Comments? Suggestions? Requests? Use the Paper and Pen Open Page!

Have requests?  Comments?  Suggestions?  Post them on the Paper and Pen page.  To comment on the Pen and Paper page, go to that page (click on the Pen and Paper menu heading, below the picture of the studio at top), scroll down to the end of the Comments.  You can, of course, also post relevant comments under any individual post.

NOTE: All content in this weblog, except where indicated, is entirely my own, and not that of WHRB or Harvard University.  See the About page for more information. /CL

Posted in Administrivia | 1 Comment

Gordy Brown

I just learned, from an obituary in The Boston Broadside, that Gordy Brown died on December 11th. On December 3rd I had gotten one of Gordy’s frequent mailings to his e-list, this one a forward of a link to videos of old Opry stars. The return address was “may be hospitalized awhile limiting access to mail.” Gordy had COPD and had been in the hospital not long before; last time I saw him, in the summer when he dropped by WHRB to leave off a few records, he was toting an oxygen tank.

On the 24th I dropped him a note saying I was using his old photo of the 1994 HAH Christmas Party and reminding him to tune in on Saturday for the rebroadcast of the 2012 Christmas Extravaganza. The email generated this response: “Gordy.s Auto Signature Block Am in Bedford VA Hospital Hospice unit, Bldg. 2, rm 303. No cell phone. Room Phone is 782-687-4110. NO physical visits. due to covid” As far as I knew he was still alive and maybe even reading his mail. Eerily, it now reminds me of the scene in the movie, On the Beach, after a world-ending atomic war, when a submarine crewman, searching for the source of a radio signal in dead San Francisco, finds only a Coke bottle bumping in the breeze against a telegraph key.

Gordy might have appreciated that irony. He was a friend, and a friend of the show for many decades. If he also earned the title of ‘Complainer in Chief’ on this blog, back in 2014, it was in jesting tribute to our long-standing differences of taste in country music, and it did not diminish the long years of his efforts on behalf of local country performers in New England. Gordy knew practically everyone who played ‘country and western’ in the region, and put that knowledge to the service of his own New England Country Music Historical Society and to Halls of Fame in Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island.

Gordy collected records and memorabilia, and hoped to establish a site for the Society and his collections—at one point he had Georgia Mae’s famous white guitar, which he donated to the Maine Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. The Society was a one-man operation, and eventually proved too ambitious. Gordy did succeed in creating an exhibit called Legends of Waltham Country Music at The Waltham Museum (25 Lexington St.). Here’s an email from Gordy about it:

Gordon Brown was born in New Bedford. He had worked as a part-time DJ on WNBH in New Bedford in the 1950s, and in engineering and production at Boston station WNAC (AM, FM, TV). He served in the Army and was active as a veteran in the American Legion and the VFW. He was also active in conservative politics, and helped distribute the fledgling Boston Broadside monthly, hence the prominent obituary there (next to the legendary Walter E. Williams). Gordy leaves a son, Barry, who I believe lives in Florida, and two grandchildren.

I can’t find a good photo of Gordy, but it would be fitting to treat readers to the volume of the old film series Gordy linked to in his final email, ‘Memors: Grand Ole Opry Stars of the Fifties’. This was the country music from the period that Gordy liked best, featuring acts like Carl Smith, Goldie Hill, Little Jimmy Dickens, Lonzo & Oscar, Minnie Pearl, and many others. This video contains several shows, and runs about an hour an a half. It’s lots of fun:

RIP Gordy. /CL

Posted in Country History, Country News, Hillbilly Journal, Radio Talk | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

The Day-After-Christmas Extravaganza!

This Saturday is the day after Christmas, but we can’t let a year go by without keeping the tradition of our Christmas Extravaganzas alive. So we’ve got one for you: a rebroadcast of the Extravaganza from December 22, 2012! Plenty of favorites, like this one of mine from back in the ’60s:

If all goes well, it’ll start at 9:00 AM Eastern Saturday morning, and run until c. 12:40 PM, to make room for the Prelude to the Met. I had to take out the dated weather reports and Country Calendar announcements, which actually worked out well, as otherwise the show would have run too long. If you hear time cues during the show, just ignore them.

It’s also re-created from an aircheck at home, so the sound quality won’t be as good as usual or in stereo. But with the mix of LPs, CDs, and Vast Variety Vault singles, you might not even notice.

You’ll also hear some songs, like ‘The 12 Days of Redneck Christmas’ that I don’t think we’ve played since. Fun!

Why did I pick 2012? Dunno; listened to bits of a few others, and decided this one was more lively. The old pirate, Cap’n Flint, makes an appearance towards the end, as well.

