Von Son Asian Market in Morgantown opened in 2001, yet it isn’t well-known to those outside of the local Asian community. This video shows how to get to the store and what is inside.
Morgantown resident and WVU student Irina Crihălmeanu found out about Von Son only after her friend’s mother from Thailand brought them candy from the store when they were preteens.
“It was delicious and my mom asked where he got it from and he told us about the place,” she said.
While she has personally known about the store for some years now, she may never have without her connection to someone within the international Asian community.
‘To understand a culture, you must accept their food.’ -Andrew Zimmern
“I definitely think it’s important to the Asian community, just like Kassar’s is to the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean people (in Morgantown),” Crihălmeanu said. “Cuisine is a very important part of culture, so when immigrants come here it’s great that there are authentic places where they can buy things so they can keep their traditions.”
She also said if the location were better, people would probably check it out more frequently. Whether or not that’s something the owner would welcome is yet to be seen.
“There’s lots of neat stuff, and it’s so much fun to explore other cultures,” she said.
Walking through the store is like taking a stroll down a microcosm of the streets of East Asia. One can imagine the smells and sounds as you walk through street vendors in China or Japan.
“Seriously, when you step into there, it’s like you’re getting transported to China,” Crihălmeanu concluded with fond laughter.
Morgantown is home to a variety of musicians and sounds. Its intense diversity is redefining the sound of Appalachia and mountain music. One such musician is Andy Tuck, the lead singer of local band The Greens.
Tuck began playing guitar when he was 15 years old. He was in trouble and wasn’t able to join his friends, who were out “doing wild teenage things.”
“My dad showed me the basic chords,” Tuck recalls. “Then, I got Nirvana tapes and learned how to play by listening and playing along.”
He went on to play rock classics such as Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin until he had learned enough to begin writing his own music. His first song was called “Probation Blues.” Eventually, he played music with some friends. The Greens became, as Tuck describes them, the “blues-funk-soul-folk-rock band” it is in 2002. The band is quite literally underground; it began in a basement.
Almost 15 years later, Andy Tuck & The Greens still plays regularly at venues around Morgantown, namely 123 Pleasant Street. When Tuck isn’t fronting the band, he spends his time perfecting his craft at lesser-known venues such as Black Bear Burritos.
“As for smaller venues, I enjoy playing them as a kind of workshop,” he explains. “Getting to try out new ideas and arrangements. And it is a more direct and intimate setting to connect with the audiences.”
Local audiences can watch and hear musicians like Tuck up close and personal and with sonic clarity at these types of venues. While 123 Pleasant Street is his favorite venue for The Greens, Black Bear Burritos is his solo spot.
“I love Black Bear,” he says. “I’ve been playing there, solo acoustic, regularly for over 11 years. I have met some great friends there, have had more of their great food and beer than I can even recall, have written and performed and heard great songs – and they proudly represent art and artists from West Virginia.”
As for the sound of Morgantown, it’s a difficult sound to place. Tuck describes the sound to be an eclectic mix of styles and genres that is surprisingly sophisticated. For example, in one month a venue typically features punk, indie, reggae, hip hop, bluegrass, jazz and other experimental sounds.
“There is an openness and freedom to do what you want in terms of music, and the audience can reflect that openness, which can lead to some amazing and far-out new things,” Tuck says.
From his point of view, Morgantown’s local music scene is a supportive, encouraging place due its small size, lack of opportunity for major exposure and mutual awareness and appreciation for each others’ work.
Outside of rocking out on stage, Tuck is married with two children. He participates in videography and teaches as a substitute in Monongalia County. In the summer, he finds work on farms. All the while, he is working on his master’s degree in Special Education, which he will complete this year. This is all in addition to the time he sets aside for his creativity.
“I just started a new acoustic string band, with Chris Jones and Greg Thurman,” Tuck says. “We’re calling it 18 Strings because there’s guitar, bass and mandolin.”
