Tuesday, March 12, 2013


By Bill Holmes

As mentioned in my recent blog about Hullabaloo, I had recorded a PBS show about another 1960's music show, Hootenanny. Last night I watched it so here is my report on that show.

Hootenanny was a TV show in 1963 & 64. It was dedicated mostly to folk music although there was some gospel, country, a little jazz and comedy too. It aired during the very brief folk music craze. There were 43 episodes produced over two years. The shows were taped on college campuses, 22 different ones. Hootenanny started as a half hour program that was later expanded to a full hour. Like many of these old show, the original video tapes were erased to save money. The tape was reused. That left only crappy black and white kinescopes for posterity. The PBS show is a compilation of segments from these kinescopes. It was a normal PBS pledge drive program where they cram less than an hour of content into a 1:30 show. No jazz or comedy segments were shown. Here's the lineup of the acts featured:
  • New Christy Minstrels w/Barry McGuire
  • Trini Lopez
  • Travelers Three
  • Ian & Sylvia 
  • Judy Collins 
  • Theodore Bikel 
  • Clara Ward Singers - gospel
  • Johnny Cash
  • Leon Bibb
  • The Tarriers
  • Jimmie Rogers
  • Bob Gibson
  • Brothers Four
  • Joe & Eddie
  • Hoyt Axton
  • Chad Mitchell Trio
  • Rooftop Singers
  • Marion Williams - gospel

I will not lie, I did not remember some of these performers and I listened to a lot of folk music in the 60's. I barely remember the show.

This was a very laid back and mellow show. Most looked like they were taped in the gym with a small stage in the middle of the floor surrounded by students. There was very minimal camera work consisting of a shot of the performer with a few crowd shots cut in. Being folk music, it was all acoustic instruments and usually one microphone. The songs were performed live, no lip syncing or prerecorded music. There were many guitars, stand up basses, banjos and a few mandolins. Most acts were male, either solos or three, maybe four guys.  The few women had very high voices as in Judy Collins and Sylvia Tyson. There were no elaborate sets, dancers or production numbers. Jack Linkletter, Art's son, was the low key host.  No bombastic introductions here.   Just a simple show with simple acts performing simple songs. Most of those songs were traditional folk music much of which was written decades before. Overall the show didn't seem to have much energy. Unless you are a real folk fan, this show will probably be a disappointment. The poor quality of the video doesn't help but there are plenty of other problems with the production.

The folk music craze hit it's peak in the early 1960's. Hundreds of groups, national and local, sprung up. Old traditionalists like Pete Seeger and the Weavers, Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly had been performing those songs for years. In the late 50's and early 60's, younger musicians began to adopt the genre. The Kingston Trio, Peter, Paul & Mary, The Limelighters, Judy Collins and others attracted new audiences and the folk wave started. There was acoustic, mellow music on the radio. Folk groups drew big crowds to concerts. The top forty charts included folk music right alongside rock, R&B and pop. High school kids formed folk groups. One of my best friends was a member of a folk music quartet, The Coachmen, that had success performing at local venues. It was this surge in popularity that brought about the Hootenanny TV show.

I was a fan of folk music and had several albums by the popular groups. Ian and Sylvia were my favorite and their song Four Strong Winds, written by Ian, was the best. Scotch and Soda by the Kingston Trio ain't bad either. I remember going to Miami to see Ian & Sylvia live at a small coffee house or club. Tommy Ewart and I drove to Miami from Tampa in his VW Beetle convertible. That was not a good road trip car and the roads weren't great back then. No interstate between Tampa and Miami. I think we stayed with friends of Tommy. This was during our college days at the University of South Florida. It was probably 1966 or 67. It was well worth the trip. We sat at a table very close to the stage. Sylvia had a high soprano voice that seemed to be the norm for female folk singers. Ian had a remarkable baritone voice, powerful with great range. They had good harmony. Another memory is of a Peter, Paul and Mary concert at the old Jacksonville Memorial Coliseum. Shortly after the concert began, they asked management to turn off the air conditioning. The noisy flow of air through the old duct work was bothering them. The place was packed and did get a tad warm. We didn't care. It was a good show. I can't remember what year that was or who I was with. I've seen the Kingston Trio live a few times.

Just as fast as folk music had became popular and mainstream it faded. There was a little musical event in 1964 called the British invasion, lead by a group called The Beatles. You may have heard of them. Many of the so called folk performers morphed into rock, folk-rock or country artists. People such as John Sebastian, Cass Elliot and John Phillips moved toward a more rock sound. The changing musical landscape along with what was not a great show to begin with doomed Hootenanny. After two short years it was cancelled. ABC replaced it with Shindig! which had a rock music focus, like Hullabaloo.

Folk stuck around in a much more minor roll on the music scene. No more Tom Dooley or Lemon Trees on the Top 40 charts. The big acts like Peter, Paul & Mary and the Kingston Trio continued to tour and make records for years to come. Pete Seeger and Judy Collins still perform today. The lesser acts disappeared, played smaller venues or converted to rock or country. There are still folk and bluegrass festivals all over the country so the music lives on. Maybe someday it will burst into the forefront once again.

Hootenanny now is just a small and fading blip on the music TV radar. Mostly forgotten but it remains the only network TV series dedicated to folk music.

I recorded the Aaron Neville - Doo Wop: My True Story on PBS. Maybe that will be the subject of a future blog. Aaron Neville singing old Doo Wop songs sounds like a good combination to me.


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