WRFA brings live bluegrass to Amp on Sunday

Benjamin Hoste | Staff Photographer
Last season’s Rolling Hills Radio production in the Amphitheater included a performance by Dennis Drew, keyboardist for 10,000 Maniacs.

Some people equate the word “radio” with FDR’s fireside chats, helter-skelter antennae and news broadcasts. Younger people may conjure up images of stereos and Sirius FM.

Ken Hardley wants to bring back the former.

“Today, when you listen to radio it’s a two-dimensional experience,” said the radio host and Jamestown-based producer. “In the 1940s, radio was there to broadcast the events that were happening.”

It is this 1940s-era style of radio that Hardley hopes to emulate with the broadcast of “Rolling Hills Radio,” produced and recorded live at 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the Amphitheater.

Chautauquans can expect to participate as part of the studio audience. This is the second year in a row that Hardley has performed his show on the Amp stage, where he will intersperse song performances and live audience interaction with interviews of this year’s performing artists Liz Longley, Kent Knappenberger and the Farewell Drifters.

“Our show is really modeled after the radio shows of the 1940s,” Hardley said. “We are a celebration of grassroots, Americana music.”

The show, normally broadcast in The Reg Studio Theater in Jamestown, has hosted artists from all across the local, regional and national stage.

This year’s artists, Hardley said, display an impressive array of vocal and instrumental talent. The finale show of the year stars Longley, a 26-year-old singer-songwriter originally from Philadelphia. Hardley described her particular genre of music as “modern folk.”

“She travels and brings her music directly to the people, but she also has a big Internet presence,” he said.

Longley also has her own Internet show that she broadcasts from her living room.

Her musical inspiration stemmed from her father, who encouraged her and her brother to get involved in music at a young age.

“I started on piano and happened upon songwriting accidentally,” Longley said. “I just kind of started singing and making up my own words. I fell in love with it then.”

She cites Joni Mitchell as one of her major influences.

“Her honesty and the raw aspect of her lyric writing was really what drew me in and made me want to do the same thing,” she said.

Longley said that her own particular style of music doesn’t fit into any particular genre, but rather, she draws on pop, country and bluegrass to create her own mish -mash of musical style. She even has a rap song.

“It’s about being a Girl Scout gangster, and it’s called ‘Dough for Dough,’ ” she said. “I like to keep the show as interesting and as eclectic as possible.”

And she relies on inspiration from all different places.

“You don’t know where it comes from, you don’t know where inspiration’s going to hit,” she said. “But if you have a guitar or piano in your hand, then you can capture it.”

Taking the stage alongside Longley will be the Farewell Drifters, who Hardley described as a group of “very high-energy guys.” The four members of the band — Zach Bevill, brothers Joshua and Clayton Britt, and Dean Marold — compare their sounds to the Avett Brothers or Mumford and Sons, but with significantly more rustic charm.

“They bill themselves as a folk rock band, but they are very influenced by bluegrass and more traditional kinds of music,” Hardley said. “They tour relentlessly, all over the country.”

Though also a musician, Hardley said he recruited Knappenberger for the show in part because of his background in musical education earlier this year. Knappenberger was just awarded the first-ever Grammy for music education. He is a teacher at Westfield Central School.

“He’s an excellent musician,” Hardley said.

Knappenberger plays the Celtic harp, and will have his family members in tow to provide backup instrumentals.

“He represents Americana because American music is a blend of different cultures coming together, and Celtic music has been a huge influence on the kind of music we have here in America,” Hardley said.

Hardley said he wants the audience to dance “like no one is watching.”

“What I really hope is that people go away feeling good about genuine music and getting in touch with their own artistic muse,” he said. “And that’s what our show is really about — genuine music, music that’s not made for the purpose of selling, but rather music that comes from within.”