Interview: John McEuen

Posted by Jenks Miller



We spoke with John McEuen about his time with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – and about his plans for his first tour after leaving the seminal folk-rock group – in advance of his show at The ArtsCenter in Carrboro on November 10th. Get tickets for John McEuen & Friends present Will the Circle Be Unbroken here.


Interview continues below. Audio from this interview is streaming at the bottom of this post.



The ArtsCenter: Your tour this fall is a celebration of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s classic record, Will the Circle Be Unbroken. Each show features stories and songs from the record. Storytelling has always been an important aspect of the folk tradition, and at this point Circle has its own mythology. What kind of stories should audiences anticipate at these shows? Are they stories about the recording sessions? Stories about the songs themselves?


John McEuen: For years, with the Dirt Band, I’ve been very frustrated by not having enough music reflecting the Will the Circle Be Unbroken album. In fact, the band only did one song from the album. And that is such an important record for my life and for many people’s lives that it just needs to be covered more. When I started doing that at my own shows, I found out there’s a real hunger for knowing about how it all came about. And I have all these photographs from the session, and stories behind it.


It’s always different every night, but what usually happens is I have the video running behind me and I might be talking about part of the album recording and I say to the audience, “Instead of trying to tell you what Maybelle Carter was like, let’s just go to the session.” And that’s when her voice will come up on the screen and say, “Well in the old days I used to play it like this.” Then Doc Watson says, “Do you remember the ending you put on that old song?” And she says, “Well I started it like this…” That’s when we start “Keep on the Sunny Side,” live on stage with the pictures going behind us.


And we go through the whole process of recording the album, with some sound bytes from the studio, from Roy Acuff and Doc and Merle [Travis] and Maybelle. But preceding that is also the story of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, a group of young hippies in Southern California that had a dream of getting on the radio, and did against all odds. Our first review in Billboard Magazine, before we had a record company, was: “Very entertaining, but doubtful if they’ll ever be captured on record.”


TAC: Well, you proved them wrong.


JM: That review is in a frame with the first platinum album. [In this show] I try to take people through this strange path I’ve been on, the dream of an Orange County teenager. The first part of the dream was just to get out of Orange County — that’s Orange County, California. I’d spent several years working in Disneyland, then music came along and took over the pursuit, my passion.


TAC: So the music was kind of a ticket out of where you grew up.


JM: It became one, for sure. The pathway out. After I saw a group called The Dillards, I was driven to play the banjo. I went home and took the fifth string off my guitar and put a HO [scale] railroad spike at the fifth fret so I could tune it like a banjo. From that point on, I wanted to be on stage and travel the world as a troubadour, mainly in the folk tradition.


The first guy that I had a band with was Les Thompson. We had a group called the Wilmore City Moonshiners in 1965. That lasted about nine months. We probably did twelve jobs, then went our separate ways. Then he called me up the next year and said, “We’re putting together a new band — it’s called the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.” And in about the second month of the band coming together, I jumped in. I taught ‘em a song I’d written with my brother, ‘cause I’d wanted to play a banjo contest with more behind me than just me. And they did a good job! So I said, “OK, I’ll go with this group, ‘cause that might get me on the radio.” Nine months later we had our first single out, “Buy for Me the Rain,” with banjo on it.


TAC: Now, was that an actual banjo or were you still playing a modified guitar?


JM: No, that was an actual banjo. I put a mute on it so it would sound like a harpsichord!


We made four albums, then Jeff [Hanna] broke the group up after we did Paint Your Wagon, the movie. We spent four months on the set and when we got back a couple months later, we were tired. We split for six months. I went and worked on other things, including an album with [Eagles founding member] Bernie Leadon, mainly bluegrass. We worked for about four months on music, but he got a call to be part of Dillard and Clark. Then I ran into Jeff at a club and said, “We ought to get the band back together,” which we did.


All this story comes out on stage, with the photos behind us from the era. It kind of takes people on the path, as if they were there like a fly on the wall. And Les Thompson is part of the group that I have. He’s on stage with me fifty years later.


One of the guys in the group is John Cable. He was in the band in the 1970’s and went to Russia with us. We became the first American band to go to Russia.


TAC: I’ve read about that. How did that come about? How did they decide it would be you guys that went over?


JM: The Russians had to go look at a bunch of American groups and decide which one they would approve. It was in the agreement between the State Departments that America would bring over whatever they wanted, but they had to commit to bringing over a band — not a lead guy, a star with a bunch of musicians, but an actual, democratic band. They went and looked at a bunch of groups and they ended up picking us. We did twenty-eight sold-out shows.


I took an 8MM sound camera with me, in 1977, and when I have enough time — which I will, for this show — I go through the Russia trip a bit. John Cable’s up there in the pictures, but now it’s thirty years later. He has more hair than Les, though. Les has less hair. [laughs]


TAC: Besides Les, who else are you going to have on stage with you for this show?


JM: On stage with me also will be a guy I’ve been playing music with the last twenty-five years: Matt Cartsonis. He plays mandola, guitar … but I don’t let him sing till the middle of the show ‘cause he’s so hard to follow. [laughs]  Matt just rocks out. It’s all acoustic, no drums: stand-up bass, mandolin, guitar, fiddle, banjo, mandola. We cover music from the early Dirt Band, music from my String Wizardsalbum, and the new album, Made in Brooklyn. Matt’s an integral part of the Made in Brooklyn album.


