American Routes celebrates this Thanksgiving weekend with words and music from the National Heritage Fellows Concert in Washington DC. Since 1982, the National Endowment for the Arts has presented the fellowships. It’s America’s highest honor in Folk & Traditional Arts. This year’s fellows include Texas ranchera elders Las Tesoros de San Antonio, Basque accordionist Dan Ansotegui, Malian balafon player Balla Kouyate, African American storyteller Linda Goss, Wyoming leatherworker James F. Jackson, Spanish colcha embroiderer Josephine Lobato, decoy carver Rich Smoker, Crow storyteller Grant Bulltail and Tennessee folklorist and state parks manager Bob Fulcher. Plus fellows from years gone by: Mavis Staples, Doc Watson, Wanda Jackson and the Holmes Brothers.
We trace the musical DNA and psychic aura of the blues from its Delta roots to Chicago’s electric pioneers, across a patchwork of regional styles and modern day innovators. In an archival interview we talk with blues rockers the Black Keys of Akron, Ohio, about defying genre, eschewing nostalgia, and the blues progenitors who blurred labels like primitive and avant-garde. Age Don’t Mean a Thing for 66-year-old Louisiana bluesman Robert Finley, who caught a big break in the last couple years and is now rocking the mic and hitting the road harder than ever. From Cadillac, Michigan to the Crescent City, Luke Winslow-King recalls the bad times and breakups that gave him a deeper understanding of the blues and inspired him to make I’m Glad Trouble Don’t Last Always. Plus, we load up the jukebox with our favorites from Howlin’ Wolf and Buddy Guy, Johnny Burnette and Buddy Holly, Willie Nelson and Bonnie Raitt.
This week we visit with two Southern crafters of music and song. Kentucky native and guitarist Joan Shelley takes her ethereal songwriting and voicing of life’s emotional flow from observations on the banks of the Ohio River near Louisville. Then, the virtuosic Blue Ridge pianist Jeff Little shares his stories of growing up playing alongside the legendary flat-pick guitarist Doc Watson at the family’s music store in Boone, North Carolina. It lead to a singular career of playing high speed fiddle tunes on the piano. Also music of love, loss, and fast trains with Bill Frisell, Johnny Cash, James Brown, Tom Waits and Elizabeth Cotton.
New Orleans’ Ponderosa Stomp has presented the “unsung heroes of American music” for well over a decade in blues, soul, country, rockabilly and garage rock. Stomp impresario Dr. Ike shares his memories of pioneering the raucous, eclectic gathering, and we hear from past headliners, rocker Linda Gail Lewis and Arizona Twangmaster Duane Eddy. We’re spinning tracks from Stomp artists including Gary U.S. Bonds, Lazy Lester and Doug Kershaw. In Hour 2, we’ll hear tunes from swamped areas of the Texas Gulf Coast by Stevie Ray Vaughn, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Rodney Crowell, as the region grapples with water as both a source and destroyer of life as we know it.