Nothing is quite as indicative of small-town culture as grassroots Americana music from a local radio station. And at 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the Amphitheater, Jamestown’s Rolling Hills Radio will be back to bring that experience to America’s best small town — Chautauqua.
“Our Chautauqua show has become our annual event,” said Ken Hardley, musician and host of Rolling Hills Radio.
Hardley is bringing Michael Glabicki, lead singer of the band Rusted Root, and guitarist Elden Kelly with him.
Besides being an excellent folk-rock performer, Glabicki is, according to Hardley, a very spiritually centered man, and one who is very aware of social issues. He recently appeared on an album to help victims of hydraulic fracturing called “Buy This Fracking Album.” His work with Rusted Root mixes folk and rock with African drums and other international influences.
Meanwhile, Hardley describes Elden Kelly as an astoundingly talented guitar player and a great songwriter who combines influences as diverse as bluegrass, blues, Indian and Pakistani music.
“Once in a while, we get an artist on the show [like Kelly] who just blows us away,” Hardley said. “Someone might say that music with an East Indian flare isn’t Americana — I’d disagree.”
Unlike past years where they have experimented with multiple artists, they will stick with just the two performers.
“When you are looking for water, it’s better to dig one deep well,” Hardley said.
Hardley has also used this philosophy for the station itself, staying with local, low-power radio, as it is less expensive and does not require corporate funding.
“[Rolling Hills Radio] steadfastly refused to accept sponsorship,” Hardley said.
This has allowed them to do what they are interested in: bringing acoustic music in front of a live audience, without industry interference. Hardley said this creates a very intimate show.
This small format has paid off.
National artists are contacting Hardley seeking to be on the show — including West Virginian Todd Burge, who NPR host Larry Groce called the state’s premier singer-songwriter.
There is also a strong following locally in Jamestown. Indeed, the Rolling Hills Radio became popular enough that it had to split.
“We actually started with the idea of featuring local and regional and national artists on the same show,” Hardley said, but they quickly decided to give local artists their own show and focus only on national artists.
When looking for artists, Hardley tries to find not necessarily the best known artists, but those with the best tunes.
“There is a big difference between music from within and music that has had something imposed on it [from studios],” he said.
He tries to focus on the latter, which is easier now that recording technology is so accessible.
“There is great music being released daily,” Hardley said. “You can pound out a CD very cheaply.”
The issue, then, becomes less a lack of good work and more sorting through all the options to find the best. Chautauqua, however, is a place where this selection is appreciated.
“[We are] really, really looking forward to playing at Chautauqua,” Hardley said. “They are the perfect radio audience.”