TAC: On your latest album, Made in Brooklyn, you play the title track from an earlier album, Acoustic Traveller.


JM: It’s a song from Acoustic Traveller with a different arrangement. Made in Brooklyn features people I’ve been wanting to record with for many years, like David Bromberg, Jay Ungar, John Cowan. Matt’s singing the song John Cowan did, and he’s killing it. It’s exciting every night. After we do some Dirt Band songs, and the Circle story, we get into that music — more bluegrass than the Dirt Band does.


What’s important about this trip — well, I think every show is important — but this particular trip is the first time I’m actually going out as an ex-member of the Dirt Band. I just departed at the end of October. After fifty-one years, I just need to do what I want to do. It’s awful hard to be in a band and say, “Hey guys, I’ve got twelve songs I want to put on the next album,” you know? It’s awful hard to be in a band and say, “I want to do these fifteen songs on stage tonight.” But my players — Les and Matt and John Cable — we like to play everything. They like to play everything. They like to follow my suggestions, and they have so many good ones of their own. Everybody listens to each other.


TAC: You have more creative freedom under your own name, I imagine.


JM: Totally. With the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, it had come down to where I wasn’t fingerpicking guitar anymore. I wasn’t playing enough bluegrass music or enough Carter Family songs, or our new music. The band basically played the same set for the last 11 years: “OK, the show started at 8. What time is it now? Oh, ‘Bojangles’ is starting, so it must be it’s 8:52!” [laughs]


At this show, we’ll play at least one or two songs that we’ve never played before together. Somebody might yell out a request, and I’ll say, “John, do you know that one? Matt, do you know it? I know it, follow me.” Or, “You know it, I’ll follow you.” And that’s not to be haphazard. It’s to capture that moment when music is for the music and not just because it was on a record – to put people to the test.


TAC: It sounds like you have a lot of flexibility on stage, a lot of spontaneity.


JM: Exactly. And keep in mind, the Circle album was thirty-five songs done in six days. And that was because everybody had studied what to do. The Made in Brooklyn album, with all the people I mentioned and several others like David Amram, Andy Goessling from Railroad Earth, Skip Ward on bass, John Carter Cash, Steve Martin plays banjo on a Warren Zevon song – we’re doing a couple Warren Zevon songs because I think he’s an overlooked guy. Made in Brooklyn has fourteen songs and was done in two days. We recorded it all in one microphone, and you had to be able to know the song and play it right once.


TAC: Tell me a little bit about that binaural recording technique, because it’s pretty interesting. In photos, everybody’s gathered around a model of a human head, and the mic kind of replicates how we hear the music in a room.


JM: You know when you drop your car keys, you hear ‘em hit the ground, right? A bird chips in a tree and you hear it above you. A car honks its horn while you’re walking down the street and you can tell it’s behind you, right? That’s the way you actually hear. But most stereo records are mixed right to left, as though everything is right in front of you. This binaural mic — in a dummy head with two split mics, one in each ear — it hears the way you hear. When my daughter first got the album, she said, “Dad, I wish you would’ve warned me. I was home alone playing the record and I thought somebody came in behind me.” [laughs] It’s like surround sound without the speakers.


TAC: I’m not sure I’ve heard another binaural record.


JM: There’s a bunch of ‘em on Chesky Records. They’ve made about four hundred albums over the years. When the owner of the company came to me with a proposal, it took a while to get it going, to get everybody’s schedules to match up. Then we rehearsed the songs for about five days — we rehearsed by email, too — and it came together.


On the “Miner’s Night Out” cut on Made in Brooklyn, the drum sound is one of my favorite I’ve ever had recorded with my music. And it’s all with the one mic, all in one take! It amazed me. I was thinking the drums weren’t going to pick up good enough, but no: it was perfect. That was also because of the drummer: he knew that he wasn’t playing rock and roll drums. He was a percussionist.


The engineer would come out after we ran a song once and he’d say to one person, “You move back two feet, and you move in a foot. And I gotta move you over to the left about four feet.” Because we were surrounding the mic. And dang, Skip Ward, the bass player — I used Skip Ward on The Crow, the album I produced for Steve Martin. I’d spent five days in the studio with him there and in rehearsal for this album, and I’ve never heard him make a mistake! It’s really disgusting! [laughs] He’s so good. One of the top New York bass players.


TAC: Did the setup in the room affect the arrangements of the songs themselves?


JM: It meant we didn’t need echo, because the room was a big, old, out-of-business church that had its own natural echo. That’s why we recorded there. Chesky records in that building all the time. It was a simple formula: the engineer said, “If you can’t hear the other guy playing, then you’re playing too loud. Play like you want to hear each other. If it’s your solo, and they can’t hear you, then they’re playing too loud.”


TAC: You’d have to have some disciplined musicians to pull that off.


JM: They certainly were. All these people have been recording for 40 years or more. They’ve gone through all the mistakes and the accomplishments of recording well. I told David Bromberg on “She Darked the Sun,” “Just play one of the solos that I used to have to buy the album for.” [laughs] Sometimes you’d hear a record back in the 70’s and go, “Geez, how did he play that?!” and you’d buy the album because of that one solo.


