Thursday, April 12, 2012

Old And In The Way FM Broadcasts, 1973 (FM VI)

The cover to the March, 1975 Old And In The Way album on Rounder Records, recorded in October 1973
The bluegrass band Old And In The Way only existed for about 9 months in 1973, and they only released an album in February 1975, a full 15 months after they stopped performing. Because Jerry Garcia was the banjo player, Old And In The Way received an inordinate amount of attention for a bluegrass group. Yet, as a result, the album was hugely influential in the worlds of bluegrass and modern acoustic music in general. Garcia's presence caused a wide spectrum of fans and writers to pay attention to the unique synthesis of traditional bluegrass, contemporary songwriting and flashes of jazzy improvisation that Old And In The Way were performing. Other progressive young bluegrass musicians were exploring the same territory at the time, but only Old And In The Way had a bona fide rock star in the group. Garcia may have brought attention to the band, but it was Old And In The Way's music that has made them a touchstone of bluegrass and acoustic music from Spring of 1975 up through today.

However, there is another fascinating component to Old And In The Way that has been hiding in plain sight the entire time. Relatively few people think about the fact that while Old And In The Way was actually performing in 1973, the audiences they were playing for knew almost nothing about bluegrass music. Given Jerry Garcia's status, he of all people would not have wanted fans to see a show with him on the bill when they expected jammed out electric guitar solos instead of high lonesome picking and singing. Old And In The Way's solution to this problem seems to have been to play a number of relatively high profile FM broadcasts, to make sure that local rock fans knew what Old And In The Way with Jerry Garcia would sound like, and at the same time publicizing the group. The remarkable part about a strategy of promoting Old And In The Way via radio broadcasts was that it was how bluegrass music had originally been promulgated in the 1940s and 50s, a fact that Jerry Garcia and the other members of Old And In The Way would surely have been aware of.

Bluegrass And The Radio
Bluegrass music, unlike most genres, had a single and very self-conscious inventor. Bill Monroe had been a popular country singer in the late 1930s and early 40s, often along with his brother Charlie Monroe. Many rural people from Appalachia and other parts of the South had moved to industrial cities like Detroit to work in factories during the war. Their employment choices were few, and the factory money was good, but those transplanted Southerners still missed their old homes. Bill Monroe designed bluegrass music to appeal to rural people in a period of transition, and bluegrass music looked backwards and forwards at the same time.

On one hand, at a time when country music was becoming more orchestrated, electric and modern, bluegrass music was played on acoustic instruments, like the kind that had been played for decades in the mountains. The harmonies and sounds were resonant of old-time string band music, yet the instrumental breaks were sophisticated forays that were at times not far from be-bop jazz, a contemporary development on both coasts. Many of the lyrics longed for the good old days, yet the song topics were often about current subjects.

Like all new music, bluegrass had to get heard before anyone would pay to see it. The solution to this was radio. Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys would play Saturday nights on the Grand Ole Opry radio program on WSM-am in Nashville, and the rest of the week they would tour around in Bill Monroe's bus, playing local auditoriums and theaters. People had heard Monroe on the radio, so they knew what to expect in concert. Bill Monroe had been performing on the Grand Ole Opry since 1940, but when Earl Scruggs joined the group on banjo in December 1945, Bill Monroe And The Bluegrass Boys fully evolved into what we now recognize as bluegrass music. Since Monroe was on the radio every Saturday night, audiences knew all about it and the band was an instant concert sensation.

The pattern of using the radio to become a popular concert attraction was a common theme in the history of bluegrass music. Since bluegrass bands were acoustic and self-contained, they could easily perform live on the radio when larger, more electric bands could not consider it. The Stanley Brothers, for example, among the first bands to follow the trail blazed by Monroe, started performing at radio station WCYB in Bristol, TN on December 26, 1946. Typically, groups like the Stanley Brothers would 'host' a 15 or 30 minute spot under the aegis of a sponsor. The sponsor was usually a local business, such as a feed and seed company that wanted to appeal to farmers. In between performing bluegrass songs, a group like The Stanley Brothers would perform ads and make announcements. Typically, the groups were not paid for their performances, but they would become regionally famous and could make money performing around the radio station's listening area.

