Visit the Hillbilly at Harvard Blog for blog archives and more information about the program.

Recent posts:


OId Devils Dream. . . of 1986

ANOTHER ARCHIVAL HILLBILLY AT HARVARD

I just finished listening to an old Hillbilly show, which ended with a live performance from The Nashville Bluegrass Band, and a lengthy Old Sinc recitation of the Country Calendar as the boys played ‘Cumberland Gap’. I wanted to call up Sinc and tell him what a great job he and the NBB had done. But of course, it’s way too late: the show was on April 12th, 1986.

The Nashville Bluegrass Band has long been one of my favorite bands. I had forgotten how long, when I saw a sticker on a large tape reel from 1986. One of the four Hillbilly shows on that reel featured the NBBs, as I call them. At the time they had just performed with Riders in the Sky at Nightstage in Cambridge, and were scheduled to appear that night in Fitchburg. They turned up at the end of the program, but as the bluegrass show Panhandle Country then followed Hillbilly at Harvard (and not a baseball game, as I mistakenly announced early on), we were able to run a few minutes over.

Compared to some of the Archival shows we’ve aired, this one was fairly tame. In those days I hosted The Down Home Show from 8 to 10am; Hillbilly ran from 10 to 1, with a break for the Hillbilly News at Noon, a mostly straight newscast pulled from the AP ticker. I’ve cut that out, along with a song or two, to keep all of the live performance by the Nashville Bluegrass Band, which I think you’ll agree was just terrific.

Listening to these old programs as I copy tapes to the computer, ‘digitizing’ them, leaves me a little drained. Hillbilly at Harvard, back in the ’80s and ‘90s was a weekly exercise in organized inanity, programmed on the fly, but drawing on Sinc’s and my long (if mostly volunteer) radio experience and our common taste in music, augmented by a rotating cast of friends and guests. It was a lot of fun, but also a valuable resource for country fans in our broadcast area, and for the musicians, clubs, and promoters who made live country and bluegrass available. Hillbilly at Harvard had its own place in the grownup music community, quite apart from Harvard and from WHRB’s undergraduate staff, most of whom paid no attention.

Listening to these shows is a little like perusing old photograph albums, only more intense, flooding me with both delight and melancholy. After Sinc’s death in 2002, it was never quite the same. I kept our hoary ‘Top 40’ format and mostly the same mix of old and new country music, weeding out the schlock and pop, still open to a little tomfoolery, but it was nowhere near as much fun. That just came home to me when the visiting Nashville Bluegrass Band on the 1986 tape played a song from their (then) forthcoming album, written by Tommy Goldsmith, called ‘Old Devil’s Dream’. Sinc and I were in our 40s by 1986, but we were still young devils at heart, and the show had the kind of energy that young devils bring.

Well, this week I’m offering that show from April 12th, 1986. I know our long-time listeners will enjoy it. I hope any newcomers do, too. It seems like only yesterday, though this old devil knows better. /CL

By Request, Crowe and McLaughlin in 1994

ANOTHER ARCHIVAL HILLBILLY AT HARVARD

After the Archival show with James King, Gerry Katz of the BBU wrote to say he booked the concert with James and Lou Reid that weekend, and the live performance of the James King Band brought back many memories. He also suggested, “How about the show from April 1994 with Crowe and McLaughlin?” So I looked, and yes, I had the show on Digital Audio Tape, from April 9th, 1994.

So here it is this Saturday. The show is four hours long, as most Hillbilly shows were until this year, except for football season and the Met, so sadly I have had to cut off the first hour. I also have pruned some of the extended Country Calendar announcements, though I left many in, and many of the screw-ups—Sinc and I were keeping score. Besides Josh Crowe and David McLaughlin, on two guitars in Studio A at Memorial Hall, guests included Ken Irwin of Rounder Records, Gerry himself and Stan Zdonik, and a brief appearance by John Lincoln Wright.