Stay tuned! /CL

PS Speaking of archives, here’s a photo from the days when we had a party and a little carol singing for the Christmas Extravaganza:

The faces are pretty washed out, but I can recognize most of them. Going left to right, there’s Paul Anderson and his wife, Miss Barbara, who was our cheerful librarian for a time; then two dark-haired fellows I don’t recognize; Helen Clougherty (Sinc’s wife); Bucky Bear, I think; Jimmy Allen in the red sweater; a young lady with glasses I don’t know; Ol’ Sinc in front; Jimmy’s wife Sheila behind him, and then Richie Brown (?); Cousin Flo Murdock in red, and behind her Stan Zdonick; then I guess me in my green shirt (for Christmas) in front; Grace Funari behind me, and Ed Muller behind her; to the right of Ed is someone I don’t know; there’s John Lincoln Wright in a black hat, and his wife Vicki beside him; in front of the two of them is someone in a shiny jacket I don’t recall; in the back, behind Vicki is George Hauenstein (formerly of WZBC’s ‘Sunday Morning Country’, now in the midwest); next to last is the always-cheerful Frank Dudgeon (where is he now?), and farthest right, Gordy Brown, who gave me the photo. It was 1992.

Oh, and MERRY CHRISTMAS everyone! Yes, we are having one!

Posted in Administrivia, Follow-ups, Friends and Neighbors, Hillbilly History, Neat Pics, Program Notes, Radio Talk | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

The Met Is Back, and Orgies® Pre-empt HAH for Two Weeks in December

The Metropolitan Opera Saturday Matinee Broadcast season begins December 5th. Of course, no live operas are being produced this season in New York City; all the operas broadcast will be drawn from the archives. They are scheduled for 1:00 PM every Saturday through June 5th. Although they could be run at any time, since they are recordings, not live, as of now the plan is to start them at the usual time, and for WHRB’s Pre-Met program to precede them, at about 12:45 PM.

Rather than list all the operas, let me direct you to the Met’s own broadcast schedule, which is HERE.

WHRB’s semi-annual Orgy® schedule begins December 4th, with many programs produced by members working from home. As usual, the offerings will be many and varied. The WHRB Program Guide containing the Orgy® schedule will be mailed to subscribers soon, and is available of course on the WHRB Website.

Normally Hillbilly at Harvard, along with the Metropolitan Opera, continues throughout Orgy® Period, but this term HAH will be pre-empted on two Saturdays, December 12th and 19th. I regret this further interruption after the last one, but remember to circle the 26th on your calendar and mark it, ‘HAH back!’ And remind your friends and neighbors, if they are listeners, in case they don’t read this blog. /CL

Posted in Administrivia, Program Notes | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

David Elliott—We Lost a Friend and Colleague

Last Friday brought this news from Jon Lehrich, Chairman of WHRB’s Board of Trustees:


I am writing to share the sad news that David Elliott passed away last night, after a long battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). 

David was enormously important to WHRB and to many of us personally.  His leadership, his dedication, his enthusiasm, and his tireless insistence on excellence inspired generations of students.  His fans were legion, among alumni and listeners alike.

We are deeply saddened by this loss.  We are coordinating with his family to understand their wishes for his remembrance.  I also encourage you to share the news among the worldwide WHRB community.

Our hearts and sympathies go out to all who knew and admired David.  Please be well.


David Elliott at WHRB’s 75th Anniversary Celebration, October 2015 (Photo by Randy H. Goodman)

David Elliott was known to many listeners of Hillbilly at Harvard, especially those who looked forward to his comments on the Metropolitan operas that have followed HAH for some years now. Others will remember David dropping by to plug one of his special programs, especially his afternoon of American classical music for Independence Day, his Christmas specials (featuring a reading of A Christmas Carol by Lionel Barrymore), and his Orgies® of American musical comedy and song. Although David’s expertise in classical music and its recorded history was legendary, his musical interests ranged much wider, especially to older recordings and musical novelties. So he fit right in with the spirit of Hillbilly at Harvard.

Of course the Hillbilly show was special to him because of its long history at WHRB. David was the unofficial historian of the station, giving a semi-annual lecture to new members, and maintaining contact with many old ones. He took a special, we might say custodial, interest in HAH, especially after my broadcast partner Ol’ Sinc passed away at the end of 2002, and for this I remain grateful. David occasionally found songs (like ‘It’s Alright [sic] To Be Fat at Christmas’, by Stringhan Walters) and replaced missing ones, including the CD with our themes that mysteriously disappeared. He maintained the small library of my pre-recorded Generic Hours until his illness made it impossible. And several times over the years he actually co-hosted HAH as a ‘Fillbilly’ when I was out of town, once with John Lincoln Wright, other times with Gerry Katz and/or Larry Flint.