That recording attitude is reflected in the live show. It’s a wonderful thing. We feel at ease in what we’re doing but excited about getting out there. We’re playing all the time. The sound check usually goes long because we’re done in about fifteen minutes but we play for another hour. Then we go back to the dressing room and play because you can’t play in the rental car, you know? That’s the excitement I miss.


TAC: This is a Carrboro show, and The ArtsCenter is literally two blocks from where Elizabeth Cotten grew up on Lloyd Street. You told me you were thinking of doing a special tribute or acknowledgment of her at the show. Are you still planning on doing that?


JM: Yeah. The first song I learned fingerpicking was “Freight Train.” Years later, I was booking and producing a show for Austin City Limits, and I booked Elizabeth Cotten to come out and tell her story. That was a really neat thing, to get to meet her. At thirteen years old, she had written a song on fingerpicking guitar that has had as much effect on the guitar world as Maybelle Carter’s guitar playing did.


I was talking to Duane Allman’s daughter a year or two ago. She wanted to find out about her dad because she was only three or four years old when he died, so she was calling people that knew him. I’d spent time with Duane. When The Allman Brothers first came to LA — my brother had convinced the band The Allman Joys to come out to Los Angeles — they moved into the house that I’d rented up in the Hollywood Hills. We had one floor occupied by The Allman Joys — which was to become The Allman Brothers — and the other three by Dirt Band people. It was a mess. [laughs]


It was really fun. We were on the radio for the first time, and this group of great players had come out. They were set up and playing on one floor, and we were on the other three. They became The Hourglass, which lasted about a year and a half. Then that broke up, and so forth.


TAC: Looking back, that was such a magical time. You had an intersection of great talent, recording technology that was coming along very rapidly, and an industry with infrastructure that could support new artists. It’s incredible to think back on all the great music that was made back then.


JM: It was very strange: I was living in Laurel Canyon, in the middle of Hollywood, kind of. Across the street was [“San Francisco” singer] Scott McKenzie with flowers in his hair. Next door was Ian Whitcomb from England with a hit [“N-Nervous”]. Down the street were The Mamas & the Papas. Across from them were The Mothers of Invention. And at the top of the hill was Steve Martin, writing for the Smothers Brothers’ show, and my brother was managing him.


I had a young kid, a nineteen year-old, approach the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in 1969, and he wanted us to record some of his songs. So I had him come up to make a demo. I play one of those demos as part of the show and talk about how Kenny Loggins came into the radio world through the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, which has always been nice to remember. We recorded four of his songs from that demo. You’ll hear him at nineteen years old and we’ll sing along with him, it’s really fun. You feel like you’re going back to that era, only the sound is better. [laughs]


John McEuen plays some licks during our Skype interview:


Job Announcement: Development Director



The ArtsCenter is soliciting resumes for the position of Development Director. The Development Director is responsible for creating and implementing a comprehensive development plan to sustain and increase contributions to The ArtsCenter. This includes developing a strategic approach that supports a plan for grant research and solicitation, identification of key prospects, ongoing cultivation of donors and development of new sources of income. This position reports to the Executive Director, and works closely with the Board of Directors in strategic donor development and philanthropy training.


Position Responsibilities Include:
• Identifies, cultivates, solicits, and stewards private sector funds by targeting foundations, corporations, and individuals. Prepares and submits grant applications as outlined in the fund development plan to generate funds for the organization.
• Serves as principal major gifts fundraiser, achieving short- and long-term goals.
• Works with Executive Director and collaborates with Board to create a development plan which increases revenues through clearly defined method of evaluation and measurable goals.
• Participates as a leader in crafting, monitoring, evaluating the development plan. Develops and manages a master development calendar.
• Prepares regular reports on progress, budgets, receipts and expenditures related to fundraising and the management of the fund development activities.
• Ensures constant, quality research of funding sources and trends to better position The ArtsCenter for future changes in fundraising and the marketplace. Monitors trends in the community or region and adapts fundraising strategies as necessary.
• Develops new and innovative ways to improve the fundraising capacity of the organization and to create new opportunities for contributed income.
• Oversees the planning and execution of special fundraising events as specified in the fund development plan to generate funds for the organization.
• Maintains donor/member database and sends solicitations and acknowledgement on a regular scheduled basis.
• Manages staff on projects including annual Gala and other administrative tasks.


Skills Required Include:
• Minimum three (3) years working in a full-time fundraising capacity for a nonprofit organization.
• Background and/or interest in the arts and passion to promote the importance of the arts and culture for all in the community.
• Knowledge of philanthropy in the Triangle: Foundations, corporations and other potential funding opportunities in the region.
• Familiarity with CRM software and facility with managing database programs and MS software.
• Ability to build relationships: Establish and maintain positive working relationships with others, both internally and externally, to achieve the goals of the organization.
• Strength with effective communication: Speak, listen and write in a clear, thorough and timely manner using appropriate and effective communication tools and techniques.
• Desire to foster teamwork and to work cooperatively and effectively with others to set goals, resolve problems, and make decisions that enhance organizational effectiveness.
• Capacity to make decisions and to independently assess situations to determine importance, urgency and risks, and make clear decisions which are timely and in the best interests of the organization.


This is a full time salaried position that includes benefits. Interested applicants should send resume and cover letter to or by mail to: The ArtsCenter, 300-G East Main St. Carrboro, NC 27510. Position open until filled; resumes received will be reviewed October 30, 2017. Equal Opportunity Employer.