Josh Crowe and David McLaughlin (Rounder promotional photo by Lise Metzger)

Crowe and McLaughlin, as they were billed, had recently released a duet album on Rounder, Going Back, and that Sunday were opening a BBU show at the (then called) Museum of Our National Heritage in Lexington, with The Dry Branch Fire Squad. On that day the BBU offered classes and a picking party in the afternoon before the show. Josh and David talked about a second album, but I don’t think one was ever released. Going Back seems to be out of print.

Thanks to Gerry for suggesting this show for an Archival production. If you remember others you’d like to hear, please let me know. Although I have a lot of tapes and computer recordings of Hillbilly shows from the mid-1980s on (and some from the ’70s possibly), many did not get recorded. But I’ll be happy to look for one if you think of it. /CL

Some Photos from Blistered Fingers in June

We drove up with our little Casita travel trailer into pungent Litchfield, Maine (yes, it seemed to be manure-spreading season) and found the Blistered Fingers Bluegrass Festival, the 54th, they advertise. They have two every summer (in June and August), so if that’s been the plan since the start, it’s still 27 years, which is mighty impressive. It’s all the work of Greg and Sandy Cormier.

I’ve picked out a few of the better photos, all taken Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, June 18, 19, 20, using my Canon Rebel SL3 DSLR and Canon 18-135mm lens. For larger images, click on any photo. For high-resolution versions, go to Flickr, HERE.

Here’s Redwood Hill, from Connecticut:

Sandy Cormier, introducing the next act; staff member Carl in his car; a bluegrass picker:

The Katahdin Valley Boys, from Maine:

Rock Hearts, from Rhode Island:

Zink & Company (now from Tennessee):

The Baker Family, from Missouri:

Festival flavor: concert area, best T-shirt, eats, crafts:

The Little Roy & Lizzie Show, from Georgia:

The Gibson Brothers, from New York:

A storm threatened, but delivered only a shower and rainbows. Later, a spectacular sunset (which the audience didn’t notice) and a neat, tunnel-shaped cloud. Finally, a Sunday-morning gospel sing:

Some festival notes:

  • Young lead singer of The Baker Family, Carina Baker, offered a version of ‘Blue’ that recalled Patsy Cline. She’s going places, I reckon.
  • Cory Zink remembered performing on HAH in Studio B with Acoustic Blue, from western Massachusetts.
  • Alex MacLeod, of Rock Hearts, promises to return to HAH once we’re open for guests and their new CD is out.
  • Playing mandolin with The Gibson Brothers was stellar guitarist Cody Kilby, known for his work with Ricky Skaggs’s Kentucky Thunder, and The Traveling McCourys.
  • Little Roy Lewis was his usual manic self, but remains an amazing musician and performer, despite his age and bouts with severe illnesses, according to daughter Lizzie Long, who impressed me with both her singing and fiddling. The audience loves the show.
  • Photographer’s gripe: the signature cartoon figure backdrop on stage is cute, but makes framing photos hard. Would love to see it moved—maybe atop the stage?
  • Thanks to the Cormiers for a very well-run and entertaining festival. /CL

What Do Claire Lynch, Ranch Romance, and The Austin Lounge Lizards Have in Common?

ANOTHER ARCHIVAL HILLBILLY AT HARVARD

They were all on Hillbilly at Harvard! Ranch Romance and The Austin Lounge Lizards performed live in 1994. Claire Lynch didn’t show up until 2010, for what we call a ‘chin-and-spin’, to promote a show that evening in Newburyport, and her new Rounder album. But they’re all on this week’s Archival HAH.

We start with the Hillbilly show from October 9th, 2010. It was football season, and HAH had to end at 11:30 that Saturday. So I’ve included the whole show, lightly edited, featuring an extended interview with the delightful Claire Lynch, just chatting about this and that, including her new album, Whatcha Gonna Do? on Rounder. We play songs from the album, and learn a lot about this wonderful performer who, despite her luminous standing and multiple awards, still remains funny and totally free of pretension. I remembered that chin-and-spin fondly, and thought you might enjoy it as well. Claire has the knack for making herself right at home, and putting her interviewer at ease. Listen for her ‘droid’.

