Interview: Michael Johnathon of Woodsongs Old Time Radio Hour

Image courtesy of Woodsongs dot com and Michael Johnathon. Photo by Larry Neuzel.
Image courtesy of Woodsongs dot com and Michael Johnathon. Photo by Larry Neuzel.

Image courtesy of Woodsongs dot com and Michael Johnathon. Photo by Larry Neuzel.

From humble beginnings in 1998, from a small venue that sat just 20 people in the audience, Michael Johnathon has built the Woodsongs Old Time Radio Hour into a public broadcasting colossus. Woodsongs is heard and seen around the globe each week from its current home in the Lyric Theatre, Lexington KY.

The program showcases bands, performers and troupes from across the broad spectrum of bluegrass, Americana, roots, acoustic and alt-country, and a few others around the blurred edges of folk.

It’s a 100% community and volunteeer-run operation, making its longevity and sustainability all the more remarkable. And laudable.

It gets even better than that – but you’ll have to listen to the interview for the part that rocked me back on my heels.

And upturned kayak.

The show has reached an eye-watering 750+ episodes as of April 2014, many of which are freely available from the Woodsongs website in audio and video formats. Apart from its legion of individual listeners, Woodsongs has spawned a string of coffeehouse groups which meet to experience the show as a community.

The log cabin. Image courtesy of Michael Johnathon.
The log cabin. Image courtesy of Michael Johnathon.

And it’s not like Michael has anything else to do with his spare time.

Like being a singer-songwriter of many years standing. Or touring. Or arranging other concerts. Or building a log cabin and surrounding structures plus landscaping and bridges etc. bare-handed. Or being a father of two adult children (and two more on the way in one hit).

No, I lied. He’s all of that and more.

An just get a load of where he got his folk beginnings from. I can only interpret my silence at hearing who his neighbour was in upstate New York as a little mild shock and awe.

On a chilly autumnal morning in Sydney, I stepped off the Manly* Ferry and found a suitable-ish place to record an interview over the shaky airwaves from Australia to Lexington, Kentucky. A picture of my luxurious chair in the ‘recording studio’ appears below.

* For international audiences, ‘Manly’ refers to a suburb and location on the north side of Sydney Harbour named ‘Manly’. We don’t believe in forcing gender stereotypes onto our aquatic transport vessels. Actually, if anything, we refer to them as ‘her‘ for the most part.

The interview appears here in two parts as the facilities of the international multi-media conglomerate that is Overheard Productions do not currently run to a recording studio where I can pretty the sound files up.

Also, my international phone card very inconveniently ran out towards the end, so please pardon the slight administrative glitch. I was just too tuned into the discussion to hear the telltale low credit beeps.

A full listing of where you can listen in each week to Woodsongs is available on the web-site or you can pick and choose from the extensive archives.

Some other links:

Woodsongs Old Time Music Hour on Facebook

Michael Johnathon’s page on Facebook

Michael Johnathon’s Facebook alternative: FolkBook

 

Image courtesy of Michael Johnathon
Image courtesy of Michael Johnathon

And here’s the site where the interview was recorded.

Yes, that would be sound of waves in the background, lapping gently onto the shores of Manly Wharf beach in the early hours of ANZAC Day 2014 in the Antipodes. And yes, that red upturned kayak would be my recording studio chair!

Where better to record an interview? The slightly damp shores of the beach to one side of Manly Wharf, New South Wales, Australia
Where better to record an interview? The slightly damp shores of the beach at the western side of Manly Wharf, New South Wales, Australia.
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