From the November 13, 2015, issue of the Greyhound Gazette:
Eastern New Mexico University graduate Ron Sowell is the musical director for Mountain Stage Radio, a two-hour music show airing every week on National Public Radio on over 150 stations throughout the country.
“The show gives me the opportunity to meet and play with some of the best musicians in the world,” he said. “It’s a dream job that continually challenges me to be at the top of my craft.”
High-profile musicians Mr. Sowell has met and played with include Kathy Mattea, Lyle Lovett, Norah Jones, Arlo Guthrie, Sarah McLachlan, Judy Collins, Odetta, Gordon Lightfoot, Maria Muldaur, Loudon Wainright, Johnathon Edwards, Bruce Hornsby, Taj Mahal, Ritchie Havens, Townes Van Zandt, Indigo Girls, REM, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Dr. John, Joan Baez, Marcia Ball, Nancy Griffith, Emmy Lou Harris and Livingston Taylor.
His job duties are to communicate with the musical guests who want to use the band during their performance and work with them to select the songs, create charts and delegate responsibilities to the other band members.
On show day, the musical director, who plays acoustic guitar and harmonica and sings as part of the Mountain Stage Band, oversees the sound check/rehearsal with the guests and band.
When the recording light goes on in the evening, they perform the songs before a local live audience and a national radio audience.
“I enjoy it all,” he said of his favorite aspect of the job, which he has had since 1984. “Of course, my basic love is playing and performing music, but I also love interacting with the celebrity musicians, singers and songwriters that I meet each week.”
The most challenging part of his position as musical director of the Charleston, West Virginia-based band is “learning new music on short notice and performing it in a high-pressure situation on-air before a national audience.
“I have had a wonderful and satisfying career that has taken me all over the world and has been my passport into every social class and level of society,” he said.
“At this point in my life, my goals are simply to continue to grow and get better in every aspect of my craft and to give back by paving the way for the next generation of artists,” he continued. “It is more about service than personal aspirations.”
Mr. Sowell’s awards and honors include being featured on several occasions with the Charleston and Wheeling Symphonies, placing second in the prestigious contest at Doc Watson’s Merle Fest and first at the inaugural Rocket Boys Festival, and winning the Golden Mic for writing and producing the best original jingle in the United States for the West Virginia Lottery.
He has recorded four albums with two West Virginia bands and has three solo CDs: “Oil and Water”, “Little Movies” and a collection of songs for children entitled “Opposite Day.”
His previous work positions include solo artist, songwriter, recording musician and producer.
The Roswell-native attended ENMU from 1965-70, earning a bachelor’s of political science with a minor in history.
The 1969 student body president chose to attend Eastern when he was offered a partial music scholarship by his mentor, Dr. George Umberson, and an opportunity to sing in the concert choir.
The Coachmen, 1967 - Chuck Rives, Ron, and Tommy Williams
The Concert Choir member was also involved in intramurals, folk trio “The Coachmen,” Swanee Singers and other musical productions and Sigma Chi.
“I loved my time at ENMU. I got a great education and made many fabulous friends,” he explained. “I was given the hands-on opportunity to do things, whether it was performing on-stage in musical productions or interacting with my peers in student government organizations.
“I gained valuable experience in working and creating with people and, more importantly, I developed the confidence in my ability to achieve any goal that I set.
“I had an epiphany my senior year at ENMU. I decided to follow my heart and be a professional musician rather than go to law school and become a lawyer,” the Eastern grad explained.
“My parents were not too pleased at the time and many of my friends thought I was crazy. I have never regretted my decision and have been very fortunate to be able to make my living playing music since I was 21-years-old.”
In addition to his job with Mountain Stage, Mr. Sowell has an active career as a performing singer-songwriter.
He also works with children, having spent 23 years as a part-time music instructor at Mountaineer Montessori in Charleston and performing hundreds of concerts and workshops in schools and classrooms.
The musical director for Unity of Kanawha Valley has been married to his “beautiful wife, Sally, for 25 years. She is a retired psychologist and my best friend."
He has one daughter, Mira, a gifted singer, songwriter and professional musician. She is half of a nationally touring and recording duo called “The Sea The Sea.”
Ron's daughter, Mira Stanley, and her partner Chuck Costa of "The Sea The Sea"