Bluegrass was popular country music in the 1950s, but it waned in the 60s. Nonetheless, the musical sophistication of bluegrass generated a continuing cult of adherents, who often lived far from Appalachia. Teenagers like Jerry Garcia, David Grisman, Peter Rowan and David Nelson discovered the likes of Bill Monroe, Flatt And Scruggs and The Stanley Brothers from records. Hoping to learn the music, they started to search for live performance tapes that were passed from hand to hand by bluegrass aficionados. The best of those tapes were radio airchecks, often from obscure radio stations in the South, including not only unadulterated performances, but flour commercials, farm and weather reports and corny jokes. Thus the core members of Old And In The Way--Peter Rowan, David Grisman and Jerry Garcia--were fully aware of the foundational tradition of bluegrass bands playing on local radio to introduce themselves and generate interest for performances.

March 2, 1973: Old And In The Way, Record Plant, Sausalito, CA
San Francisco's KSAN-fm, 94.9 on my fm dial (The Jive 95), was the successor to KMPX-fm, which had been the first 'free form' FM rock radio station. KSAN was among the most popular stations in the Bay Area, in all formats, but it still made a point of staying ahead of the curve. While KSAN was not the first commercial station to broadcast rock concerts live on the radio (KMPX probably holds that distinction), they made a point of making live rock performances a regular part of their broadcasting week. In the early 1970s, KSAN regularly broadcast live performances from The Record Plant in Sausalito. The Record Plant was the most prestigious studio in the Bay Area at the time, and had top-of-the-line facilities. There was usually an invited audience of a few dozen, and the studio setting allowed KSAN to insure that the broadcast had top-notch sound quality, not at all always a sure thing, given the technology limitations of the time.

Old And In The Way made their performance debut on KSAN-fm on the afternoon of March 2, 1973, from the Record Plant. Their public debut would be that night at the tiny Lion's Share at San Anselmo, but they previewed it with a performance that had the potential to reach every rock fan in the Bay Area. Given that Jerry Garcia was already a major rock star by that time, debuting his new band on the radio was completely opposed to rock music orthodoxy at the time. However, Old And In The Way was a bluegrass group, not a rock group, and debuting a new bluegrass band on the radio hearkened back to the birth of bluegrass music itself. Of course, recorded bluegrass was hardly played on the radio anymore, and bluegrass bands other than Bill Monroe had not had regular spots on the radio for at least 15 years. Still, using unpaid radio shows to promote local performances was essential to bluegrass history, and old tape collectors like Grisman and Garcia were perfectly aware of it. As for Rowan, he had actually played on the Grand Ole Opry with Bill Monroe, so he needed no lessons on the power of radio.

At the Record Plant, Old And In The Way appeared as a quartet: Peter Rowan on guitar, David Grisman on mandolin, Jerry Garcia on banjo and John Kahn on bass. Rowan handled the lead vocals with help from Grisman and Garcia on the harmonies. They played about 40 minutes, playing 9 songs. 8 of them were traditional, and the one original was an instrumental which would not have sounded out of place. There were no contemporary songs about dope, Indians or moonlight.

Hippie Bluegrass: 1973
By early 1973, Jerry Garcia was an established attraction in Bay Area clubs. He wasn't a huge draw, particularly, but Garcia and Merl Saunders could draw a few hundred people to a nightclub, even on a weeknight, and given the number of beers that could be sold, that was no small thing. Unless you had actually seen the Garcia/Saunders aggregation, you might not have a good idea of what a show was like, but there were plenty of clues. Merl Saunders had released two albums (Heavy Turbulence and Fire Up) where Garcia played an important role, even singing a few songs. Also, the Garcia/Saunders group had played on KSAN at Pacific High Recorders (actually Alembic Studios by that time), and KSAN regularly replayed tracks from the show on the air, so regular KSAN listeners had probably heard bits and pieces of the February 6, 1972 Garcia/Saunders performance. Thus, if you had a chance to see Garcia and Saunders, you had some idea of what you might be getting into.

The Bay Area rock community barely knew anything about country music, much less bluegrass. There was a vague idea that country music was unhip and popular with people who didn't like long haired hippies, but that was about it. A few open-minded listeners may have liked Johnny Cash or some other artists, but that was as far as it extended. As to bluegrass music, it meant nothing to Bay Area rock fans, and probably precious little to most country fans as well. I myself was aware that bluegrass was some sort of sub-genre of country music, but I had literally no idea of what it actually sounded like.

