Heather Hannah and Rebecca Wudarski at Purple Fiddle

Purple Fiddle – Appalachian Music’s Home Away from Home

Tucked away on Front Street in the vibrant town of Thomas, West Virginia you will find the Purple Fiddle, a unique Appalachian live music venue. Purple Fiddle welcomes families, music-lovers and beer connoisseurs alike in a smoke-free space that features a variety of acoustic musicians, healthy food options and a stellar beer list.

Owner John Bright recalls what led him and his former girlfriend, Kate Richards, to the 2001 purchase of a vacant building. “It was a series of risky decisions that turned out okay,” says the West Virginia native. Their dream was to create a community gathering space highlighting Appalachian music. Most importantly, Kate and John wanted to welcome people of all ages in a safe and healthy atmosphere.

Front Street Thomas in the 1920s
The DePollo Building on Front Street, Thomas, WV in the 1920’s

Taking the Leap

“From the first time we saw the building it spoke to me,” says John. From its construction in 1915, until it closed in 1994, this historic building served Thomas as the DePollo General Store. At the time of their purchase in 2001, Kate was a graduate student in the Masters of Counseling program at WVU. John was working a prestigious job in Charleston as photographer for the governor. Kate and John had discussed moving to a quieter location once they began their family. The terrorist attacks of September 11 provided the impetus they needed. In December, the two moved into the upper floors of the newly acquired building. They married and began executing their joint vision–it would become known as the Purple Fiddle.

Their vision was built around making Appalachian music accessible for all ages. Kate plays the fiddle and John firmly believes children should have access to live music and be exposed to the region’s sounds. As John says, “Children should not be denied.” You’ll find children young and old enjoying good times at the Fiddle.

Children and dancing
Children and dancing are always welcome at the Purple Fiddle
Owner John Bright of the Purple Fiddle
Owner John Bright of the Purple Fiddle

Along with music, an extensive beer selection was a priority. Kate originally objected, “I am not raising my kids in a bar!” This attitude cultivated The Purple Fiddle’s family friendly, non-threatening vibe. So the establishment features a varied menu of food and beer to enjoy along with an array of acoustic musicians.

The Purple Fiddle opened its doors on February 1, 2002 with the Elkins based band JB Tenney and Friends being the first to take the stage. John has curated live music every weekend since, making the Purple Fiddle a staple of Appalachian music in the region.

Purple Fiddle Attracts Talent

For 18 years, the Purple Fiddle has had music on the menu every weekend. The venue primarily features acoustic, old-time and traditional Appalachian musicians, along with jazz, funk, blues, and reggae artists.

After the first year, John no longer had to scout out talent. Musicians from across the Mid-Atlantic region contact him because they covet a chance to play at the legendary music cafe in rural West Virginia. This consistent interest results from the guaranteed audience and the warm welcome bands receive from fans. Musicians are offered a comfortable place to sleep and a delicious meal–a luxury for touring groups and early-career solo acts. The Purple Fiddle’s unique hospitality is known far and wide.

“I want the band to talk about the Purple Fiddle as if it’s a home away from home” says John, “It’s the thing I am most proud of.”

Bites and Brews

Along with an impressive beer selection and deli offerings, the cafe at the Purple Fiddle serves up another crowd pleaser–ice cream. Once a week, staff at the Purple Fiddle trek out to Lakeside Creamery in Deep Creek Lake, Maryland to pick up local favorites. These include graham cracker swirl, mocha chip, award-winning chocolate, and the very purple signature black raspberry.

The Purple Fiddle’s extensive bottled and canned beer collection also features local beers on tap, including top-selling Stumptown Ales. Local brews from Mountain State Brewing Co. and Greenbriar Brewing Company are available in cans as well.

An eclectic menu of healthy sandwiches, delicious home-made soups and vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options is sure to please foodies and choosy children alike.

John Bright and employee in Purple Fiddle kitchen
John Bright and Jess Kenney in the Purple Fiddle kitchen

Outdoor Music Returns to Thomas

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic altering how most businesses operate, the Purple Fiddle has adjusted accordingly. After a two-month shutdown, the Purple Fiddle is once again open Thursday through Sunday with limited indoor seating and patio dining. 

On July 3, live music will return. John took an active part in bringing music back to the mountains. He called Governor Jim Justice’s office and discussed the local music scene. Justice made the announcement in mid-June that small outdoor concerts would be allowed starting on July 1.

“It might be a long time before we have full bands inside the Purple Fiddle,” says John. “Bands are being hit the hardest, so it’s the solo acts we can support.” As a result, only solo musicians are scheduled for every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. “It’s going to be great having them outside, and people walking up and down the street can hear the music too.”

Cleaning patio for outdoor concerts
Handyman Keir Knoll prepping patio for outdoor concerts

Upcoming Shows at Purple Fiddle

Beginning with the July 4 weekend, The Purple Fiddle’s line-up of free patio shows includes Alyssa Hankey, James Margolis and Megan Bee. First is Alyssa Hankey, a singer and songwriter from western Pennsylvania. She grew up listening to legends like Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Bonnie Rait, and their influence shaped her eclectic sound. Second is James Margolis, a musician based in New York City. He performs original acoustic songs coupled with covers of folk, blues, and jazz tunes. Third, Megan Bee, also a singer and songwriter, will perform. She is described on her website as writing with “an unquenchable wanderlust and a raw love of the land.” 

All summer long local and touring talent will be adding to the Appalachian music of Tucker County. The Purple Fiddle’s new hours and the live music schedule can be found at PurpleFiddle.com and on their Facebook page.

Purple Fiddle logo
The famous Purple Fiddle logo

Article by Rebecca Andre, Verglas Media
All photos courtesy of Purple Fiddle