Masters of Cajun Accordion – An Interview with Steve Weiss


UNC Library’s Southern Folklife Collection and the Friends of the Library Present the Masters of Cajun Accordion Festival at The ArtsCenter on Sunday, October 1st


Interview: Steve Weiss
Posted by Jenks Miller


Residents of Chapel Hill/Carrboro enjoy proximity to one of America’s foremost archival resources for American folk music and popular culture, UNC Library’s Southern Folklife Collection. The SFC grew out of the Curriculum in Folklore at UNC – which was itself among the country’s first graduate programs in folklore when it was established in 1940 – and features materials documenting the development of all folk musics endemic to the South, including old-time, country-western, hillbilly, bluegrass, blues, folk, gospel, rock and roll, Cajun and zydeco. The collection spans an impressive range of media: according to the library, the SFC now contains “over 250,000 sound recordings, 3,000 video recordings and 8 million feet of motion picture film as well as tens of thousands of photographs, song folios, posters, manuscripts, books, serials, research files and ephemera.”


One of the challenges facing public archival collections of this size is how to make them accessible not only to researchers, but to the populations they represent. To meet this demand for accessibility, the SFC regularly presents lectures, concerts, and viewings of its materials, often curated to reflect certain topics of interest in today’s popular culture. In this way, archives like the Southern Folklife Collection ensure that we remain informed by our many histories.


The next event to feature materials from the SFC archives will be the Masters of Cajun Accordion Festival, presented by the SFC and the Friends of the Library at The ArtsCenter in Carrboro on Sunday, October 1st. This event celebrates the forthcoming release of Swampland Jewels, a compilation of classic Cajun music produced in a new partnership between the SFC and Hillsborough’s Yep Roc Records. We spoke with Steve Weiss, Curator of the Southern Folklife Collection, about the history of the archive and the details of the Masters of Cajun Accordion Festival.


The ArtsCenter: First off, I wanted to get a little background on the Southern Folklife Collection for readers who may be unfamiliar with the special collections archives at UNC. The SFC is unique not only in its significant size: it also feels more outward-facing, or interactive, than many cultural archives concerned primarily with preservation. Was the SFC originally designed as a platform for festivals, conferences, and publications, or did that function develop as the archive grew over the years?


Steve Weiss: When the Southern Folklife Collection first opened in 1989, it was celebrated with a large event called Sounds of the South which included an academic conference, a concert (held at the ArtsCenter!) and was followed up with a book of the conference proceedings. Ten years later, when I started as the director of the collection, the SFC was co-publishing our second book, a major reference work entitled Country Music Sources which spawned another academic symposium. Since then I’ve made public programming and publications a more active part of our mission, culminating now in our partnership with YepRoc Records.


TAC: This year, the SFC has been involved in presentations on depression-era grassroots music and left-wing politics (March’s “Depression Folk” lecture and concert); the twenty-five year partnership between farmworkers and students in the Southeast, as chronicled in Student Action with Farmworkers’ archive of photographs and oral histories (August’s “Más de Una Historia”); and the legacy of Eno River conservation efforts (August’s “Saving the River One Song at a Time: The Eno River Festival Legacy”); among other themes. The topics here feel less like dry history and more like the living and breathing issues currently debated in our state politics and across the Southeast at large. Looking at the SFC’s activity since the 2016 election season, I’m reminded of that famous Faulkner quote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” To what extent are the SFC’s various activities informed by today’s headlines and political discourse? Do you make an active effort to engage on these issues, or is this another example of history’s seemingly inescapable cyclical nature?


SW: Great question! It is inevitable, because of where we live and the important work done by grassroots organizations in our community.  The work documented by the materials in the library is never really dead, only dusty if there is no one to make sure it is promoted to the public.


TAC: The Masters of Cajun Accordion Festival, which will be presented by the SFC and the Friends of the Library here at The ArtsCenter on October 1st, features a free 6:00pm lecture from Barry Jean Ancelet, aka Jean Arceneaux, a Cajun folklorist, author, poet, and lyricist. Before retiring from the University of Louisiana Lafayette faculty, Ancelet gave a talk on “the theory and practice of activist folklore” for UL Lafayette’s Last Lecture series. Some of us may associate folklore with storytelling and oral history, but this sounds different. What do folklorists mean by “activist folklore?” Do you know what Ancelet will be speaking about on October 1st?


SW: I’ve invited Barry to speak on the Cajun Music. I’m not familiar with the definition of “activist folklore” as Barry has presented it, but it isn’t hard to imagine as the role of the folklorist is working with communities, and confronting the issues communities face is inescapable. Of the collections in the SFC, the late folklorist Guy Carawan comes to mind as a great example as he was actively involved in voter rights issues while living in the Johns Island, SC community and recording fieldwork.


TAC: The festival also features a ticketed 7:30pm concert by Jo-El Sonnier with Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys. Both Sonnier and Riley are living legends of the accordion, with records on Rounder, Mercury, RCA, and Capitol, among other labels (Sonnier’s cover of Richard Thompson’s upbeat and tragicomic “Tear-Stained Letter” was a country radio hit single in the 1988). Will there be two separate sets, or will Sonnier perform with Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys? What can audiences expect from these artists in a live setting? 