Jerry Garcia, to his credit, was actually doing something quite radical and unexpected with Old And In The Way. Garcia had defied music business orthodoxy by working in the New Riders Of The Purple Sage as a sideman, on the pedal steel guitar. His penchant for playing local bars with Merl Saunders was equally unprecedented. For the most part, Dead fans had learned about the New Riders by seeing them open for the Dead, and the Riders sound was in line with the then-current Workingman's Dead. The Garcia/Saunders group, while a stand-alone entity, still featured substantial doses of extended electric guitar playing by Jerry, so it was still only one standard deviation away from the Dead. Old And In The Way? Garcia played banjo, a decidedly unhip instrument in rock circles, and the band had a traditional bluegrass sound, and almost no rock fans in the Bay Area knew a thing about bluegrass. If they did, they probably dismissed it as 'hick music.'

By debuting Old And In The Way on KSAN, Garcia and the boys could both promote their new endeavor while making it clear what kind of music they were playing. Anyone who expected 13 minute versions of "Expressway To Your Heart" would be disabused of that notion quickly. KSAN promoted themselves by playing tracks from their recent live shows in the following week, so Old And In The Way probably got some airplay throughout the week. Thus when Old And In The Way started showing up in club listings in the San Francisco Chronicle Datebook (the 'Pink Section'), rock fans would have had some hint as to what to expect.

I don't think that Old And In The Way had a strategy meeting to discuss how to "brand themselves." However, I think Garcia had a standing offer from Tom Donahue, the founder of KSAN (and KMPX before it), to appear on the radio, and the band realized they could capitalize on it. Old And In The Way's debut broadcast was probably a convenient accident, but once it was scheduled, there was no way that Garcia, Grisman and Rowan didn't know they were following in the footsteps of The Bluegrass Boys, The Stanley Brothers and dozens, if not hundreds, of other bluegrass bands.

Old And In The Way Radio Broadcasts
March 2, 1973: The Record Plant, Sausalito, CA
Old And In The Way debuted on the radio, playing 9 songs in the afternoon at the Record Plant to an invited audience of a few dozen. The quartet was playing the Lion's Share in San Anselmo that night, so the broadcast was implicit advertising for the event. The band played eight bluegrass standards and an original instrumental, which would have sounded like a traditional number. There were people in the Bay Area who were knowledgeable about bluegrass, but they weren't necessarily listening to KSAN in the afternoon. Most KSAN listeners were oblivious to country music, much less the specialized acoustic tangent that bluegrass represented. Fans who may have expected some laid back, funky guitar jams in the mode of Garcia/Saunders must have been pretty surprised.

April 21, 1973: The Record Plant, Sausalito, CA
Any doubts about Old And In The Way's strategy to popularize themselves like the Stanley Brothers are erased by this broadcast. In an approximately hour long show, the band plays 15 numbers. Fiddler Richard Greene is along for the broadcast, filling out the band's sound the way the members intended. Included in the set along with traditional material are four contemporary numbers: "Panama Red, " Wild Horses, " Lonesome LA Cowboy" and "Land Of The Navajo." To any bluegrass fans, this signaled that the group was not bound by convention; to the larger audience of regular KSAN fans, it signaled that Old And In The Way weren't some kind of museum piece. In fact, contemporary bluegrass bands were doing Bob Dylan songs and the like, so doing a Rolling Stones song ("Wild Horses") fit right into that, but it seemed pretty contrarian to the typical Bay Area rock fan at the time.

Once again, the band was playing The Lion's Share that night (it was even announced by the dj). In that respect, this performance was like some old Stanley Brothers tape, announcing their night's performance at the local Grange Hall. Only the lack of commercials for a flour company set them apart from old time bluegrass radio broadcasts. Well, and songs about dope.

