The internationally broadcasted Woodsongs Old-Time Radio Hour is recording a special double taping in Berea on Thursday. Phelps Stokes Auditorium at Berea College will host both a 6:15 and an 8 p.m. show. Both will feature performers with strong ties to Madison County.
At 6:15, Richmondite and guitarist Parker Hastings is on the bill. Hastings, at age 17, is the youngest National Thumb Picking Champion in history. He will share the stage with the renowned US Navy Bluegrass Band.
At 8, the McLain Family Band will perform as part of their 50th anniversary celebrations. The performance is an anniversary celebration and not a reunion — members of this eastern Kentucky family have served as international ambassadors for traditional bluegrass music for half a century.
“We couldn’t be more excited,” said founding member Raymond McLain. “We have such a long musical history here in Berea, even holding our festival each year near Berea College at Big Hill. This is more than a 50th anniversary celebration for us, it is a homecoming.”
Alice McLain White, resident of Berea and member of the band, has a fond memory of Berea College from her teen years.
In 1975, the band had plans to play in Alaska and Japan. White began dreaming of an around-the-world tour going west from Japan. One day, while doing homework at the Berea College library, she looked up addresses for United States embassies around the world and penned numerous letters. Because of her initiative, the U.S. State Department helped coordinate a multi-nation cultural exchange tour.
“I surprised my parents — but I knew they would go for it,” said White.
The McLain Family Band has played cultural exchanges in 62 countries around the world.
“We often play with local folk musicians of our host country. Over and over, I realize we have so much in common with other people, and that the differences don’t matter,” she added.
In recent years, the band has represented the United States in China, Denmark and Ireland. Plans are in the works for an overseas tour in the summer of 2018. The touring band is made up of three of the five McLain siblings, Ruth, Raymond and Alice; spouse Al White; and family friend and banjoist Daxson Lewis. At the anniversary event in Berea, all five siblings will perform, a rare occurrence.
Woodsongs Old-Time Radio Hour, based in Lexington, is a live audience celebration of grassroots music and musicians. The creation of folk singer Michael Johnathan plays weekly on more than 500 radio stations, public television stations throughout the US, and the American Forces Radio Network. The eclectic mix of guests have included the Indigo Girls, Jean Ritchie and the Blind Boys of Alabama, and the show combines performances and conversations with guests.
Some tickets have been pre-sold for the taping, guaranteeing seats for regular Woodsongs audience members. The event is also part of the Berea College Convocation series, all of which are available to the local community for free. Seating is limited, so interested community members should be there well before the 6 p.m. seating time.
In addition, the 8 p.m. show will broadcast live on local PBS station 88.9 WEKU.