David was above all an exponent of radio, of the art of broadcasting, and his constant influence was one reason why WHRB has consistently maintained a high standard of professionalism, even while staffed by a constantly rotating cast of undergraduates. He certainly encouraged me to keep Hillbilly at Harvard going over the past couple of decades, in part I think because he valued the show as typical of the radio he remembered from years past. I don’t doubt that, behind the scenes, David was instrumental in keeping HAH a fixture of the Saturday morning schedule.

Beyond all this, David was a friend and colleague, and enormously helpful to me in other ways, especially as an advisor when, some years ago, I was trying to run a classical-music record label (Northeastern Records). His absence from WHRB has been a tremendous loss to all of us, ever since the inexplicable ALS disease confined him to a bed in 2018. Friday just made it worse. /CL


PS Looking for something to play for David, I chanced upon this March 2017 email from him:

The Met opera this week is the famous William Tell (aka Guillaume Tell) by Rossini, from which comes the overture.

I don’t suppose you have any country versions of the famous part of the overture….

I responded: “Yes! Bob Wills! Swing, but I’ve played it before. And, of course, not even remotely country, there’s. . . Spike Jones! Now what in the world did I do with the Spike Jones CD. . .?”

I didn’t find Spike Jones, so I played the Bob Wills ‘William Tell’. Afterwards, David wrote,

I heard the Bob Wills — lovely! I brought in my Spike Jones LP version of the William Tell Overture just in case I got the courage to play it, but it was getting very late, and in fact I wanted to play (and did play) a Toscanini recording of the Overture which we doctored in about 1963 (hasn’t been heard since we aired it on Midnight Symphony back then). When it gets to the last section, we put in the opening of The Lone Ranger from an LP I had (and probably still have). The trumpet fanfare is played, and on the last section (the repeated notes) you hear horse’s hoofbeats. At the end of the last note of the fanfare you hear Brace Beemer (the Lone Ranger) say “Hi-yo, Silver!” and there are a few gunshots, and then the Toscanini recording resumes with the big tune. I chose the Toscanini recording because its sound (in NBC’s Studio 8H) was the closest to the sound of the studio orchestra playing for The Lone Ranger. It worked pretty well. So between you and me, we provided bookends of crocques. [‘Crocque’ is the WHRBic spelling of ‘crock’, in the sense of a novelty, or silly event.]

It was only a few seconds, but deliciously funny. “I wonder how many people that went by before they realized it,” I wrote. To which David responded,

Tony Lauck (whom you don’t know) was the engineer of the overture, and he did a splendid job. When we first played it, on Midnight Symphony, there was a phone call right after the interpolation: “Cut that out!” the person said. Too late — it happened and was over quickly.

I’d insert it now, but it would take some editing, and you really need much of the surrounding Overture to appreciate it. So instead, belatedly, here is Spike Jones’s ‘Williiam Tell Overture’. It’s never too late:

Posted in Friends and Neighbors, Hillbilly History, Hillbilly Journal, Radio Talk | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Willie, John T, and Me

In which Willie sits around in his underwear, his friend John T sells sheets to the KLan, and I get suspended.

Back on September 26th, a listener to one of our prerecorded shows (I’ll call him ‘Mr S’), wrote to the Program Director at WHRB, who forwarded the email to me:

I’ve been a loyal listener of Hillbilly at Harvard for decades.  Am listening again this morning and strongly object to the song “Shotgun Willy” that just played.  It memorializes a member of the KKK, whose family made money selling sheets!  This song should NEVER be played on your station.

I am a white person, who grew up in a KKK area.  Even white folks were scared.  Please delete this song from your music library.


This threw me for a loop, as I remembered nothing about the Klan in any Willie Nelson songs, but then I couldn’t recite lyrics for most of them anyway. ‘Shotgun Willie’ was of course the title song of the 1973 Atlantic album that Willie mostly wrote and in which he joined the ‘Outlaw’ revolt against the then-reigning Nashville ‘countrypolitan’ style. The song was not a profound piece of work; my favorite from that album was ‘Sad Songs and Waltzes (Aren’t Selling This Year)’. I had to look up the lyrics to ‘Shotgun Willie’ on the ‘Net:

Shotgun Willie sits around in his underwear
Biting on a bullet and pulling out all of his hair
Shotgun Willie’s got all of his family there

