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Movies, concerts, anniversaries and more, the Tri-State had a busy year

Dec. 30, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON -- The year's coming to a close and it certainly has not been the year of the dragging here in Huntington.

The arts community has been moving and shaking, literally. From bellydancers and "American Idol" singers getting a break to film productions and super-sized crowds, there has been a lot to celebrate.

Here are just a few highlights from the world of arts and entertainment in Huntington.

Anniversary on the hill

The hill-top Huntington Museum of Art celebrated its 60th anniversary by giving some love to founding father, the late philanthropist and lawyer, Herbert Fitzpatrick, who donated the 52 acres of land to the museum as well as some 425 pieces of art that provided the bones of the museum's burgeoning permanent collection.

The museum celebrated in November with a new exhibit, "Mr. Fitz," that shows off some of his eclectic collection featuring everything from shimmering British silver from the Georgian period, Near Eastern prayer rugs, fine European and American paintings, sculptures, drawings and prints and Asian decorative arts.

That exhibit runs through Feb. 3 and then again Feb. 23 through Oct. 20.

Museum director Margaret Mary Layne also helped organize the late October Arts Summit, a community meeting that drew a packed house to the Big Sandy Superstore Arena Conference Center to talk about better ways to promote, collaborate and communicate among the region's arts groups.

Mountain Stage returns twice

The eclectic live music radio show heard weekly around the world has a constant college circuit of such cities as Athens, Ohio, and Morgantown. In addition to road shows this year in far flung locales such as Minnesota and Alaska, Mountain Stage With Larry Groce popped into Huntington not once but twice thanks to the Marshall Artists Series.

Groce and crew helped MAS celebrate 75 years of the Artists Series with an April 29 live concert taping at the Keith-Albee Performing Arts Center that featured Arlo Guthrie, Paul Thorn, Delta Rae as well as Tony Award-winning Broadway rocker and Huntington native Michael Cerveris and his band Loose Cattle.

After that highly successful taping, MAS brought Mountain Stage back on Nov. 4 for a live taping featuring Dr. Dog, Nellie McKay, The Mountain Goats, Spirit Family Reunion and Red Wanting Blue. That show aired Dec. 16 and Huntington's own Brainwrap Productions video team was on hand to film some promo videos for Mountain Stage. You can find out more at www.mountainstage.org .

Big Sandy, big crowds

The big, orange barn over on 3rd, kind of a big deal.

The Big Sandy Superstore Arena turned 35 in 2012 and like most 35-year-olds it wasn't interested in looking back and had no time for resting on its laurels.

Named by Venues Today magazine as the No. 11 top entertainment venue in the world (among venues with seating between 5,001 and 10,000), the Arena rocked heavy on the crowds all year. The SMG-managed arena ended the last quarter of the year with some massive crowds including at sell-out of the Keith-Albee for the Fresh Beats Band and then notched up two sell-out country crowds to see Brantley Gilbert and then Eric Church's Blood, Sweat and Beers tour.

Tack on new events that used to be at the now-demolished Veteran's Memorial Field House (such as the dog show and the train show) and the Arena saw about 190,000 folks go through the doors.

Cledus T. Judd comes to WTCR

WTCR Country scored a huge get when they reeled in national act country comedian and Warner Brothers recording artist, Cledus T. Judd. He moved to the Tri-State to start the Cledus T. Party with Clint and Judy on WTCR, 103.3-FM on Nov. 19.

Judd, whose 12th record, "Parodyziac," came out Oct. 16, announced at a news conference in early November that he signed a multi-year deal with Clear Channel Radio to appear on the new morning show, "The Cledus T. Party with Clint and Judy."

That show airs weekday mornings from 6 to 9 a.m.

Fighting back tears, Judd, an Atlanta native who has long lived in Nashville, quickly got to the heart of his decision as to why he is re-locating to the Tri-State -- Caitlyn Poole, his daughter with former major label country singer, Julie Reeves, who lives just over the river in Kentucky.

'Hatfields & McCoys' premiere

Marshall graduate and Hollywood veteran Darrell Fetty produced two companion blockbuster productions for the History Channel -- the Memorial Day-launched "Hatfields and McCoys" miniseries starring Kevin Costner, Bill Paxton and Tom Berenger, which became the No. 1 non-sports cable TV show of all times when it aired.

The two-hour companion documentary shot by Huntington's Trifecta Productions and directed by Mark Cowen ("Band of Brothers" and "Magnificent Desolation") was watched by nearly two million people in its first viewing.

After a Hollywood premiere, History and Trifecta put on a hometown hero's welcome for Fetty with a premiere of both productions at the historic Keith-Albee Performing Arts Center on May 24, complete with red carpet. Berenger stole the show inside when he proposed to his longtime girlfriend and Huntington native, Laura Moretti, in front of the packed audience.

After the premiere, re-enactors such as Red Dog Monroe and Thadd McCloung, who starred in the documentary, fired off a cannon on 4th Avenue to turn on the lights of the Keith-Albee sign that had been restored by a Trifecta fundraiser.

Arts all over town

There was a new and palpable buzz of art happenings in downtown.

Artist and Appalachian Film Festival director Chris Lusher, who has more than 50,000 followers of his Hillbilly Magazine Tumbler page, organized a series of one-night-only art exhibits that packed crowds into the now-defunct Blank Gallery at 1103 3rd Ave., to see such contemporary artists as Jimbo Valentine, Jason Lucas and many other up-and-coming local artists. Blank hit a high note in April with the two-man show that featured Lusher and hailed New York City photographer and artist Max Snow, who did the show here about a week following getting a full page spread in the New York Times.

