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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Boston to Nashville, and Back

For the first time ever, announcers at WUMB were able to say something recently that made them chuckle in disbelief: “Broadcasting live from Nashville, Tennessee…” Last Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, three of the stations’ announcers and two members of the staff attended the 15th Annual International Folk Alliance Conference at the Nashville Convention Center, making the country music capital of the world their home away from home for those days.

On Thursday and Friday, UMass Boston’s public radio station substituted their usual in-studio broadcasting with an on-the-road, all-live format. “We’ve done remote broadcasting before, but never from such a significant location,” explained WUMB General Manager, Pat Monteith. “We were the only station in the country broadcasting from the convention, so it was a great opportunity for us to show people from all over North America the quality of our radio station and our dedication to the music community at large.”

The convention, hosted by the North American Folk Music and Dance Alliance, drew about 500 people, all of whom claim some connection to folk music. Musicians were, of course, a mainstay of the production, along with numerous record label and business professionals, promoters, scholars, and vendors. The thrust behind the convention is a desire to preserve traditional folk music and dance, and to create an open dialogue about the place of folk music in coming years.

WUMB announcers Dick Pleasants, Marilyn Rea Beyer, and Dave Palmater each had a different story to tell about the conference. “I ran into Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, who asked me what was going on,” laughed Palmater. “I told him, ‘Well, there’s lots of music.’ He said ‘Music…I don’t like music. Music is just the way I pay for diesel fuel. I like trucks. I used to like planes but not as much anymore.” It should be noted here that Ramblin’ Jack Elliot is perhaps the most influential living folk artist next to Bob Dylan.

Beyer noted that one of her personal highlights was watching performers David Francy, Walt Williams, and Keven Welch during an intimate performance at the Bluebird Lounge in Nashville. For Pleasants, it was watching Pete Mulvey accompany Jefferey Foucault for an exclusive, on-air performance. Theirs was one of many performances put on throughout the two days for WUMB’s remote broadcast.

Another one of this year’s highlights was the “Woody Guthrie 90th Year Celebration.” Nearly twenty performers, from Woody’s son Arlo Guthrie to Jazz-fusion mixer DJ Logic took part in the multimedia celebration. Also headlining as performers were Nanci Griffith and Ellis Paul, who both appeared at UMass Boston for WUMB’s 2002 Boston Folk Festival. The Guthrie tribute does seem fitting in light of Boston Globe reporter Scott Alarik’s recent comment that “Woody Guthrie is making a comeback these days.” Also significant was the Alliance’s awarding of the Ninth Annual Lifetime Achievement Award. This year, the award was presented to Ralph Stanley, the pioneering country musician featured most recently on the “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” soundtrack. Former winners include the late Alan Lomax, Woody Guthrie, and this writer’s personal favorite, Utah Phillips.

WUMB’s reputation as a leader and champion of folk music has granted the station somewhat legendary status in the folk community. As the only station in the country with a “full-time” traditional and roots format, many folk artists view the station as a major stopping point on the road to national success. A number of commercially successful artists, from Tracy Chapman to the Indigo Girls, have started their professional careers by performing first at WUMB’s studios. For this contribution, gratitude was expressed over the airwaves as various convention attendees took time to stop by WUMB’s microphones.