The Google tells me that Father’s Day is June 17 this year, but for us, it’s this Wednesday when we celebrate roots music fatherhood in at least two ways. We’re thrilled to welcome the great John McEuen and his two sons Jonathan and Nathan. And we’re featuring musicians from the new Pa’s Fiddle Project, a set of new recordings of some of America’s greatest old time tunes. We haven’t had a really rich old string band sound on our stage in a while, so it’ll be a welcome return to what really are our musical roots. And McEuen is one of Americana’s true founding fathers.
He is, of course, an indispensable member of the indispensable Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, an outfit I didn’t have appropriate appreciation for before I moved to Nashville. They were formed in California in about 1966 and they were among a rarified handful of bands that fused contemporary rock with a true appreciation for old-time country and high-end musicianship. And happily, the result was commercial success and an influence on American roots music that was probably even deeper than the Byrds.
McEuen, like so many banjo players of his and all other generations, idolized Earl Scruggs. And by the early 70s, Earl was a country rocking boss man as the main attraction in the Earl Scruggs Revue, a band built around his musical sons Gary and Randy. Earl was also the kind of musical legend who’d take time for his fans and obscure banjo players. So John McEuen managed to get close enough to meet Earl and ultimately ask his help on a very special project. Earl vouched for the credibility and musicianship of the long-haired West Coasters to the hard core Opry and bluegrass royalty of Nashville, and the result was the historic Will The Circle Be Unbroken album of 1972. It was the Rosetta Stone of roots music for a generation. And in a very real way, we have a vibrant and widespread Americana scene today because of the fateful and blessed union of Scruggs and McEuen.
It was probably inevitable that John McEuen would one day work with his own sons, pickers and writers pursuing their own dreams. Jonathan teamed up for a while with fellow Dirt Band progeny Jaime Hanna and made some great country music that even got some airplay. But now it’s all in the family. John McEwen had this to say about working with the boys for the San Diego-based Anthology blog: “They’re now 31 and 35, and they’re really on their own in their own right. My young men are now the couple of session players that I would hire for my own projects. I got the players that I wanted, and I happened to be related to them, so it was a good thing!”
The other Pa in our lineup, at least in spirit, is Charles Ingalls, inspiration for the wonderful Pa’s Fiddle Project, which is getting set to release the third in series of albums rooted in the Little House books of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Those books are full of references to music being played by fiddlin’ Charles Ingalls (something I failed to remember from my fourth-grade Little House reading), and MTSU musicologist Dale Cockrell decided to spearhead albums by top-flight traditional musicians that will interpret all 127 tunes mentioned in the books. Nashville fiddle master Matt Combs pulled a super-group together for the current album and he’ll do the same for our stage. The CD series is a fantastically original way to catalog and amplify some of the earliest American music we know of, and the set will be a joyful hoedown of a good time.
Also on the bill, our returning hero Frank Fairfield, who knows more about early American music than all of us put together. His gobsmackingly authentic sound always brings our barn to its feet. And we’ll round things out with Austin country rockers the Wheeler Brothers and the indie roots of David Vandervelde. So come to papa. We’re going to have a hell of a time this Wednesday night.