SW: Jo-El will be performing in a small trio setting. Steve will be playing with the Mamou Playboys. I imagine there will be some nice collaborations during the show.


TAC: What else does the Southern Folklife Collection have in store for 2017? Will we see more presentations in off-campus locations in Chapel Hill and Carrboro like The ArtsCenter?


SW: On October 26th, we will be presenting an evening with banjoist and scholar Stephen Wade who will be performing music from his new Smithsonian Folkways CD Across the Amerikee: Showpieces from Coal Camp to Cattle Trail. That event will be held in Wilson Library. In early 2018 the SFC will release our second album with YepRoc, a live recording of Doc Watson at the beginning of his solo career in 1963. We hope to do something for the record release at MerleFest this Spring.


More information:


Masters of Cajun Accordion Festival


Presented by the Southern Folklife Collection and the Friends of the Library


Date: October 1st, 2017
Location: The ArtsCenter in Chapel Hill




5:30pm Reception, Nicholson Gallery/Lobby


6:00pm Lecture: Barry Jean Ancelet (University of Louisiana, Lafayette), West End Theater


7:30pm Concert: Jo-El Sonnier with Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys, Earl & Rhoda Wynn Theater


Concert is ticketed. Reception and lecture are free and open to the public. CD/LP bundles include a copy of the record Swampland Jewels.


For more information contact Liza Terll, Friends of the Library, 548-1203

Now Hiring for Production Manager Position


Production Manager Job Description


The ArtsCenter seeks a highly motivated and detail-oriented Production Manager to join The ArtsCenter (TAC) team in presenting 100+ performances and educational programs yearly. In this full-time position, the Production Manager will align with and support The ArtsCenter in all production and technical needs, supervise freelance lighting and sound crew, advance and execute all incoming shows, and maintain building calendars for all programs.


The Production Manager position reports to the Executive Director and is responsible for all front of house and back of house operations and oversight; and ensures maintenance of the venue, its equipment, and systems to provide a superior facility for the community’s use and enjoyment.


The ArtsCenter is a very team oriented atmosphere with staff frequently overlapping in duties and responsibilities. Someone who thrives in a team environment will excel at The ArtsCenter.


Responsibilities include:


  • Advance all technical/ hospitality elements for each performance via artist, agents and managers as well as TAC tech and hospitality.
  • Excel at either general lighting (ETC console) or sound mixing (analog) or both. The ArtsCenter works with a very strong and talented core of freelance sound engineers and lighting designers, but Production Manager will operate lighting and/ or sound for some performances.
  • Production Manager will maintain a somewhat flexible schedule based on The ArtsCenter’s needs; production manager will not be required to work all performances, but will work the majority of performances during the year.
  • Maintain Master Calendar and coordinate scheduling of all building activities.
  • Oversees management of 20,000 sq/ft of facility and works with contractors on maintenance and repairs.


We are looking for an individual who is an organized, creative, efficient team player with a genuine interest and demonstrated background in music and theater, production, event coordination, community outreach, and/ or arts management.


The candidate must be able to efficiently manage a wide-range of tasks with accuracy, grace and humor– demonstrating a “let’s-do-this” attitude. This person must be able to juggle multiple projects at a time, meeting strict deadlines and working well under pressure. We are looking for a solution-finder, with the ability to calmly and efficiently solve problems. Candidate must be a strong manager of time, with the ability to deftly handle a variety of tasks. They must be discreet, able to handle sensitive information with reliability, maturity, and confidence. Also, must be able to spot opportunities to make a positive difference. Candidates must be proficient in Microsoft Word, Excel and Outlook. Some heavy lifting of furniture, set pieces, props, instruments, and other equipment is required.


Salary negotiable based on experience. Benefits included. For consideration, please send letter and resume to: Dan Mayer @ with “Production Manager Applicant” in the subject line.  Interviews will be scheduled after June 26th.  Equal opportunity employer.

An Interview with Jeff Haynes of “Pete Seeger: The Storm King”

Interview: Jeff Haynes
Posted by Jenks Miller


Recently, Pete Seeger’s birthday gave us a chance to reflect on the late folk singer and social activist’s work and legacy. With a career that included early radio success with The Weavers in the 1940’s and 50’s, blacklisting in the infamous McCarthy era, a prominent role in both the folk revival and the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s, and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996, Seeger played a significant role as a musician and leader in social movements until his death in 2014. In a written statement memorializing the folk legend, President Obama noted that Seeger “believed in the power of community – to stand up for what’s right, speak out against what’s wrong, and move this country closer to the America he knew we could be.”


Of course, the America of 2017 is still a far cry from the America Seeger knew it could be. On May 3rd of this year – also Seeger’s birthday – the head of the Trump Administration’s State Department, Rex Tillerson, became the first Secretary of State in decades to skip the press conference accompanying his department’s annual human rights report, claiming that the United States’ traditional insistence that its allies adhere to its values of freedom and human dignity creates “obstacles.” While Seeger would likely be among the first to note that there is still much work to be done in the pursuit of justice and human rights, he also embodied an unflagging optimism. His message was one of tireless engagement and sustained action. As he put it, “Participation – that’s what’s gonna save the human race.”