The band is currently recording its debut album, and plans to tour locally, regionally and even in North Carolina. On Friday, April 15, you can catch 18 Strings opening up for Larry Keel at 123 Pleasant Street.
“It is really great to get a fresh new thing going,” he continues. “It keeps us all inspired and working hard to make it to that next level.” The Greens will also release a double album called “Killer Double Album” soon.
Tuck’s impact on the community is obvious to those who listen, and he really works to make sure people get their money and time’s worth.
“If I can provide a few hours’ worth of good music for good people, then I did my job,” he says. “What I do is write and play and sing songs for people, to present music that is both rooted in traditions and branches out into new original forms.”
This is the local sound. It’s the transformation of tradition into diverse musical harmony. It celebrates Appalachia and makes way for modernity. It’s the sound of the Morgantown underground.
Everyone in Morgantown knows about 123 Pleasant Street. It balances keeping the indie music scene alive with also being one of the most popular venues in town. It’s a great place to rock out with the crowd.
However, sometimes people need a calmer live music experience. Did you know there are many venues for local musicians to play for small audiences? The best places in Morgantown for intimate performances, from bluegrass to jazz, are found within the many eateries and bars around the city.
Black Bear BurritosFrom the locally farmed ingredients to the mountain music, BBB ensures an authentic time within Appalachian culture. Its menu has myriad vegan and vegetarian choices and its own beer on tap. The venue works hard to be conscious of the environment, so you can be sure all waste is recycled.
Almost every night, local musicians line up at 6:30 to play for the guests dining at both the downtown and Evansdale locations. Most of the musicians who play here stay true to the Appalachian atmosphere the restaurant works so hard to maintain.
The Blue Moose CafeThe Blue Moose Cafe is located in the heart of downtown. As a cafe, it provides gourmet coffee, tea and beer as well as breakfast and lunch. One of its unique features is its obvious commitment to being healthy, organic and environmentally friendly. This is a prime spot for vegetarians.
While you enjoy the smell of dark roast coffee and the free wireless connection, you can also enjoy live music. Local musicians, like Shenendoah Thompson, play acoustic sets of rock and bluegrass in a relaxed, cozy setting.
Morgantown Brewing Company is known for its extensive list of craft beers, which are brewed in-house. Rather than the Appalachian cultural atmosphere seen in the last two locations, this restaurant and local venue is all about craft beer and good all-American food.
The music here ranges from jazz to bluegrass to country and more. The WVU Jazz Students get exposure here every so often. It also hosts CD-release parties for artists occasionally, such as it did for Apple Pappy last October. Morgantown Brewing Company gives locals the option to compromise between a rowdy night at the bar and a calm evening at dinner.
Wit’s End Lounge
This lounge is located in the Ramada Inn’s Conference Center. They also boast a menu of craft beers, sandwiches and appetizers. Besides the usual live music, karaoke and comedy nights take place every month.
The local art community in Morgantown is this week’s unseen scene. While art is growing more popular with additions to the local landscape such as the new art museum, art events aren’t on the calendars of most students and townspeople.
It’s a shame because art can be both a fun and transformative experience, and the Morgantown scene has some hidden gems for both art enthusiasts and newcomers alike.
Stackpole always knew she was an artist. Rather than simply an occupation, it occupies her soul.
“I think I was born this way,” Stackpole said. “I can’t remember ever being anything else. I have a specific memory of sitting out on my parents’ porch when I was 4, studying the flowers and the sunlight and wondering how it is color works. I felt an intense desire to build and create, if not out of thin air, then to take what I had in front of me and turn it somehow into something better.”
She has spent here entire life creating.
“Truly, I started with the walls of my bedroom. I was very young (4) and no matter how many spiral notebooks I was given to draw in, I went right through them,” Stackpole said.
Then, her father gave her crayons and magic markers along with permission to draw on the walls.
“I couldn’t believe my fortune. After that, I was lost to those surfaces to translate my inside to the outside,” Stackpole said. As she grew older, her expression grew into sketchbooks and canvas.