Well, you can’t make a record if you ain’t got nothing to say
You can’t make a record if you ain’t got nothing to say
You can’t play music if you don’t know nothing to play

Shotgun Willie sits around in his underwear
Biting on a bullet and pulling out all of his hair
Shotgun Willie’s got all of his family there

Now, John T. Floores was a-working for the Ku Klux Klan
At six foot five, John T. was a hell of a man
Made a lot of money selling sheets on the family plan

Shotgun Willie sits around in his underwear
Biting on a bullet and pulling out all of his hair
Shotgun Willie’s got all of his family there

OK, so Willie does write about some guy selling sheets—maybe to the Klan? And who was John T. Floores? So I did a little more research, coming up with the response to a query on Reddit that linked to an interesting article in The Texas Monthly by John Spong. What I found led me to conclude that Willie was not ‘memorializing’ either John T or the Klan. So I wrote to Mr S:

You are mistaken about ‘Shotgun Willie’.  Willie is clearly making fun of John T. Floores, who (as I learned today, thanks to your comment) was a dance-hall owner (the John T. Floore Country Store in Helotes, TX) and good friend of Willie’s, who helped him when he couldn’t make it in Nashville.  Willie was making fun of himself, too (“Well, you can’t make a record if you ain’t got nothing to say”).

‘Shotgun Willie’ was the title song of the groundbreaking album Willie Nelson released in 1973.  We’ve been playing it on Hillbilly at Harvard ever since, and yours is the very first complaint we’ve ever had.

So was John T. Floores a member of the Klan?  An article on Texas dance halls in The Texas Monthly sheds a little light (but not much):

The outside world knows John T. from Nelson’s song “Shotgun Willie” and its line connecting him to the Ku Klux Klan. The second-most-asked question at Floore’s, right behind “Did Willie really used to play here every Saturday night?”—a reference to another of Floore’s jokey signs—is “Was John T. really a Klansman?” Some old-timers deny it, but others say that when he was growing up in East Texas, that was just part of doing business. And they say that he really did sell sheets to the Klan. They add that he was married two times, to a Native American and a Jew. “The Klan was just another vehicle to sell something,” says Willie’s bassist, Bee Spears, who grew up in Helotes.

Good article, by the way.  Floores was reportedly quite a character.

Willie wasn’t ‘memorializing’ the Klan, any more than Hillary Clinton was when she called the late Senator Robert Byrd, the Grand Kleagle of the Klan in West Virginia, her ‘mentor’ in the Senate.

Cheers, Lynn

Willie reported that he dashed off ’Shotgun Willie’ while on a trip to the bathroom. It sounds completely tongue-in-cheek to me, and the lines about John T. Floores were just throw-away filler. I must say it always struck me as ludicrous that a vicious, terrorist organization like the KKK would be wearing bedsheets and pointy hats as uniforms; it made them look silly. I expect it struck Willie the same way. John T. Floores, before he was a club owner and Willie’s friend, was in various businesses, which apparently included retailing sheets.

I’d be interested to hear from other listeners. Do you agree with me or with Mr S, who says that the song ‘memorializes’ ol’ John T. and/or the Klan, and should be deleted from our music library?

Now I didn’t hear back from Mr S, so I assumed the matter was settled. But to my surprise it wasn’t: the management of WHRB (the undergraduates, not the Trustees) were concerned that I failed to assure the listener that I wouldn’t play the song again. They viewed this as an act of insubordination, and decreed that I should be ‘suspended’ for four weeks. Of course, ever since my Exile on August 23rd, when Harvard banned non-students and non-employees from the premises, all of the HAH shows have been pre-recorded, so it was those that got suspended.

Now you know why the show has disappeared for the past four weeks.

Of course there was more. The station managers brought up other listener complaints over the past year or two. I won’t reiterate them now (maybe later if some of you want to discuss). A couple you’ve seen debated here. None are quite so obscure as ‘Shotgun Willie’; some have to do with cultural stereotypes with language now considered ‘slurs’. As you know if you’ve been listening and reading the blog, I take the position that when we’re playing a hundred years or so of country music, we have to appreciate the historical and traditional context of songs, and we have to avoid allowing excesses of political correctness to become the cancellation of history. It depends on where you draw the line, and folks do differ, especially outside the academy. However, WHRB considers itself a voice of Harvard, and is hyper-sensitive to complaints. I program on the fly, and beyond watching new songs for ‘FCC clean’ I can’t pre-emptively screen lyrics. So we agreed to consult if the station gets a complaint and to keep a list of songs problematic for Harvard air. Obviously, if you have a complaint, I’d prefer that you contact me first.