Today, Seeger’s message is sustained in The Storm King, a touring multimedia presentation of Seeger’s recorded stories, narratives and poems set to music and video. The Storm King, curated and presented by Grammy award winning percussionist/producer Jeff Haynes, comes to The ArtsCenter on Saturday, May 13th. We spoke with Haynes about his work with Pete Seeger and the role of the folk tradition in a changing world.



Photo courtesy Pete Seeger: The Storm King

1. First things first! What got you interested in Pete Seeger’s work? Do you recall a specific event, or did your creative paths slowly merge?


It’s like what you said. It was an organic process that Pete and I had together. It started when we were performing in local schools for children in Beacon, NY. Then we collaborated on a children CD called “Tomorrow’s Children” and another called “A More Perfect Union.” From that point on, Pete never stop coming to my recording studio. He would come at least two or three times a week for 3 hours each session telling me his life stories. I decided to ask him if I could produce a spoken-word CD recording the stories he was sharing with me and he agreed.  So the process started at that point and lasted five years and that’s how the Storm King volume 1 evolved and then came volume 2.


2. The Storm King is the product of countless hours of conversation, listening, composing, arranging and editing: a true labor of love. Could you take us through the process that led to the finished presentation?


As you said they were countless hours—literally hundreds of hours of editing, fact checking, mixing and mastering the whole project, producing it, and deciding which piece of music would go under which particular story or which particular story would go with a piece of music that would not get in the way of Pete’s stories. Each piece of music and story had to be a perfect blend—a balance between each piece of music and story—so that it wouldn’t take away from Pete or draw attention away from his speaking. It had to enhance his story. Each piece of music had to be like a movie soundtrack. The same approach was taken with the performance.


3. What can attendees expect during your show at The ArtsCenter? Will there be familiar songs to sing along with, or is the presentation more focused on sharing unheard words from Seeger himself?


What I find to be true is that the audience will get a beautiful balance of Pete’s music, original songs from the artists on stage, and also music by Pete that was not mainstream—that he wrote when he was in a influenced during his travels around the world when he was blacklisted. He wrote songs with Tommy Sands from Ireland, he covered the song called Raghupati from India which was one of Mahatma Gandhi’s favorite songs. So the audience will get a buffet of old and new songs that they have not experienced before. And within that, they’ll be hearing stories and experiencing Pete telling them in his own voice as if he was in the room with us as well as the music.


4. The Storm King project has spanned both sides of the presidential election of 2016, when the country experienced what many feel is a kind of upheaval or realignment. Is there any difference in how you approached the project in, say, early 2016 and how you approach it now? Has the audience reaction been any different? What kind of feedback are you getting these days?


I truly don’t want to get too political with this, but I know where Pete stands and I think that his beliefs are reflected in the show and that these beliefs stand true from 2016 to now. I think the show represents how he feels—from many years ago through the civil rights movement, to his stance on the environment. He’s been a long time supporter of human rights reflected in the fact that he changed the lyrics to an old miner song singing, We Shall Overcome.


5. So far, you have curated two volumes of Pete Seeger’s stories and narratives. What is the future for The Storm King? Will there be a third volume in the series?


There is enough material for a third and a fourth volume if we should choose to do so. I would love to have success with the first two volumes, which I believe we are. God willing and if the universe provides the means, I would truly love to do more volumes. I truly love sharing Pete’s spirit with the world.


Jeff Haynes brings The Storm King to The ArtsCenter on Saturday, May 13th. Showtime is 8pm.


More Information and Tickets are available at

Welcome New Board Members!

The ArtsCenter would like to welcome two new members to the board of directors: Artie Bolick and Bruce Runberg. Artie is a Partner in the Brooks Pierce law firm specializing in construction law, plays the mandolin and lives in Carrboro; Bruce is the former Associate Vice Chancellor for Facilities Services at UNC and is currently a Co-Chair of the Orange County Veterans Memorial Committee.
Also, join us in congratulating the new officers for 2017/18: Michael Parker, President; Bernadette Pelissier, Vice Chair; Charlotte Walton, Treasurer; and, Wendy Smith, Secretary. Thank you to our immediate past president Don Rose and outgoing secretary Beth Minton for their service.

Masters’ Ceramics Workshop Collaboration between ArtsCenter and Town of Chapel Hill


A ceramics master class led by local artist Ronan Peterson will be offered the last two weekends of April.


For two weekends this April, The ArtsCenter and The Town of Chapel Hill’s Community Clay Studio will jointly offer a Ceramics Master Class led by local artist Ronan Peterson. This is a first-of-its-kind collaboration between the two organizations that aims to enhance the course offerings of the two ceramics studios, as well as foster future joint efforts between The ArtsCenter and the Cultural Arts Division of the Town of Chapel Hill’s Parks and Recreation Department.


Chapel Hill’s Cultural Arts Administrator Jeffrey York calls the collaboration, “just the beginning. Both the Town and The ArtsCenter have excellent ceramic programs. Projects like this can showcase what is possible when arts organizations work together.”


The master class “Peeling the Onion with Ronan Peterson” is the result of the goal of the two organizations to offer next level education opportunities to their advanced clay students. Peterson, who is known for his unique ceramic surfaces and glazes, maintains Nine Toes Pottery studio and has had his work featured in Ceramics Monthly,Clay Times, the books 500 Bowls and 500 Plates and Chargers, and in multiple galleries across the United States.


