By Greg Johnson
On the morning of December 20, 2012, Tim Pyne was at work at CSX-IP, a data storage facility in the Greenbrier’s bunker, when he received a startling phone call telling him his house in Ronceverte was on fire. He raced to the scene and found his wife Tammy, a hair stylist in Fairlea, already there. They were too late – an electrical fire had destroyed their home, and claimed the lives of their dog and cat. Overwhelmed, they went to Greenbrier East High School to give their daughter Brye the tragic news.
Reality hit them: it was 5 days before Christmas and they were homeless. Their only possessions were a box of family photos, their cars, some odds and ends in their garage, and Tim’s drum set, which had been in his vehicle.
They spent the night at Michael and Jeanne Christie’s Bed & Breakfast. In the meanwhile Jim Rohan, Tim’s supervisor at CSX-IP, arranged with Greenbrier owner Jim Justice for the family to stay in a 4-bedroom cottage on the grounds, and to eat in the restaurants. They were hesitant to go from homelessness to the lap of luxury, but they arrived to find the cottage decorated with a Christmas tree and filled with gifts. After three days at the hotel they moved to the Fairfield Inn. Offers of more substantial housing began arriving.
“The first person to offer us a house was Cathey Sawyer from GVT,” Tim relates. “She and her husband Joe said we could stay at their river camp in Alderson. Then Dr. Colin Rose offered us a house he owns on Lafayette Street in Lewisburg.” The family accepted Dr. Rose’s offer. They started making plans to clean up their property and build a modular home on the site of their former residence. But they didn’t expect what happened next.
“Lisa Stansell of the Mountain Messenger created a Facebook page to solicit help for us. Word spread quickly and people started offering all kinds of things,” Tim says, still marveling at the outpouring of community support. “A woman came up to us at Magic Mart and gave us some cash. When I got home and looked, it was $500 – and she wasn’t wealthy.” Friends donated clothing, furniture, dishes and all manner of household items, and a bank account was set up for monetary contributions.
The Pynes weren’t the first family in the Greenbrier Valley to experience generosity in the face of hardship. But they might have been the first to have two dozen bands offer to have a benefit concert to help them get back on their feet. Tim, a drummer, has played with local groups since he graduated from Greenbrier East three decades ago. He plays regularly with the West Virginia Jazz Orchestra, a big band based in Lewisburg. The musicians saw an opportunity to help one of their own.
“Dan Lively, who plays guitar for The Weight, suggested a benefit on Facebook,” Tim remembers. “Then John Foster and Jim Snyder took the lead and started organizing it.”
Six weeks after the disaster, the Saturday night before the Super Bowl, the streets of Lewisburg were alive with the sound of music. Twenty-five bands took to stages in five venues to help their fellow musician. GVT, the Irish Pub, the Wild Bean and the Sweet Shoppe in downtown Lewisburg, and Wild Bill’s Roadhouse in Caldwell, waived their share of any cover charges so all the proceeds could go to the family. For a bargain $20, ticketholders could go from venue to venue into the wee hours of Sunday morning. The musicians played for free. Despite the fact that it was a snowy winter night, 350 tickets were purchased and an impressive amount was raised.
While things aren’t back to normal for the Pynes, Tim, Tammy and Brye are doing better, busy with work and school, and planning their new house, which Tammy hopes will include a salon that will enable her to work from home.
But something else happened that snowy February night, something nobody had anticipated. “It was a very rewarding experience for me,” says blues musician John Foster. “I loved seeing everybody come together for a cause. I couldn’t be prouder of Lewisburg. Many of the musicians and ticketholders said the same thing. We started talking about turning it into an annual event to benefit local musicians in need. Other communities do similar things. We’re not talking about helping guitarists pay their light bills - it would be for people who have real crises.”
The concert for the Pyne family was called TNT, short for Tim ‘n Tammy. Foster envisions keeping the name to honor the birth of the event, and calling it the TNT Winter Music Festival. He sees the first Saturday in February, when little else seems to be happening locally, as a good time to hold it.
If any town with a population of 4000 can pull off an annual winter music festival, Lewisburg probably can. A healthy number of live music venues dot a downtown that’s essentially three blocks long. In addition to large performance spaces at the Greenbrier Valley Theatre, Carnegie Hall, and the Lewis Theatre, the Irish Pub, the Wild Bean, the Sweet Shoppe, and Del Sol Café regularly feature live entertainment. “You can’t have a music scene without venues,” Foster observes. “Part of what helps our scene is having neat places to play. Patrick at the Irish Pub, Darla at the Sweet Shoppe, Roger at the Wild Bean, and Tony at Del Sol are all proponents of live music.”
As the benefit concert underscored, the Greenbrier Valley doesn’t suffer from a shortage of musicians: solo artists, duos, trios, dance bands, bluegrass bands, country bands, rock and roll bands, roots bands, blues bands, and even a big band call the region home. An annual festival featuring local performers would seem to be a natural extension of the interest in music that obviously exists.
Ironically, in the long run one family’s devastating loss could turn out to be the community’s gain.