Mark Spangler: Press
LEWISBURG, W.Va. -- In the 1980s and early 1990s, Mark Spangler was just another musician with big dreams of rock and roll stardom -- well, sort of.
Sitting in his office at Davis-Stuart Inc. in Lewisburg, the 45-year-old says, looking back, he was never meant to play in the mainstream.
"I played contemporary Christian music." He shook his head and frowned. "It was good stuff, but not the kind of music that got a lot of radio airplay."
Spangler is the director for Davis-Stuart, a Presbyterian therapeutic residential program for emotionally disturbed youth. He grew up in Peterstown, and long before he came to Lewisburg to work with troubled teens, he was a Christian rocker. He toured through the late 1970s and 1980s, releasing an album, "Shelter," in 1989.
Songs from the record did make it both on Christian and rock radio, he says, but his music career never caught fire.
"I think probably if I could have played a little more out west," he said. "California was a much bigger market for that kind of music back then and they wanted me, but those kinds of shows were hard to do."
Spangler was married by then. He and his wife, Tracy, had a 3-year-old. It wasn't a sacrifice. Being a husband and a father was important, but making a living and making music didn't work together.
So, he went to school, became a licensed professional counselor, and took a job with Davis-Stuart.
After he took the job in 1993, he mostly put his guitar away -- only played on his front porch with friends or at church. He stayed busy. Spangler and his wife had another child, then another.
In 1999, he became the director of Davis-Stuart. Spangler says residents are sent to them by the state Department of Health and Human Resources. Davis-Stuart offers a wide range of support. It's not just about recovery from abuse, he says, but also gaining skills.
The facility is on a sprawling 650-acre farm. They raise vegetables and beef. Students tap trees for maple syrup, learn woodworking and attend school.
"We try to instill a work ethic in our kids," Spangler said. "Some of them come from environments where a work ethic was lacking."
Work and home are hard to separate. Spangler and his family live on the premises at a house about 200 yards from the main compound. Safety is a concern, he says, because residents are sometimes at risk from those who've hurt them before.
"We really don't have many problems here," he said. "There have been a couple of times when we've needed to protect a child from an abuser and I've walked the grounds at 2 in the morning. Mostly, it's fine. We've got good neighbors and great support from the community."
Still, with kids of his own, Spangler says his family has rules to live by.
"No dating," he said. "And no squealing."
Some of the kids in the program go to the local high school. Over the years, they've attended the same school as Spangler's children, rode on the same bus.
They can't come to me and tell me what one of the other kids has done," he said.
There is an exception. If one of his children hears or sees something about one of the residents that could potentially be dangerous, they can bring it to Spangler's wife. She decides whether the information is serious enough to merit his attention.
"It's kept my kids from being stoolies," he said.
Spangler is devoted to his children, and now, later in life, they've become his musical partners and collaborators.
By the end of the 1990s, as he was raising his kids, Spangler was writing music again, though not really performing.
"We always had instruments around the house," he said. "I'm not the best at every single one, but I can make noise come out of all of them."
In turn, each of his kids took an interest. Evan took up the bass guitar. Daughter Hannah learned the banjo and Josiah plays drums. Spangler showed them what he knew, then they went from there, taught themselves or took lessons. When Spangler finally decided to start playing shows again, he often brought them along -- even his wife gets in on the act.
"She does merchandise and development," he said. "She sells our CDs for us and brings information about Davis-Stuart. It's outreach"
Spangler's music has a flavor of folk rock with a little blues. It's an evolution from Christian contemporary without removing the root.
"A lot has changed with me musically, I'd say," Spangler acknowledged. "The way I write music is very different these days. I don't force it. Sometimes, it's love. Sometimes, it's life. Sometimes, it's nonsense."
He is endlessly amused about how his musical tastes differ from the tastes of his kids. Spangler grew up in the '70s, loved rock and remembers '90s grunge as a return to an honest sound. He likes Jack White's Raconteurs. Spangler says his kids are more interested in string band, roots music and guys like Bob Dylan.
"I'm a little more rock and roll." He laughed. "I'm the one they ask to maybe turn it down a little."
Spangler said he's reached a great point in his life. The things he cares the most about, his work with troubled youth, his family and his music, have all come together.
His dreams are different now. He's not looking for fame or a big fortune. He plays out about 14 or 15 times a year, often with his kids, but sometimes without. Spangler wouldn't mind playing a little more, but he wants to keep the right balance.
"I'm just trying to be authentic," he said.
Reach Bill Lynch at ly...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.