Spotlight on Levitt AMP Shenandoah Junction

The view from the stage at the AMP at Sam Michaels Park

Vantage point from the stage at the AMP at Sam Michaels Park

Tonight, as part of the Levitt AMP Virtual Music Series, experience an all-new show from indie roots group The Woodshedders, co-presented by West Virginia’s Jefferson County Parks and Recreation (JCPRC)! Dedicated to promoting health, well-being and the environment, JCPRC is a nonprofit component of the Jefferson County government and will present the Levitt AMP Shenandoah Junction Music Series next summer. For tonight’s virtual concert, the series’ organizers are excited to present a home-grown band whose sound captures the unique spirit and flavor of their community. The Woodshedders blend vintage rock, honky-tonk, and Appalachian roots music to create an upbeat and modern take on the region’s musical traditions. “They have a real West Virginia feel to them when they play,” says Becki Zaglifa, JCPRC’s public relations specialist. Known for their fun, danceable live shows, The Woodshedders are a mainstay of the D.C. area music scene and have four albums of original music under their belts. Their performance for the Levitt AMP Virtual Music Series was recorded live earlier this year at Chord B Brewing Company, and airs tonight at 8pm ET / 5pm PT. Tune in from anywhere at levittamp.org/virtual! 

Historic roots and long commutes
Jefferson County is located in the heart of the scenic Shenandoah valley, a lush region that extends from the tip of West Virginia’s long Eastern panhandle to the Western edge of neighboring Virginia. Dotted with small rural communities, the county is home to about 50,000 people, though fewer than 1,000 reside in Shenandoah Junction proper.

A view of the Shenandoah Valley from a nearby hiking trail

A view of the Shenandoah Valley from a nearby hiking trail

Leaders of the Niagara Movement at the group's second meeting near Harper's Ferry, West Virginia

Leaders of the Niagara Movement at the group’s second meeting near Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia

Roughly 70 miles from the nation’s capital, the Shenandoah Valley area has deep ties to the fabric of American history. Both George Washington and his brother Charles owned land in Jefferson county, and nearby Harper’s Ferry was the site of abolitionist John Brown’s famous 1859 raid on a federal armory. In the 20th century, civil rights leaders including W.E.B DuBois and John Hope convened at a church in the Shenandoah Valley for the second meeting of the Niagara Movement, an early effort to socially and politically empower Black Americans.

Although Jefferson County is largely rural, many of its current residents make a long commute—sometimes in excess of two hours—to work in Washington D.C. and other urban population centers on the coast. As JCPRC director Jennifer Myers describes, the region is widely regarded as a “bedroom community,” though this label only tells half the story. “The socioeconomics in our community are extremely diverse,” says Myers. “We have some of the wealthiest residents in the whole state, but also some of the poorest.” Myers describes a stark economic divide between the commuter population and local residents, with a lack of opportunity in the immediate area severely limiting the prospects of those without the means to work elsewhere. Like the rest of the state, many communities in Jefferson county are currently grappling with high rates of poverty and opioid addiction, with matters made much worse by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

A venue over 40 years in the making
The economic divide in Jefferson County is accompanied by a steep disparity in arts access, with few entertainment options available locally. In the 1970s, a proposal emerged to build an outdoor amphitheater in the widely accessible Sam Michaels Park located just outside Shenandoah Junction, but due to a lack of funding, the project remained on the shelf for more than four decades. In 2018, Myers, Zaglifa, and other members of a small team at JCPRC applied for a grant from the West Virginia Division of Culture and History, and after securing funding, the long-awaited venue went into construction. Specifically designed for large-scale concerts, the venue was named The AMP at Sam Michaels Park and opened the following spring, receiving rave reviews from the community. The community’s annual Fourth of July celebration drew a record crowd of more than 8,000 in the venue’s first year of operation, and the possibilities for the new venue seemed endless. The amphitheater is currently still in “phase 1” of its development, with a series of improvements to the space planned in the coming years.

An outdoor concert last summer at the newly constructed AMP at Sam Michaels Park

An outdoor concert last summer at the newly constructed AMP at Sam Michaels Park

Despite its initial success, a lack of sustained funding cast some uncertainty on the future of the amphitheater, leading JCPRC staff to look for grant opportunities elsewhere. Zaglifa, a native of Stevens Point, Wisconsin, recalls her father enthusiastically describing the Levitt AMP concerts in her hometown during a visit to West Virginia, which sparked an interest in the matching grant program. After doing some research, Zaglifa realized Levitt AMP would be a great fit for the community and the new amphitheater. JCPRC applied for the grant in 2019, and was selected as one of the 2020 Levitt AMP winners last December.

While the inaugural Levitt AMP Shenandoah Junction Music Series was postponed to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Myers and Zaglifa look forward to the Levitt AMP series bringing communities on both sides of the economic divide together and creating a spirit of togetherness and belonging that is often elusive in Jefferson County. Key to the series impact,  Levitt AMP will help alleviate Jefferson County’s “bedroom community” reputation and demonstrate that top-quality entertainment is accessible close to home. “We want to show people that they don’t always have to go into the big cities for entertainment, to find arts, to find music,” says Myers. “We can do that in our backyard.”

Bringing mobile recreation to the rural population
Although COVID-19 has disrupted some of JCPRC’s programming, the organization is getting creative with new initiatives that bring engaging arts and recreational experiences directly into communities. After receiving a grant from the West Virginia Department of Minority Affairs, JCPRC transformed a van purchased in 2018 into a four-wheeled hub for recreation specifically designed to connect with rural communities. Dubbed S.T.E.A.M.E.R (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math and Recreation), the program connects small groups of children and families with activities through a network of businesses and volunteers. “Rather than having them come to us,” says Myers, “it takes experiences into the communities.” With public safety measures in place, the program launched just last week and is already well on its way to bringing activities to those with the most need. “Going into these smaller pockets of population is huge, and provides so many opportunities,” says Myers. Other projects on the horizon include the creation of a Levitt AMP Art Trail, an interactive passive sensory experience celebrating art and music, and the addition of musical features to a new local playground, both with support from a Levitt AMP Bridge Grant.

Mini golf, soccer, archery and more are provided by JCPRC's mobile recreation program.

JCPRC’s mobile recreation program provides mini golf, soccer, archery and more to children and families

While we eagerly await the launch of the 2021 Levitt AMP Shenandoah Junction Music Series, a preview is on the horizon with tonight’s virtual concert from The Woodshedders. Tune in tonight at 8pm ET / 5pm PT on levittamp.org/virtual for a taste of West Virginia roots music with a modern twist! 

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