Culture

New ‘Mountain Stage’ compilation features 21 hand-picked tracks from the show’s archives

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) – Over the course of the past 40-plus years Mountain Stage has brought public radio listeners a wide range of exclusive live performances from veteran musicians, cult favorites, and rising stars alike.

Twenty-one of those one-of-a-kind performances have been handpicked from the show’s archives for Live On Mountain Stage: Outlaws and Outliers. The live compilation album is released via Nashville-based Oh Boy Records Friday.

It features all kinds of musical nuggets you won’t find elsewhere. Like Wilco playing David Bowie’s Space Oddity or the Indigo Girls performing Closer To Fine accompanied by Sam Bettens of K’s Choice.

Find more information on the album, as well as a full track list, at this link.

WOUB Culture’s Emily Votaw interviewed Mountain Stage’s founder, former host, and artistic director Larry Groce about the upcoming release. Find a transcript of their conversation, edited for length and clarity, below. 

The cover of "Live On Mountain Stage: Outlaws and Outliers." The cover has the text of the album's title within an ornate frame.
Live on Mountain Stage: Outlaws and Outliers is out Friday via Oh Boy Records. [ohboyrecords.com]
Emily Votaw: Could you tell me what “outlaws and outliers” means in this context?

Larry Groce: Well, “outlaws” refers to the Outlaw movement in country music, which started way back with Willie and Waylon and Billy Joe Shaver, there was that group of Outlaws. Now there’s another group of Outlaws, and they’re kind of Appalachian outlaws, Chris Stapleton and Tyler Childers and Sturgill Simpson and all those kinds of people, some of which are on this record. And so that’s where we got the “Outlaw” part because there are several people on the record that you could call “modern Outlaws of country music,” in a sense.

And “outliers” comes from the fact that Mountain Stage has never been mainstream. We don’t ever – well, I shouldn’t say ever, there’s times we’ve had some mainstream acts on the show – but that’s not basically what we have. So the other kind of talent we have is “outlier” talent, and that fits right with West Virginia, which is an outlier state. We’re almost always not included in whatever there is, whether it’s wealth or hipness or whatever. We’re never quite there – which is fine. We don’t mind that. So we’re outliers. And there’s some on this record too, and I am kind of proud of that.

What was the selection process for the tracks on the compilation?

Groce: Well started with interest from Oh Boy Records because of our 40th anniversary, and we have some contacts there now since Kathy Mattea joined the show. So they approached us and we said, “well, sure.” We have so much good stuff that’s in our vault that no one can get to because we don’t have a way to do it at the moment, and I would like to have it out there so people could hear it.

And so I started compiling music – and I didn’t even know what they wanted at first, so I started putting together a lot of different kind of things that I knew would be good on “best of” records. I had as many as 300 different artists on that list. And then we got together with a little team, and we started saying: “what do we really want to present?” And by that time, I’d whittled it down from 300 to about 75, by myself.

Then we started looking and saying, “okay, we want outlaws and outliers. We want to make this more rootsy – Country, Americana, Alternative Country – that kind of thing. As you well know, Mountain Stage has a lot of different kind of genres we present. We didn’t want to do them all on one record, so we narrowed it down and then we just went through and started looking for songs. We narrowed it down to about 40, and then we searched for 26 because we figured we’re going to need somewhere around 22 songs. And if we had 26, that gave us a little buffer. So it kind of got whittled down in steps like that.

Are there any anecdotes from any of the performances featured on the compilation you could elaborate on a little bit? 

Groce: Let me take a look here. Closer To Fine was from back in 2002, the Indigo Girls had been on the show – I think – eight times. And Amy’s been on another two or three on her own and Emily once. So they’ve been on over 10 times individually and they’re some of our favorite people and some of the most talented people. Closer To Fine is obviously is their best known song. And the time they did it on the show, it was kind of unusual for them because they were on tour with a European band called K’s Choice and the leader of that band sang it with them. So the version we have of Closer To Fine is Amy and Emily and is the leader of K’s Choice. It’s a trio. Which is kind of a nice take because you can’t get that anywhere else. And it came out so great and the audience was so into it.

Then of course we lucked out because Closer To Fine gets put in the Barbie movie – and who would’ve predicted that? I went to see Barbie not knowing it was in the movie. When it comes up in the movie, I’m thinking “This is wonderful.” For one thing, it’s a wonderful song. For another thing, it meant [the Indigo Girls] are going to get paid for it. So bless ’em.

After that, I thought they would never let us use it because of the use in Barbie, but they’re so nice to us and so good to us: they said, “oh sure, use it on the record.”

Another is Wilco’s cover of Space Oddity. When we heard that – when everybody heard that – everybody’s jaw dropped. Like – how are you going to cover that David Bowie song acoustically? Yet they pulled it off so well. I didn’t ever think they would let us use that track on the compilation. They never released it – they’d done it live before, but it’s not on any of their records. But they let us – once again, they’re a bunch of nice guys.