Forty years ago today on March 5, 1983, just turned 28, what became my life began. Leaving agricultural history, I headed 5 hours west in my red Ford Escort on I-40 to start work in roots music. My destination was Maggie Valley, NC, where a University of Florida football player named Burt Reynolds once had a summer job building Ghost Town in the Sky along side banjo great Raymond Fairchild and Cowboy Courage who would appear in Deliverance.
Two of my former colleagues at NC Cultural Resources had sold a TV show to the new The Nashville Network called “Fire on the Mountain,” featuring old-time and bluegrass music with David Holt as host. I was an historian and record collector about to give himself a life changing crash course in those genre. My assignments were to write a feature about the taping of the second season for Bluegrass Unlimited magazine that would appear that September and to help out around the green room.
I arrived with a terrible headache and asked one of the producers if he had anything. He gave me what turned out to be an anti-psychotic drug, but after a couple of hours nap, I was able to begin my new career, interviewing Bela Fleck and John Cowan from New Grass Revival up in the rafters of the Stomping Grounds in Maggie Valley. A few hours later I was at a late night diner with Doug Dillard, Jonathan Yudkin, Kathy Chiavola, and Ginger Boatwright.
After 13 shows in 4 days, I headed down the mountain to the infamous Green Acres, a cinderblock auction building an hour west of Charlotte. There I saw New Grass Revival at their favorite off the beaten path gig hosted by Steve and Donna Metcalf. I lucked into that because Bela needed a ride from there to Carrboro, a few miles from where I lived, for a Monday gig with Mike Marshall, Darol Anger, and larry Cohen. So I drove Bela through the night to Jake West’s single wide, which was less than half a mile from where Becky Johnson and I would live from 2012 to 2016 in White Cross. And the gig took place at The ArtsCenter, of which I became Executive Director in 2012!
You see it all kind of fits together into a life. By September 1983, I had that cover story in Bluegrass Unlimited, beginning an association that would last until a couple of years ago, and a story about “Fire on the Mountain” in Durham’s Indy Week, for which I would write for 20 years. I became the first roots music stringer for the Raleigh News and Observer, a gig that Jack Bernhardt expanded and that would eventually become a full time job for David Menconi.
1985 brought IBMA and the beginning of my five years as its Executive Director followed immediately by the creation of Folk Alliance and my tenure there, which happened parallel with the growth of MerleFest into my next job.
What drew me into this world 40 years ago today was the people in roots music. Y’all reading this in other words. And youse guys have kept me in folk and bluegrass all these years. It has been a wonderful ride. I am grateful for each and every one of your.