What about the immediate future? We’ll be playing pre-recorded shows for the next month or two, maybe longer. Harvard has indicated that they will continue with on-campus restrictions for the Spring term. That likely means I’ll still be exiled from the building (only students and employees allowed), so no live shows, unless a few volunteers like me are granted exceptions during December and January, when no students will be on campus. We’ll see. If not, then I might be able to cobble some archived material here, and maybe produce some new segments live from my office. But my broadcast style relies on ‘physical media’ (records and CDs), not Internet downloads, so it would be hard without professional equipment. But again, we’ll see.

Let me say also that I greatly appreciate all the expressions of support here and by email. Patience is the highest virtue: stay tuned! /CL

Posted in Administrivia, Country History, Hillbilly Journal, Program Notes, Radio Talk, Songwriting | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

HAH History: Sinc and Dave Interview Patty Loveless in 1994

Cousin Dave Schmalz hosted Hillbilly at Harvard with Ol’ Sinc from c. 1966 (see The Committee Saves the Show) into 1975, when Dave moved to Holland, and I came back from hither and yon.  Sadly, as I mentioned on the air, Cousin Dave passed away last October.  I’ve been meaning to post some memories of him here, with on-air clips, but it’s still on The List.

However, going through some ‘To Be Filed’ boxes, I did come across a cassette copy of the interview he and Sinc did of Patty Loveless in 1994 at the South Shore Music Circus.  Dave occasionally came back to the States and on this occasion teamed up with Ol’ Sinc to reprise, in spirit, some of their joint visits to Nashville for the DJ Conventions in the early ’70s, by going to see Patty.

Their plan was to edit the interview together with a selection of songs for the radio show, and that actually did happen 18 months later, when Dave was back in town.  He sent me a cassette of that segment, but the tape has some problems, so it’ll have to wait until I find time to do some editing.

In the meantime, I’m going to embed a SoundCloud file of the original interview, which I’m sure many of you will find as fascinating, and enjoyable, as I did, listening today.  It runs about half an hour:

Patty Loveless Interview

Helen Clougherty, who was then married to Sinc, writes:

The three of us . . . saw Patty Loveless perform at the South Shore Music Circus and [Sinc and Dave] managed to finagle a DJ interview with her after the show.

We spent about an hour with her (me, just in the background).  They were both pretty much openly in love with her . . . she was smart, gorgeous and talented.  Sinc and Dave traded off asking questions. Sinc was more serious and working on impressing her with his country music knowledge (you know that routine and he knew his stuff).  Dave was like a kid who got a puppy.

One of the songs they discuss in the conversation was written by Karen Staley and included on Patty’s debut album on MCA Records, ‘Half Over You’. Dave was effusive in his praise of it, and deservedly so. Listen:

NOTE TO EMAIL FOLLOWERS: If you get an email from ‘Hillbilly at Harvard’ with this post, you may not see the embedded interview. In that case, scroll down to the bottom of the email and click on the link to the post itself. When that comes up, you’ll see the interview. /CL

Posted in Country History, Hillbilly History, Hillbilly Journal, Radio Talk, Record Business, Songwriting | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment



Napoleon’s Exile on Saint Helena by Franz Josef Sandman [de] (1820) (PD)

No, I haven’t met my Waterloo, but Saturday the 22nd of August was the last live Hillbilly at Harvard—for a while. How long? A few weeks? Months? The rest of the year? I don’t know.

Apparently spooked by the hysteria surrounding the Wuhan Bat Bug (an epidemic no worse than many in the past that never resulted in lockdowns and other restrictions), the administrators at Harvard have decreed that only 40% of enrolled students will be allowed back on campus for the new term, and only those students, plus some employees, will be allowed into campus buildings. Since WHRB is in the basement of Pennypacker Hall, a freshman dorm, I am excluded. I cannot even get into the HAH record library.

Fortunately, over the past few years I have recorded a number of what I call ‘Generic Hours’ to run when I’m out of town, or otherwise unavailable (as now). These will be mixed and matched to create four-hour HAH shows, and there are enough that there shouldn’t be too much repetition. Some listeners have told me they like the GHs (more favorites and less talk).

If The Exile continues for more than a couple of months, I’ll have to think about creating new GHs, maybe using live performances and other segments from the past that I have recorded over the air here at home. I don’t have a home studio, but it might be possible to create one, or even rent studio space somewhere.

In any case, the plan is to resume live broadcast of HAH as soon as the Powers That Be at Harvard say it’s OK for me to enter the building. The student management at WHRB supports this plan. You should be aware that they are under enormous pressure to maintain a 24-hour broadcast schedule with only a small fraction of station members on campus, and that HAH is only a tiny part of their responsibilities, so don’t blame them. Harvard makes the rules.

