People of Thomas: John Bright

Photo: Mark William Branciaroli

Photo: Mark William Branciaroli

by Natalia Dutt, AmeriCorps Member

Chances are if you find yourself on an evening stroll down Front St on a Friday or Saturday night as you pass the Purple Fiddle you will be able to hear the amazing tunes seeping out from every corner. One might assume that this venue, which has become a staple of our community over the last 16 years was the product of someone who spent their whole life dreaming of opening a music hall and bar. This, however, was not the case. John Bright, the brains and owner behind this beloved spot spent the first part of his professional career as the main photographer to the governor of West Virginia. Definitely a far cry from where he is now. It wasn’t until the tragedy of 9/11 that he and his partner decided to “run for the hills.” They chose to move to the mountains of West Virginia in order to live a more simple life. As John was driving through Thomas he looked into the building that would eventually become the Purple Fiddle, and thats when the idea struck. He wanted a nice quiet place to raise a family, and to open a business that allowed him to bring music to the people in a very down home style setting. 

When getting serious about opening the Purple Fiddle, John credits having a killer business plan to help him get the ball rolling. Though Front St was nothing like it is today, he knew there was potential for a business like this to thrive. John noted that Thomas was a fantastic town to play host to this type of establishment. With the variety of state parks and natural beauty, and the rail trail across the street, it was reasonable to think this place would not only work but thrive. Since opening the doors 16 years ago, there has been live music permeating from the walls every Friday and Saturday (barring a few instances where bands had to cancel). The vision was to provided a place where families could bring their kids and have them exposed to live music in an intimate and safe setting. Each night of live music at the Purple Fiddle seems to hold some special magic held within its walls. When talking about the type of music he brings the answer is always quality over genre. Making sure that the patrons experience the best of the best John only cares that the musicians are bringing their A game, though you will never see a hardcore or punk band gracing the stage in order to protect the integrity of the old building. John has said having the Avett Brother’s playing there on three separate occasions to be some of his favorite memories. The last night they played, the Fiddle brought in around 200 people. Crammed into the tiny space, standing on whatever they could in order to get a glimpse of a band that would go on to sell out to thousands of people those lucky enough to be there knew it was another special night at the Fiddle. 

John is very candid about advice when it comes to opening a business in a small town. “Don’t do it unless it is truly your passion.” Opening a business is not for the faint of heart. It is not for the people who want to get rich quick. Starting a business in a place like Thomas takes passion and patience. Though he still doesn’t know if this will work, after 16 years he says more people are visiting the Purple Fiddle than before. It is a place that locals and tourists alike can strap on their boogie shoes for an evening of quality music and fun. Here’s to many more memories of songs, friends and the Thomas air on a beautiful night in and outside the Fiddle.