After spending her first year of college at Fairmont State University, Stackpole went to West Virginia University from 1988 to 1993.
As Stackpole reflects on her time at the University, she cites Mountaineer football and basketball games as defining experiences as part of the WVU family – even though it still feels like a betrayal to her drawing teacher, who would ask students to skip the football games to work in the art studios.
“Occasionally, at a game, I’d see another art student and we’d both look away guiltily and act like we hadn’t seen the other,” she said, “because we both knew where our professor expected us to be. But come on; it’s Morgantown. To hear the band, watch them perform, cheer for the team – that was unifying like nothing else.”
In 1992, there was a turning point in her artistic career. There was a judged art show in the Mountainlair. The piece Stackpole entered was called “The Road To Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions,” and it caused quite a controversy.
“On the left, a nude woman in red wearing only high heels was standing with her back to the viewer on top of a bar counter in a nearly empty barroom. The color scheme was all red,” Stackpole described. “On the right, an identical woman in a white Marilyn Monroe-type dress was standing in a similar pose but in white heels and on a pedestal. Behind her was only a blue sky.”
The judges argued about allowing the submission strictly because it featured suggestive nudity, something deemed inappropriate in 1992. One of the judges, Charly Jupiter Hamilton, was the single reason the submission was admitted. He threatened to withdraw as a judge unless Stackpole’s piece was accepted.
“I was really beyond astonished and grateful that a professional artist stood up for my work,” she said. “I was the artist that painted the nude woman in the bar.”
Stackpole said the art scene has changed tremendously since her time here as a student. Human nudity was a controversial topic back then. The Monongalia Arts Center wouldn’t show a senior student’s work solely because of nudity, which was protested by the student artist population. Now, the MAC hosts a Bare Form exhibit annually.
Last March, Stackpole’s “Symmetries” series was displayed at the MAC, as well.
“I was really beside myself when I was first accepted into a show there,” she said. “I never thought it would happen, that I would never be good enough, once upon a time. Things change.”
The art included in the “Symmetries” show was autobiographical, and therefore very personal for her. It was about her adventures as an art student who started in Morgantown and followed her dreams “down that open road of Life (sic).”
“I like the word – ‘symmetry.’ To me, it means same – same, or full circle, or complete…,” she said. “There was some great tacit dialogue going on in that show. I feel it was my best yet, and I’m measuring that by sheer dynamics – by how much it connected. I am very happy when the work speaks with the viewer.”
“If that can happen, then I did what I was supposed to do.”
Subconsciously, Stackpole’s art has been informed also by her struggles. Often, observers of her work point out she paints herself in the same way Frida Kahlo would – alone, often more serious looking or lacking a smile.
“Other people would ask, and do, ‘what, are you sad?’ The honest answer is, I’m not sad. I’m just working through all this the best way I know how,” she said.
Besides an artist, Stackpole is a writer, an illustrator and a mother, which as an art student was not a role she anticipated taking up so much space in her life.
Still, no matter where life takes her, she looks on Morgantown fondly.
“I liked everything about Morgantown: the energy, the vitality, the population, the culture and the accessibility,” she said. “Even now when I come back to it, I marvel at the energy of the place. It would be impossible to be bored here.”
“It’s been my experience that Morgantown is a community really rich with opportunity for such creatives,” she continued. “Sometimes we know what we feel but don’t know how to describe it, and that’s where the artists and writers and musicians come in to illustrate. It’s a very necessary function in society.”
Sharon Stackpole’s art can currently be found locally at The Appalachian Gallery on Walnut Street, Glow Beauty Lounge on Pleasant Street and Monongalia Arts Center on High Street.
Her art is also featured in Wheeling, W.Va., Charleston, W.Va., and New York City. She also illustrated a book of poetry for a West Virginia author, which was published this month. In the past, her work has been shown in Barcelona, Tokyo, Montreal and San Francisco.