PS The Internet stream going silent Saturday was unrelated; just Murphy’s law: whatever can go wrong, durn sure will.  /CL

PPS Might as well have some fun. Here’s Stonewall Jackson’s ‘Waterloo’ (1959), written by John D. Loudermilk and Marijohn Wilkin:

And here’s a beautiful, rather sad, version of ‘Bonaparte’s Retreat’ that I just chanced upon, played by Aly Bain, with some significant associates: Jerry Douglas (dobro), Danny Thompson (bass), Tommy Hayes (Percussion), Michael Doucet (second fiddle), Russ Barenberg (guitar), Donald Shaw (piano):

Posted in Administrivia, Hillbilly Journal, Program Notes, Radio Talk | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

For Met Fans—More Operas!

The Metropolitan Opera is making up for the sudden dearth of live broadcast performances this season by adding archival productions every Saturday from May 23rd through June 13th.

You can find the new list of broadcast Met operas on the WHRB website, HERE.

There will be Met Prelude programs before the operas at 1:00 PM, so HAH will end 10-15 minutes early each Saturday.  /CL

UPDATE 15Jun20: Edited to correct ending-date error.  The last Met archived opera was this past Saturday.  However, Sunday Night at the Opera will continue through July, at 8 PM on (you guess it!) Sundays.

UPDATE 1Jul20: Scratch that! Actually, the Met archived operas are continuing!  At 1:00 PM for the next three Saturdays: 11, 18, 25 July: Strauss, Rossini, Saint-Saëns.  I think I’ve got it right, now.  /CL

UPDATE 24Jul20: The archival productions from the Met are continuing into September!  I won’t be there live to tease them, so just tune in at 1:00 PM, following HAH, and you’ll find out what they are.  /CL

Posted in Administrivia, Program Notes, Radio Talk | Tagged | Leave a comment

Harvard Gazette Highlights WHRB

Gazette 2020-05-06 at 11.04.50 PM_sm

The Harvard Gazette is “the official news website for Harvard University,” and seems to be updated more-or-less daily.  The May 4th issue featured a story by Jon Chase on WHRB staying on the air (‘WHRB keeps classical connections’), despite the unexpected departure of most of its staff, as I posted in ‘WHRB and HAH Are Still on the Air’.  Readers will remember Jon from his photo ‘Slideshow’ on Hillbilly at Harvard back in 2014.

Jon, whose official title is University Photographer, couldn’t come in to capture the small team of station members keeping WHRB on the air, so he used photos from them and others to let the Harvard community know how the station was faring during the pandemic.

That’s Allison Pao, current WHRB President, with a mandolin (she’s really a violinist) at the head of the article.  Writes Jon,

WHRB president Allison Pao ’21 said it’s been a collaborative effort to stay on air 24/7, with staff on duty at all hours. An undergraduate student comes in every Saturday afternoon to produce regular Metropolitan Opera broadcasts. General manager Emily Spector ’21, chief studio engineer Margaux Winter ’21, and former chief engineer Hamish Nicholson ’20 live nearby and regularly come into the station to manage basic operations.

“Undergraduate staff have been working hard to produce broadcasts remotely as well, recording our classical afternoon concerts from 1 to 6 p.m. on weekdays,” Pao added. “This in itself is a massive effort which requires ripping hundreds of CDs and recording hundreds of announcing breaks

Despite the limited staff on site, WHRB has still managed to present two weeks of its semi-annual Orgy® Period, featuring programs built around a single theme, composer, or style of music.   They’re listed in the WHRB Program Guide, available for download in PDF HERE.

HAH listeners who like ‘jamgrass’, ‘new acoustic music’, Americana, etc. should check out ‘The American Acoustic Orgy’, starting at 10:00 AM Monday (May 11th).  Following that are 28 hours of ‘The Ella Fitzgerald Orgy’, from 5:00 AM to 7:00 PM Tuesday the 12th, 5:00 AM to 1:00 PM Wednesday the 13th, and Thursday the 14th.  And at 7:00 PM Tuesday tune in for the ‘North Carolina Bluegrass Orgy’, hosted by Margaux Winter.  Margaux will feature artists like ‘Rhiannon Giddens, Mandolin Orange, Chatham Rabbits, and Hank, Pattie & the Current’.  Wednesday will rebroadcast the 2019 tribute to David Elliott with ‘The David Elliott Orgy’ at 1:00 PM.   See the Program Guide for more details.

