He’s got a love of all folk

(Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff)
By Joseph P. Kahn
Globe Staff / December 31, 2010

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Q. How’s your health?

A. I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease a few years ago, so I have tremors. Other than that and a knee problem, I’m doing well, though.

Q. Has it affected your on-air work?

A. My voice, yes. I talk very, very quietly. My speech is also starting to slur. The disease is doing its thing.

Q. How did the concert come about?

A. I got an e-mail from David Buskin, saying they were going to name a lavatory after me. Then I heard that Tom Rush, Jonatha Brooke, and others were involved. To me it’s a tremendous honor, coming from artists I love.

Q. How involved will you be with the actual concert?

A. I keep asking what my responsibilities are, but nobody will tell me.

Q. How big an influence was the local ’60s folk scene?

A. Everything. I heard about WCIB, in Falmouth, and wanted to put folk music on the radio. I went on the air one night, and that was it.

Q. The folk scene faded somewhat in the ’70s, then came back strong. What sparked the revival?

A. Tom Rush had a huge impact with his Symphony Hall concerts in the 1980s. It brought a lot of the old folk music scene back together and changed the whole marketing sense of the music.

Q. You’ve known Rush for decades, right?

A. My father taught Tom at the Groton School. We kept in contact over the years. He’s been a tremendous buddy.

Q. Why are Boston and New England such folk meccas? Where do the audiences and artists intersect?

A. They meet at the coffeehouse level. In the ’80s, we did a study identifying 166 coffeehouses throughout New England, at its peak. We’re still living on that energy now.

Q. Memorable moments?

A. Seeing Townes Van Zandt, a wonderful songwriter and very troubled guy, in Kingston was important to me. Seeing Guy Clark and Nanci Griffith in 1984 was huge. I’ve worked with Nanci a lot over the years. Interviewing Pete Seeger at WGBH was . . . interesting. It blew up my novel view of him.

Q. How so?

A. He was very disengaged. I’d worshiped him for years, and I’ve learned you should never worship people you interview. They’re all human beings, you know.

Q. Who and what excites you these days?

A. WUMB has a tremendous record of putting live music on the air. We are committed to keeping the folk scene vibrant, in a controlled way. We can’t do everything, so we have to pick our strengths.

Q. What do you focus on?

A. We put music on because it’s great, not just good. ’UMB is striving to remain at the center of Boston’s folk community. It’s been a journey. We’re trying to figure out what best suits the community and our own viability.

Q. Has the Web helped or hurt the indie folk scene?

A. The Web has been very valuable. It gets their music out. Lori McKenna is a great example of someone who worked her style up, then got a big break when Faith Hill recorded her songs. There’s a strong wave of younger artists like Lori emerging in the past 15, 20 years. Ellis Paul, Greg Greenway, people like that.

Q. Any tunes you’d like to hear played at “A Pleasant(s) Evening’’?

A. I love “Child’s Song,’’ by Murray McLauchlan. I remember Tom singing it one night in Jordan Hall, and people were weeping. It was incredibly moving.

Interview was condensed and edited. Joseph P. Kahn can be reached at

Dick Pleasants
A fixture on the local folk-music scene for 40 years, Pleasants has worn multiple hats as radio host (currently heard on WUMB-FM, 91.9), concert organizer, festival promoter, and all-around champion of American roots music. He will be honored at a concert next Friday featuring many of his musical pals: Brother Sun (Greg Greenway, Joe Jencks, Pat Wictor), Buskin and Batteau, Antje Duvekot, Jonatha Brooke, Jonathan Edwards, Patty Larkin, Lori McKenna, Ellis Paul, and Tom Rush. All proceeds benefit WUMB’s campaign to build new studios, one to be named for Pleasants.
“A Pleasant(s) Evening at Sanders Theatre,’’ Jan. 7 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $50. Call 617-496-2222 or visit