A handbill from Homer's Warehouse in Palo Alto, from May 1973. Homer's Warehouse was located at 79 Homer Avenue, across the train tracks, as the inset map accurately depicts
July 24, 1973: Homer's Warehouse, Palo Alto, CA
Old And In The Way did not play that many shows. One of their regular gigs, however, was a quonset hut in Palo Alto called Homer's Warehouse, at 79 Homer Avenue. It's my belief that Homer's Warehouse was the site of a mystical venue called The Outfit, but in any case it would have been near it. Old And In The Way had played Homer's Warehouse right after their dual debut at The Record Plant and The Lion's Share (Lion's Share had been March 2-3, and Homer's was March 4). After a May 18 show, and a number of Garcia/Saunders shows, Old And In The Way returned to Homer's Warehouse on July 24.

The July 24, 1973 Old And In The Way was broadcast on the Stanford University radio staion, KZSU-fm (90.7). Stanford had plenty of financial resources, so their little student-run facility had the technology to broadcast live, albeit probably in mono. KZSU was only a 10-watt station, so the broadcast area was only Palo Alto and parts of some neighboring towns.

10 watts was enough for me, however. My personal introduction to bluegrass music was listening to Old And In The Way broadcasting their first set from Homer's Warehouse on a warm July night. I believe I anticipated the broadcast, since I used to listen to KZSU all the time, being just a few miles from the station itself. Thus I would have known that Jerry Garcia was performing on the radio, but I had no idea what the music sounded like until I heard it. I recall tuning in to hear "Panama Red" and "Lonesome LA Cowboy"--both songs mentioned dope, and that was cool to my 10th grade self--and it was fascinating to hear those songs turn up on a New Riders album later in the year.

In one sense, the Homer's Warehouse broadcast succeeded as intended with me. Before I heard it, I only had a foggy, unheard notion that bluegrass existed. Afterwards, I thought bluegrass was hip and cool, albeit mainly because Jerry played it and there were songs about weed. However, after the album came out in early 1975, it turned out that many people had the same experience, and like me, with more listening they came to appreciate the depth and complexity of bluegrass music.

Old And In The Way only broadcast their first set from Homer's Warehouse. All listeners were within driving distance, and they were all invited to come on down for the second set, to hear not only Old And In The Way but opening act Asleep At The Wheel, another fine band. Knowing what I know today, since it was about 11:00, I could have told my parents I had to walk the dog, and walked him over to Homer's Warehouse and hung out outside. I am reliably informed that Jerry and the gang hung out in the parking lot with some visitors, and me and my dog (RIP Xerox, wherever you are) could have been there. Since I didn't have a driver's license yet, however, I didn't realize how near Homer's Warehouse actually was.  No matter--I had become an Old And In The Way fan, even though I would not hear the group again until the album came out 18 months later.

October 5, 1973: Civic Auditorium, Santa Cruz, CA
This Friday night show has a weird manuscript history which I won't belabor here. The essence of it is that it was on Dennis McNally's original list, and I rejected it for various reasons which I no longer recall, which seemed logical at the time, so it did not make the list in Deadbase IX. I have since changed my mind, and decided that the show must have happened.

As confirmation, I have since been in touch with a fellow blogger who actually attended the show. More importantly, he recalls that Old And In The Way's performance was broadcast on the radio station KUSP, and it was announced from the stage [update: and now said blogger has his own amazing post about the show, complete with poster].

It's my contention that Grisman, Garcia and Rowan put together Old And In The Way for a single project, an album to be released on Round Records. That doesn't mean, incidentally, that they wouldn't have all been happy to get together again, but most bluegrass bands are more like film projects, a group of like minded souls who get together for a fixed period of time in order to produce something. In many cases, like the American Pie movies or Old And In The Gray, they may get together many times over a period of years, but each project is a separate iteration. Thus the band must have known that the Santa Cruz Civic show would be their last in a while--I'm leaving aside the Sonoma reschedule--and yet they still broadcast the show. I think Old And In The Way was committed to using the only free medium available to them, FM radio, to get themselves heard in anticipation of their album, even if the record itself turned out to be further away than anyone thought.