The other news is that WHRB is asking for donations:

“We published our station’s response to the pandemic on March 16 as well as an update on April 21 asking for donations on our website,” Pao said. “We are raising money because we are projected to lose over a third of our annual operating budget in the next few months due to canceled ad campaigns from our clients, many of whom are performing arts organizations in the Boston area.”

. . . The team remains determined to keep things running. The radio station prides itself on being “entirely self-supporting,” Spector said. As a commercial nonprofit business, the station is provided studio space, but otherwise does not receive funding from the University.

Of course, ‘commercial’ means advertising!  You can advertise your business on WHRB.  Rates are very reasonable, and you can advertise on Hillbilly at Harvard as well as on the Boston area’s most innovative Classical, Jazz, and Rock programming.  See my post, Don’t Clap—Throw Money (or Rather, Buy Time!)‘  Email

PS HAH got a mention in this article as well, and a photo—from Jon’s 2014 ‘Slideshow’!

PPS Orgy® information updated; thanks to listener Louis in NYC.  /CL

Posted in Administrivia, Bluegrass, Follow-ups, Hillbilly Journal, Program Notes, Radio Talk | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Photos from the 2020 Joe Val Festival


Pickin’ in the Hallways at the JVF

It’s hard to believe it’s been two months since the Joe Val Bluegrass Festival on Presidents’ Day Weekend in February.  Harder still to remember that hundreds of bluegrass pickers and fans took over the entire Sheraton Hotel for three days, and even packed the Main Stage auditorium for the Sunday afternoon finale with the Dan Tyminski Band, and it all went off without a hitch.

There was an good deal of elbow-bumping instead of handshakes, which makes good sense at the height of flu season, even without any new bug to worry about.   Even in mid-February, there weren’t many cases of the Wuhan virus in the United States, and we assumed there wouldn’t be many people from China at the festival, so (rightly or wrongly) there wasn’t much chance of encountering it in a crowd of bluegrass and country aficionados.

In any event, the mood was festive and the performances were great.  As usual, I hung around with my camera (a new Canon Rebel SL3 with Canon 18-135mm lens, not a high-end rig, but close enough for country music), so here are, belatedly, a few photos.  It’s been two months, so I’ll keep comments to a minimum.  There are higher-resolution, downloadable versions of the photos on Flickr, too, HERE.

Friday evening we arrived in time to catch Bob Amos & Catamount Crossing, from Vermont, a name I’d heard but a band I hadn’t: Bob Amos (banjo, guitar), daughter Sarah Amos (vocals), Freeman Corey (fiddle), Steve Wright (guitar), Gary Darling (mandolin), Chris Cruger (bass).  [Click on one to see larger versions in sequence; go to Flickr for high-res versions.]

Making a quick trip downstairs to the more intimate Showcase Stage, we caught The Deborah McDonnell Band: listed as Deborah McDonnell (guitar, vocals), Stu Ervin (‘multi-instrumentalist’), Steve Smith (guitar), Tim Fiehler (bass), Jackie Damsky (fiddle), looks like a sixth player on stage.  [Click on one to see larger versions in sequence; go to Flickr for high-res versions.]

Downstairs, a gathering of bass fiddles spawned a few jokes of the “Who’s on first?” variety.  Fortunately the grandkids were absent this year, or we’d have to keep them from “Touching all the bases.”


Back at the Main Stage, the hot young band Mile Twelve, spawned from the bluegrass nest at Berklee and now touring nationally, held forth: Evan Murphy (guitar), Bronwyn Keith-Hynes (fiddle), Nate Sabat (bass), BB Bowness (banjo), David Benedict (mandolin).  [Click on one to see larger versions in sequence; go to Flickr for high-res versions.]

I was delighted to see a band that I had greatly enjoyed two years before, Jeff Scroggins & Colorado, back at the Joe Val Festival.  They were billed ‘with Jesse Brock‘, master mandolinist taking the place of Jeff’s son, the incredibly energetic Tristan (off on his own in Nashville, I think Jeff said). Tristan I guess was the harbinger, as the evening’s performance was tempered with the news that this would be the last performance of the band—all were going their separate ways.  A pity, as it was a great band: Jeff Scroggins (banjo), Greg Blake (guitar, vocals), Ellie Hankanson (fiddle, vocals), Jesse Brock (mandolin), not to mention the inimitable Mark Schatz (bass).  [Click on one to see larger versions in sequence; go to Flickr for high-res versions.]

Sadly I had to leave before Claire Lynch‘s set Friday night.  Saturday evening I got back in time for the Boston Bluegrass Union’s Heritage Artist Award to Boston’s own singing dentist (and mandolin player) Ritchie Brown (sorry, ‘Dr. Richard Brown).  Here he is on stage, plus the BBU’s Gerry Katz. [Click on one to see larger versions in sequence; go to Flickr for high-res versions.]

