"West Of West Virginia haunts me. I literally wept the first four and a half dozen times I listened to it; it’s the kind of song a true bluegrass music lover puts on an endless lonesome loop."

-Becky Buller, IBMA Songwriter of the Year

West of West Virginia

Dan Boner

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Produced by Dan Boner

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Video Documentary


JOHNSON CITY - Dan Boner, Director of the ETSU Bluegrass Program and the Becky Buller Band, takes listeners on a journey through the coal fields of his roots with a new single release WEST OF WEST VIRGINIA. 

Imagine growing up attending the last one-room schoolhouse in the state. No indoor plumbing anywhere in your community. Family injured and even killed in harsh working conditions above and below ground. 

“That’s why my dad left as soon as he turned 18,” says Dan. “He made a choice that changed his life in ways that were not possible had he stayed at the head of that holler.” 

The song is given full context through a series of video documentaries in which father and son return to visit Dan’s grandfather, James, who at 85 still lives at the family’s homeplace in Laurel Fork. A retired coal miner and farmer (and moonshiner), Pawpaw, as Dan calls him, recalls growing up hard during the Great Depression. 

“When I come up – it was the end of Hoover’s time – you couldn’t get nothing to eat,” James explains. “If you didn’t raise it, you didn’t get it, because there wasn’t no work, and nobody had no money to buy stuff with.” 

The out-migration of Appalachian people to industrial cities of the North and Midwest coincides with instability of coal prices and the general economy during the early through mid-20thCentury. Bluegrass music expanded into places like Dayton, Baltimore, and even South Jersey, where Dan was born and raised playing bluegrass music. 

“You would not expect New Jersey to be any sort of hotbed for bluegrass,” Dan says. “But I was going to jam sessions on Saturdays with Troy Spencer, Rufus Hill, and Ivan Sexton, and performing bluegrass gospel every weekend on the road with Ola Belle Reed’s son David and The Strings of Gospel. There were four Freewill Baptist churches within ten minutes of my house, and it seemed like nearly everyone who attended was from somewhere down south.” 

Terry Herd and IBMA Songwriter of the Year Tim Stafford penned the song. 

“I’ve never had a song resonate so strongly with me,” Dan explains. “It was as if Terry and Tim somehow looked into a window of my father’s life and wrote what they saw. This is the most meaningful song I’ve ever recorded or performed.” 

Bluegrass lovers will immediately notice the mournful triple fiddles, supported by Jason Crawford on mandolin, Will Parsons on banjo, and David Babb on bass. Dan is joined by Sally Berry (Rhonda Vincent and The Rage) and Daniel Salyer on guitar and harmony vocals. 

Tim Stafford reflects, “Sometimes, when you write a song, you have something in mind as to how it’s going to sound. Sometimes, when you hear the song, it not only meets those expectations but truly exceeds them. I can honestly say that Dan’s version of this song does just that. Terry and I couldn’t be prouder.” 

Broadcasters can download WEST OF WEST VIRGINIA digitally on AirPlay Direct.