After that show ends, we jump back in time to May 1st, 1994. WHRB was preparing to move out of the Memorial Hall basement to its present quarters in Pennypacker Hall, so things were in disarray. Somehow the promoter of a show at the Somerville Theater that evening had managed to get two bands on the bill down to WHRB for brief live sets just before the end of the show. These became, as David Elliott said, the “last live performances in Studio A in Memorial Hall—hosted by Ol’ Sinc.” David had a DAT recording of the event, and gave me a CD with them on it. I can’t find my recording of the whole show, if one was made (did David pull his recording from mine?), so I’ve added these two 15-minute performances to this Archive.

Sinc has a great if somewhat chaotic time with Ranch Romance, a lively band from Seattle that made three record albums in the ‘90s before disbanding, and then with the comical (if sardonic) Austin Lounge Lizards, who returned in subsequent years and remained one of Sinc’s favorite acts. This performance features a preview of ‘Old Blevins,’ a high-(or low-)light of the Lizard’s next album to be.

Apologies for jumping around in time, but since I don’t have the complete show from May 1st, 1994, and needed a half hour or so to fill our current three hours (and if I had the complete show, as I do in most cases, three hours wouldn’t be enough!), this was just the time to titillate you with the “last live performances in Studio A.” Turn up your speakers; you don’t want to miss a minute! /CL

It’s 1995 and James King Is Live on WHRB

ANOTHER ARCHIVAL HILLBILLY AT HARVARD

February 25, 1995, to be exact. Old Sinc has just returned from three weeks in Las Vegas, Larry Flint is there as well, and we’re expecting The James King Band. We’re in our new studios in Pennypacker Hall. However, the WHRB Trustees, “The Suits,” as Sinc calls them, have taken over sumptuous Studio B. James and band have to warm up in the Classical Music Library, and end up crowding into our small studio BC (‘B Control’) and playing single-file on one mic. Amazingly, it sounds great!

Actually, I was intending to use the live segment (which David Elliott had edited down for me) as filler for another Archival show that ran short, but then I found the original DAT recording of most of the 1995 show (tape started late, so about 3.5 hours), and enjoyed listening to it so much that I decided to run it this Saturday (July 10th). Sinc was in fine fettle, and Larry and I provided ample foils for his jokes. It’s a great example of the impromptu inanity of Hillbilly at Harvard in its prime, providing a knowledgeable but comical alternative to commercial country radio.

James King (from Facebook page, photographer not identified)

And of course we had the honor then of hosting the great James King, however inelegantly. This was not NPR; this was Studio BC, about 150 square feet, crammed with three disk jockeys, five musicians, and an audience including Rounder co-founder Ken Irwin (who spends some time on air with Sinc talking about Alison Krauss’s sudden emergence in the country charts with ‘When You Say Nothing at All’). James and company pull off the set with great alacrity and good humor.

This was James’s first visit to Boston, planning to record his second album with Rounder; he was playing that Saturday night at the Museum of Our National Heritage (as it was then called) with Lou Reid and Carolina, sponsored by the Boston Bluegrass Union. We spent so much time talking about the comfortable chairs (versus traditional church pews) that I wonder if it wasn’t the BBU’s first show at the Museum.

James was to return to HAH in November, and at other times. He died in 2016 (see HERE, though I never did a full appreciation). James King, from Carroll County, Virginia, was in my mind the closest bluegrass-country singer to Carter Stanley we’ve ever had (Carter was James’s hero, of course). He was a big, affable fellow with a warm heart, who conveyed real feeling in his singing. I hope you share some of the thrill I get when listening to him live on the radio, and some of the sadness, too, that we lost his voice so early. /CL