Ronan describes his aesthetic saying, “Essentially, I am dealing with effects of agents of growth and decay, and how these agents shape and embellish the surfaces of stones and the skins of trees. These agents also serve key roles in interacting with my ceramic vessels. Mushrooms, seed pods, grubs and other growths serve as knobs and handles, allowing one to remove lids and discover what might be inside or underneath a covered vessel, like lifting a rock to have insects scurry in many different directions when subjected to the light of day.”


The workshops are nearly filled to capacity, with Section A taking place at The ArtsCenter from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 22 and Saturday, April 29 and Section B taking place at the Community Clay Studio from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, April 23 and Sunday, April 30.


We are confident that the success of this workshop will lead to future collaborative Masters Classes, so stay tuned!  For press interest in covering the workshops, please contact Jeffrey York at 919-968-2750 or

10 By 10 Festival Moves To Late 2017

The ArtsCenter is announcing its decision to postpone the annual 10 By 10 In The Triangle Festival of New Short Plays until late 2017. 


“We are committed to continuing to produce the celebrated 10 By 10 In The Triangle Festival of New Short Plays in 2017, but want to produce the festival within a time frame that enables The ArtsCenter to build and grow the quality and reputation of this festival.  10 By 10 has been a beloved institution for 15 years and we are excited and honored to continue this Carrboro tradition,” says ArtsCenter Executive Director Dan Mayer.


The ArtsCenter values and celebrates our local theatre community and looks forward to continuing our theatrical programming.  This includes partnerships with local groups, such as Pauper Players — premiering their new production of In the Heights April 7-10 — Company Carolina, Triangle Playwrights, No Shame Theatre, and One Song, who just produced their annual Feb 48 show of original short plays written and produced in 48 hours.


The ArtsCenter is in the planning stages for the next 10 By 10 festival and encourages theater companies and theater leaders that would like to partner and help envision the next festival to contact us.  We will issue a call for scripts 4-5 months prior to the new date of the festival. If you are interested in learning more about 10 By 10 In The Triangle, please contact The ArtsCenter’s Executive Director, Daniel Mayer, at

Now Hiring for House Manager position

The ArtsCenter in Carrboro is hiring for the House Manager position


This is a part-time, support position responsible for overseeing the box office during evening, daytime, and weekend events and classes. Duties include but are not limited to: selling tickets to events, registering students for classes, handling money and basic box office accounting reports, setting up for performances, and assisting other departments with administrative tasks.


To apply for the House Manager position, submit your resume and cover letter to





The house manager is responsible for overseeing the box office during daytime, evening and weekend events and classes, selling tickets to events, and registering students for ArtSchool classes.  House Managers must have excellent customer service skills since they are often the first person with whom patrons will interact with. It is the house manager’s responsibility to assist everyone who comes to the box office and to have a presence in the box office at all times. House Managers report to the Box Office Manager and Managing Director. Administrative tasks may also be assigned by other department heads.


It is the responsibility of each House Manager to cover her or his assigned hours.  In the event that a House Manager is unable to cover his or her shift due to illness or other unavoidable circumstance, it is her/his responsibility to obtain alternate coverage (from among the other house managers) for the days s/he will not be able to work.


In unusual circumstances, when coverage is not possible to obtain, the house manager will inform her/his supervisor that coverage is unavailable.  The supervisor is then responsible for house management of that particular day.


The House Manager is responsible for the smooth operation of performances and classes held at The ArtsCenter, including but not limited to:




  • Check the set-up of Theater(s) to make sure seating arrangement(s) meets the needs of the performance(s).


  • Assure the needs of the performers are met and that the show starts on time, and if the show cannot start on time, to keep the audience apprised of the situation.


  • Make curtain announcements when necessary.


  • Make sure theater is presentable after events- this includes doing a general walkthrough of the theater and picking up trash if necessary.  


  • Manage Box Office, including selling tickets, reconciling ticket sales and paying performers.


  • Manage issues and problems that may occur during performances.


  • Crowd management.


  • Overseeing bartenders;  reconciling bar sales at the end of the evening; finding a replacement bartender or covering themselves if the bartender does not show up


  • Training and supervising community service workers and volunteers.




  • Oversee setup and cleanup.


  • Manage issues and problems that may occur during rental.


  • Settle payment.




  • Make sure classrooms are set up as needed.


  • Assist instructors with any special needs.


  • Sell & reconcile swing tickets on Tuesday & Wednesday nights.


  • Register students for classes when possible.




Communicate with Operations Director about any issues that arise during their shifts through the House Manager logbook or other means.


Oversee the completion of the list of chores for community service workers left by the Box Office Manager or Managing Director, and ensure its completion.  If something is unable to be completed, a note must be left for the supervisor as to why it was left uncompleted. House managers are responsible for the completion of these tasks.


Oversee the general cleanliness and appearance of the facility. This includes ensuring all chairs and tables are returned to their proper places on a daily basis, and checking cleanliness of the lobby, gallery, and bathrooms periodically throughout shifts.

The ArtsCenter Opposes Immigration Ban


The Board of Directors of The ArtsCenter has endorsed the following resolution regarding the recent executive orders on immigration:


“We recognize these are stressful times for many of our community. Recently, President Trump signed two Executive Orders related to immigration.  One of the orders restricts citizens from seven Muslim majority countries from entering the United States and the other reflects his campaign promise to build a wall on our southern border. These Executive Orders are unjust and must be overturned.