In April, Huntington joined such cities as Ashland, Athens, Charleston and many others in hosting a monthly art walk. Huntington's walk showcased the burgeoning Shops at Heritage Station as well as 4th Avenue's Uniquely Huntington Antiques Mall at 926 4th Ave., MiAppa, as well as the new additions of such local restaurants as Backyard Pizza, SIP Wine Bar, Le Bistro and others opened with an emphasis on showcasing art on their walls.

15 minutes of fame -- and then some

Lots of local folks chalked up some prime time screen time. Point Pleasant native Marshall University student, Chase Likens, the theater performance junior, made the Final 20 of "American Idol" and got to perform live in Los Angeles.

MU student Daniel Ferreira was featured on an episode of MTV's "True Life" series. Marshall grads too were basking in the limelight.

"Longmire," a contemporary crime thriller on A&E debuted in June 2012. It is based on the Walt Longmire Mystery novels by best-selling author Craig Johnson, a Huntington native and a 1983 graduate of Marshall who has gone on to publish seven novels and make the New York Times Bestseller's List.

Local bellydancer, Tiffany Hussell was a mover and shaker, winning a role on season two of the reality show "Project Belly Dance" that aired in the fall.

In August, local dentist Bill Grimes and his haunted office were the subject of an episode of the Travel Channel series, "The Dead Files," that also featured an appearance by local historian Jim Casto.

And last but not least long-time WKEE radio host turned author Sheila Redling's debut thriller, "Flowertown," did well with some 50,000 in sales in its first six weeks on Amazon.

Landau touring and playing Huntington

Logan, W.Va., native Landau Eugene Murphy, Jr., won "America's Got Talent" in 2011 and in 2012 he scooped up some of Huntington and the Tri-State's great musicians like keyboardist Mark Smith and such Marshall professors as Sean Parsons and Steve Hall to play at gigs all over. Smith has been to the West Coast twice and Europe with Murphy.

Murphy helped Hospice of Huntington celebrate its 30 years in style with a packed show at the historic Keith-Albee Performing Arts Center on Nov. 1, and he played a special homecoming benefit concert in his hometown of Logan on Dec.22, at the Coalfield Jamboree.

Record year for Picnic with the Pops

Crawling back from its own fiscal cliff last year, the Huntington Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Hogan Haas, rebounded with a stellar year in 2012. It was fueled by the Picnic With the Pops season that included three record crowd concerts at Harris Riverfront Park with such themes as Glee, Country (featuring the first public performance by local country rock vocalist Angie Fletcher since suffering serious injuries in a February car accident), and a season finale of Symphony Sinatra with a Tri-State-made rat pack of John Eric Booth singing Sinatra, Ryan Hardiman singing Dean Martin and Michael Barnes singing Sammy Davis, Jr.

To further instill a new spirit, the Symphony unveiled a new stage set that includes a new view to the flowing river.

Rattling at Camden Park

During its 109th season, Camden Park scored a new ride, The Rattler, a 16-person pendulum ride that was built by the Italian ride maker, Zamperla.

The park, which in recent years has added such rides as Camden Princess, The Kite Flier, The Flying Scooters, the renovated Haunted House and the 18-hole West Virginia Adventure Miniature Golf, also successfully hosted the Wayne County Fair for the first time.

Return of Keith-Albee sign

The downtown-based Trifecta Productions organized a September 2011 "Save Our Sign" benefit concert that raised $28,500 for the return of the Keith-Albee's 83-year-old sign.

The Trifecta crew got to celebrate the re-lighting of the sign in style during the Hatfields and McCoys premiere on May 24, 2012 as such actors as Tom Berenger shot blackpowder pistols in the air as the new green and white light sign was lit up for the first time. The sign was restored and installed by Paris Signs.

Appy Uprising gets national award

Heading into its 12th year in 2013, the Appalachian Uprising at Eden Valley Farms has drawn in bluegrass and newgrass fans from all over North America to Steve and Gina Cielec's Scottown, Ohio, farm.

That has not gone unnoticed. The Appy Uprising, which had such headliners as Ricky Skaggs and Chris Thile's band, Punch Brothers in 2012, was honored at the International Bluegrass Music Association Awards in September in Nashville.

The Uprising won the IBMA's first year Momentum Award for Event/Festival. Cielec confirmed at IBMA week that the Grammy-nominated string band, The Carolina Chocolate Drops have been signed for the 2013 Appalachian Uprising.

A feast of award-winning films

Best known in Huntington for their Emmy Award-winning film "Ashes to Glory," the Huntington-based documentary filmmaking team of John Witek and Deb Novak were honored in April in Houston as their latest work, "Steven Caras: See Them Dance," won the Grand Remi Award "Best of Show" at the 45th Annual Worldfest-Houston International Film Festival.

In its 45th year, Worldfest-Houston is one of the oldest international film festivals in existence. "See Them Dance" was one of more than 4,500 festival entrants received from 22 countries and came away with the top prize.

The film, about famous former New York City Ballet dancer and photographer Steven Caras, was shown on WVPBS in September.

In other film news in 2012, Huntington native and skateboarding industry veteran, Bryan Ridgeway, shared "Skateistan: Four Wheels and a Board in Kabul" at the Marshall Artists Series Fall International Film Festival at the Keith-Albee Performing Arts Center in downtown Huntington.

That film, which won the prestigious Cinema for Peace award for "Most Valuable Documentary," follows Oliver Percovich and Sharna Nolan's efforts to start a skatepark/ Afghanistan's first co-educational skateboard school in the center of war-torn Kabul. Ridgeway helps get the volunteers for that project.

Kenova native Tony Ramey came home in the spring of 2012 from Texas to share the indie hit, "The Last Ride," as the featured film of the Appalachian Film Festival. Ramey helped write songs for the soundtrack, including the title track.