30th, next season.
"Regardless of where we go and travel we have to come away with a show that works for Mountain Stage Radio. But that's not a problem in this case because we found some talent that works for us and fits in with the great tradition of the Marshall Artist Series," he said.
While Sunday's performance certainly provides Groce and company with enough material for yet another radio broadcast, the impact goes much deeper for those in attendance.
"It's what makes life worth living. We're not going to pretend that we are important in the same way that people who feed or heal people are important. But what we do is add those things to life that really and truly make it worth living," Groce said.
"Our audiences are good people. They're smart people, they're people who enjoy things and enjoy life and want to live it and keep learning," he added. "In a sense we are in the business of education, too, because when you see a great performance you are enlarged by it-you're enriched by it and you go away a different person."