Then it was time for The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys, arguably the hottest traditional band on the circuit today, for their second shot at the JVF, sporting their new Rounder album, and now-regular fiddler Laura Orshaw—plus C. J. Lewandowski (mandolin), Jereme Brown (banjo, not a typo), Josh ‘Jug’ Rinkel (guitar), Jasper Lorentzen (bass). [Click on one to see larger versions in sequence; go to Flickr for high-res versions.]

Now towards the end of the Po’ Ramblin’s set when they brought up their bus driver to sing a couple of songs, I didn’t realize that he was (a) the banjo player Jereme’s dad, and (b) Tommy Brown, of Tommy Brown and County Line Grass, whom I’d been playing on the radio for years!  Tommy Brown always struck me as right smack in The Stanley Brothers tradition, and he sure brought his son up right.  An unexpected treat!


Laura Orshaw, Tommy and Jereme Brown

The Special Consensus are the closest thing to JVF regulars that I can remember, and never fail to deliver.  Greg always remembers playing at WHRB back in the days of the Kinvara Pub in Allston (when Chris Jones was in the band), and always promises to come back some day—which I’m sure he would, if they were in town at the right time.  I enjoyed meeting Rick Faris, as I’ve been playing a lot from his excellent new album.  Greg Cahill (banjo), Rick Faris (guitar), Nate Burie (mandolin), Dan Eubanks (bass).  [Click on one to see larger versions in sequence; go to Flickr for high-res versions.]

Headliners Saturday night were Balsam Range, multiple IBMA award winners and solid performers: Buddy Melton (fiddle), Marc Pruett (banjo), Caleb Smith (guitar), Tim Surrett (bass, dobro).  [Click on one to see larger versions in sequence; go to Flickr for high-res versions.]

Laura Orshaw (fiddle) is now doubling (or tripling or quadrupling if you count her own band and others in the Boston area) with Adam Bibey & Grasstowne, whom I caught on Sunday afternoon.  And who else is in the band, at least for this gig?  Tony Watt on guitar!  The rest: Alan Bibey himself (mandolin), Justin Jenkins (banjo), Zak McLamb (bass).  [Click on one to see larger versions in sequence; go to Flickr for high-res versions.]

Sunday afternoon is traditionally winding-down time at bluegrass festivals, with folks packing up to go home.  But the Joe Val Festival is at an hotel, so a few years ago the BBU were inspired to turn the last act on Sunday into a rousing closer.  I must admit I was a little dubious when I heard they were bringing in The Dan Tyminski Band for the finalé.  Yeah, I knew Dan was famous in the Soggy Bottom Boys in that awful slam-at-the-South movie, was Alison Krauss’s leading sideman, and had won numerous awards for all kinds of musical adventures, but he wasn’t really bluegrass country.

I was wrong. Dan put on a terrific bluegrass concert, interspersed with plenty of jokes and comaraderie.  He made himself at home, and the audience reciprocated.  It was one of the most entertaining shows I can remember, and plenty country.  Dan also played new songs he either wrote or co-wrote, which will appear this fall on a new Rounder album.  I can’t wait.  Dan Tyminski (mandolin), Justin Moses (fiddle), Jason Davis (banjo), Tim Dishman (bass), Tony Wray (guitar).  [Click on one to see larger versions in sequence; go to Flickr for high-res versions.]

We hung around for the Festival’s Wind-up Hoedown dance in the Showcase Stage room, featuring Josie Toney and Her Honky Tonk Heroes.  Josie had played a bluegrass set earlier in the day in the Showcase, which I had missed.  But for the dance she turned to classic country, and did she do it well!  I was mightily impressed, at both her repertoire, her stage presence, and her voice.  Another record I’ll be looking to play on the air, when it comes out.  Josie Toney (guitar, vocals); I didn’t get the names of the others, but if anyone knows, I’ll add them.  [Click on one to see larger versions in sequence; go to Flickr for high-res versions.]

Didn’t catch much of the lively old-timey band that followed Josie (and I missed their Main Stage performance), but need to get some recordings!  The Lonesome Ace Stringband from Canada are Chris Coole (banjo), John Showman (fiddle), Max Heineman (bass).  [Click on one to see larger versions in sequence; go to Flickr for high-res versions.]

Chalk up another one for the BBU!  Hey, that’s a song!  So for looking at all these silent photos, here’s a little classic audio for you, from Jimmy Martin.  /CL


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