Roots Radio staff writer, Craig Havighurst
With an “opera” to “Opry” genre hand-off that recalled the birth of Nashville’s most famous radio show in 1927, WMOT/Roots Radio went on the air Friday morning at a warm and celebratory gathering at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Music City Roots co-founder John Walker had the idea to segue from Aaron Copland’s famous orchestral “Hoedown” into a live take on the old fiddle tune that inspired it, “Bonaparte’s Retreat.” And by golly it worked.
As John noted later in the morning, if ever there was a group of musicians one could trust to grasp and execute the concept, this was it. They were all stars of Music City and friends/alums of Roots: fiddlers Tammy Rogers and Jim VanCleve, banjo players Alison Brown and Richard Bailey, dobro player Randy Kohrs, mandolinist Jenni Lyn, guitarist Stephen Mougin and bass player Mike Bub. They picked up the theme in perfect time, expanded and jammed on it. The crowd surged with delight. There was no other way to usher in an era of hand-made music on WMOT than with live artists.
Ken Paulson, the Dean of MTSU’s College of Media and Entertainment and the guy who initiated this whole thing last December, called it a “revolutionary partnership” and said very nice things about MCR.
Especially gratifying was hearing Dr. Sidney McPhee, president of MTSU, endorse the project as “historic.” He was, after all, the fellow who ultimately had to approve our project. “Not only will it provide an outstanding entertainment option for audiences across Middle Tennessee,” he said. “It helps to extend, promote and advance the Americana genre and will give valuable air time to those vibrant artists, many of whom live and work in Nashville.”
Keith Bilbrey was the first of our regular on-air voices who spoke on the airwaves. He ushered in the musical transition and later he bantered with our new program director Jessie Scott as comfortably as if they’d been working together for years.
Will Hoge accepted our invitation to come down to perform “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” which became something of an anthem for the show when he first performed it at the Loveless Barn in 2011.
John Walker introduced the event’s final jam with an emotional account of discovering the magic of Music City through the filter of his passion for his hometown of Detroit and its music culture. He reminded the crowd of the original MCR mission and vision of a “global platform of discovery” and certainly the WMOT partnership makes that all the more potent and possible.
Jim Lauderdale, our gregarious and super-talented musical host, was utterly lovely in his remarks toward John before the final jam: “It’s so rare in life than a vision can really take shape and we can’t thank you enough,” he said. “This is really big. And Lord knows that it’s never been about the money but it’s been about the love of music. That feeling and your desire to help the thousands of musicians who come through is incredible. It’s spreading.”
The band added country star and folk singer extraordinaire Suzy Bogguss and gospel rocker Mike Farris. And they went out with our Lauderdale leading them on two thematically resonant tunes: “Working On A Building” and “Sitting On Top of the World.”
We’ve regularly felt that way. Now we have a big old radio tower on top of the world with us.