Aftermath
Old And In The Way finally released an album on Round Records in February, 1975, recorded by Owsley at the Boarding House in October 1973. Although the band was gone, the presence of Jerry Garcia caused a wide variety of fans to listen to the album with open ears, and Garcia rather unexpectedly had the sort of influence on bluegrass that he may have originally hoped for. All sorts of unexpected musicians found inspiration from the album. To name just one example, singer Mary Chapin Carpenter, not a performer one typically associates with bluegrass or Jerry Garcia, said that she heard Old And In The Way in college and it changed her mind about traditional music. For awhile, the album was reputed to be the best-selling bluegrass album of all time, although no doubt it has long since been eclipsed by the likes of Alison Krauss and Ricky Skaggs.

Why didn't any other bluegrass bands try this? The answer is simple: in order--no Jerry, and no KSAN. Many bands would love to play on the radio, but without a bona fide rock star in the lineup, that wasn't going to happen. Major rock stars did not play in bar bands in the 1970s, save for Jerry, Jorma and Jack, and Jorma and Jack only had Hot Tuna. On top of that, while many FM rock stations broadcast live shows in the early 1970s, few of them were as committed to the format as KSAN. I can only think of one other station (WLIR-fm in Hempstead, NY) who were so willing to give up air time to live broadcasts to hip but not necessarily commercial music, much less bluegrass on a rock station.

Old And In The Way was put together in late 1972 so three hippie pickers could play real bluegrass with a few twists that made it interesting for them. With no chance of playing for the all-but-nonexistent California bluegrass audience, and an uninformed rock audience, the band chose to follow the lead of their bluegrass forefathers and use the radio to promote their music. We're fortunate they did, since it left us a bit more of a legacy than we might have had otherwise, but it is yet another remarkable way in which Old And In The Way managed to change bluegrass and acoustic music by looking forward and backwards at the same time.

11 comments:

  1. Jerry had so many great side-projects but this may have been my favorite, and the 1975 album is a masterpiece of recording as well as song selection. I ordered it from the GD Almanac back in the mid-90's without knowing anything about it or what to expect, and it opened my mind to a world of music that I had no idea existed.

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  2. Jeremy, I think your experience was typical of a lot of people's. Because it was Jerry, we were all willing to give bluegrass a more serious listening than we otherwise would have. A few lucky people had that experience with Old And In The Way live, a few more on the FM broadcasts, and the rest on the albums.

    Ironically enough, Jerry Garcia became an important figure in bluegrass because he was a rock star, rather than in spite of it. When Old And In The Way started in 1973, bluegrass per se had been around for 28 years (since Earl Scruggs joined Monroe in 1945). Old And In The Way has now become more distant to us than Monroe was to them, and by the same token OAITW counts as a slice--if a rather longhaired slice--of traditional bluegrass in its own right.

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  3. Wonderful. Wonderful. Kudos. Thanks. I have some things to update! Lots and lots to think about, and really beautifully written. "Songs about dope" is hilarious, because it's so spot on - a perfect signaling mechanism then, as ever.

    A few random things.

    First, I engaged 7/24/73 a few years ago, might be worth a link so we can keep it all tied together!

    Second, small: tell me about the 2/6/72 Pacific High Recorders actually being Alembic by that time? You and LIA seem to having pretty precise understandings of the names of that building. I firstly want to make sure I have my 2/6/72 Garcia references correct.

    Third, a little larger. I do not know the sequencing (which is key), but OAITW was not a singleton in terms of bluegrass being broadcast in the Bay Area around this time. I don't have precise dates clear, but there was a Bay Area bluegrass revival around this time. There was a San Francisco club, the name of which escapes me, that did some broadcasts, like regular Saturday or Sunday afternoon broadcasts. I am blanking on the name of the club right now ... darn. Inn of the Beginning partnered to do some bluegrass broadcasts around Cotati. We have a listing for an afternoon show "The Great KSAY San Francisco Saturday Afternoon Bluegrass Experience", broadcasting Mitch Seeber/Homestead Act from the Orphanage on November 3, 1973. If I can get to my GSCBF stuff, some of the festival promotional materials elaborated on what was going on.

    Now, as I said, I don't know the sequencing. There were clearly bits and pieces of things going on in Bay Area bluegrass. But in terms of broadcasts, wouldn't it be interesting to learn that 3/2/73 was the earliest one we can find, and then a slew of them in the next, say, couple of years? Garcia Power, as so often.

    (Fourth: By the way, the 2/19/69 High Country thing, i.e., "bluegrass jam", could well have been in the afternoon. Hell, it could have been broadcast!)

    Fifth: there's a little snippet of tape that has been shared by the Jive95 site of Old and in the Way doing a little radio promo spot for KSAN. I think they are just doing an acappella chorus of the song "Old And In The Way" or something, several runs-through. But your discussion of the old-timey radio spots put me in mind of this. I had always assumed it was recorded 3/2/73, given that night's KSAN broadcast.

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  4. Had OAITW been in 1963 rather than 1973, perhaps they would have provided their own fake "ads," weather reports & corny jokes in-between tunes, just like the broadcasts of yore... Garcia was all about the authentic trip in those days.
    And, of course, there would have been no songs about dope!

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  5. There was a bluegrass renaissance of sorts in the early 1970s, mostly made up of younger, longhaired musicians who loved bluegrass but weren't explicitly 'country' in the Nixonian sense. In the Bay Area the big bluegrass hangout was a place called Paul's Saloon. I think it was on Union Street. A group called Styx River Ferry had started playing there, and it soon caught on.

    There was a lot of great bluegrass in the Bay Area in the 1970s, but almost no one heard it. The various broadcasts you talk about were on obscure left-of-the-dial stations like KALW. Only pre-existing or newly converted bluegrass fans heard them. Similar movements were going on around the country, as young bluegrass bands played Bob Dylan songs and the like. Some of the better known examples were New Grass Revival in Colorado and John Hartford.

    None of those groups had a rock star the stature of Jerry Garcia, however. John Hartford was actually well known, but he was sort of a television personality. KSAN was not just the highest rated rock station in the Bay Area, it was among the highest rated stations, period. So when a band played live on KSAN, every rock listener in the Bay Area had access to it. That's completely different than a Sunday afternoon broadcast on a public radio station.

    However, I had not considered Old And In The Way and their broadcasts in the context of the rise of progressive bluegrass in the Bay Area. Certainly it couldn't have been irrelevant. It must have been a kick for the local bluegrassers to hear real bluegrass on rock radio. Of course some of the older hands in the Bay Area, like Rick Shubb, knew perfectly well that Garcia was an old banjoman, but that was not so widely known in 1973.

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  6. LIA, to your point about 1963, while its true they wouldn't have sang any songs about dope, they might have sang songs about moonshine, which was the dope of its time.

    Actually, since they did the radio promo for KSAN, in a way they did do ads. In old-time bluegrass bands, the banjo player was the official "jokester," and it would have been funny to hear Jerry act out those parts in a feed and seed ad. He probably would have been mortified, of course.

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  7. The caption to the 5/4-5/73 Homer's Warehouse handbill has a typo. It says 1974, rather than 1973.

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  8. Regarding OAITW March 4, 1973 at Homer's Warehouse, I thought you considered that a spurious date? Here's how I have you quoted:

    "The Jerry Site also lists a March 4, 1973 date from Homers Warehouse in Palo Alto. I believe that to be a spurious date. Since the original source of most of Deadbase's original Jerry Garcia list (in Deadbase IX) was me, I am not worried about contradicting anyone. Without taking anyone through the boring story of how I made that mistake, I recalled hearing the group from Homer's Warehouse on the radio and conflated some existing tapes (the KZSU-fm broadcast of Old And In The Way was actually July 24, 1973)"

    --http://lostlivedead.blogspot.com/2009/09/april-27-1973-keystone-berkeley-old-and.html

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  9. Thanks for the typo ref.

    I have since revised my revised opinion. Dennis McNally's list turns out to have been accurate, for the most part, and my old reason for rejecting the March 4 date was that I thought that OAITW had only played there in July. I have since decided I was being too clever by half. McNally had a good list, and I should stick with it.

    On the bright side, I'm still not contradicting anyone but myself.

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  10. Heh heh. I'll update my files on 3/4/73. Thanks!

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  11. the original old & in the way record began a life-long love of bluegrass, yet the more one listens to ralph stanley and the like, the better old & in the way sounds because it is so clearly in that tradition, the hippie songs no longer sound so hippy but old timey. Garcia & Ghrishan et all getting into bluegrass in 63 always seemed a subset of the folk revival at the time. thank you for this post and this great blog

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