These actions have heightened a sense of anxiety for many, having a chilling effect on the free flow of residents and visitors to the US at our airports and borders.  Carrboro and Chapel Hill are home to citizens from across the globe; over 17% of our residents were born in another country.  Our diversity is our strength. The targeting and stigmatizing of our Muslim and Latino neighbors, co-workers, and families has tested our resolve.


At The ArtsCenter we present programming from around the world; this Spring we are hosting musicians from many countries including Cambodia, Mali, Mongolia and France.  Our mission is to celebrate world culture and the diversity of creative expression that unites us all.  These Executive Orders have stifled global exchange and betray our country as an example of tolerance and acceptance of people and cultures from all corners of the world.


Through our educational programming, The ArtsCenter works with over 30,000 students from all over the world.  For example, last summer we hosted seventeen students from Iraq visiting North Carolina on a tour sponsored by the State Department promoting greater cultural understanding.  These students spent the afternoon in one of our classrooms learning techniques for filmmaking and documenting their experiences on their smartphones.


Whether in a classroom or in our theater, we are committed to the well-being of each and every student and patron that walks through our doors. We are committed to a community where all students, families, audiences and staff are safe, respected, and engaged. We expect everyone to be treated positively, without fear of bullying or intimidation.


We call upon all of us to remember what makes America special – it is our diversity, our deep sense of justice; our fundamental belief in personal liberty; and our willingness to stand for and with those in need.”


“I believe in our constitution and the freedoms, protections, and opportunities it provides. Together, we must defend the values we hold dearly and stand for each other. The ArtsCenter stands with all residents of the Triangle. Thank you for standing with us.”   — Daniel Mayer, Executive Director

Laughter is the Best Medicine: NCCAF 2017

Interview: Zach Ward
Posted by Jenks Miller


The ArtsCenter is gearing up for the 2017 North Carolina Comedy Arts Festival (NCCAF), a multi-venue comedy showcase and workshop featuring college groups and professional acts, improvisers, sketch writers and standup comics that will take place in Carrboro February 15th – 26th. Over the years, the NCCAF has grown both in size and stature; it is now recognized as one of the largest independent comedy festivals in the country. Recently, NCCAF founder and executive producer Zach Ward has emphasized the role of comedy in bolstering our emotional resilience during turbulent times. We spoke with Ward about some of the upcoming festival’s highlights, improv’s penchant for adaptability, and comedy as self-care.



Photo courtesy of NCCAF.


The ArtsCenter: The North Carolina Comedy Arts Festival is in its seventeenth year. Carrboro/Chapel Hill was a very different place when the festival got off the ground in 2001! What inspired you to create the North Carolina Comedy Arts Festival back then? How has the festival changed since then? And do those changes parallel changes you’ve noticed in the town itself?


Zach Ward: We started in 2001 so this will be our 17th annual event. With everything that has happened personally and professionally since then, it seems like a lifetime ago. We were all so different ― Chapel Hill, UNC, comedy festivals in general ― I was 22 when we started NCCAF, producing the fest out of my apartment in Chicago, a block North of Wrigley Field. I produced the first festivals as a way to teach and to foster a local appreciation for the type of comedy I wanted to eventually do myself, and see, in North Carolina. It took a decade and a lot more hustle than just our annual comedy party, but it worked. We did it. Now there are improv teams and troupes all over the Triangle performing “Chicago-style” improv, alt comedy shows and artists experimenting beyond the formats and shows that were popular at the time.


TAC: What can we expect from the NCCAF this year? Are there any highlights that stand out for you in particular?


ZW: I am very excited about how the programming for the festival has changed and stayed the same. Some artists make our fest an annual event, which has turned Chapel Hill, Carrboro and NCCAF into a comedy homecoming for a lot of acts. A large number of college teams have returned every year to perform at our festival for over a decade. This year we have booked headliner Aparna Nancherla, who will be on The ArtsCenter stage on Saturday Feb. 18th, and I am thrilled for festival artists and local audiences to see Aparna. This will be Aparna’s 3rd time at the festival, having first come to the festival in 2007 to perform with her improv team from Washington Improv Theatre in Washington, DC. She gained a significant amount of recognition in 2016, which has made her an “overnight success” (after dedicating the last 10 years to the work and the art of comedy).


Highlights at The ArtsCenter:


* RISK! podcast with Kevin Allison (feat. Eddie Brill, 13+ year talent coordinator for David Letterman)


* The Magic Negro and Other Blackness and AIL Podcast


* Aparna Nancherla (feat. local comics Hannah Strom and Brandy Brown)


* The Josh and Tamra Show (feat. Jim Henson-trained Muppeteer Josh Cohen)


* ImprovBoston and Billyhawk (Los Angeles) and The Magnet TourCo (New York)



TAC: In addition to serving as Executive Director of the NCCAF and the Artistic Director of DSI Comedy, you also teach improv comedy workshops to students and professionals in many different disciplines. I’m interested in the relationship between improv performance and business (or even “life”) skills. What are some of the specific tools students of improv comedy develop in your workshops? Much of improv comedy performance is based on confidence and adaptability – are these skills that can be learned, and then translated into other areas of life.


ZW: I work with corporate clients and non-profit organizations on how the applied skills of improvisation and comedy can be used for active listening, creativity in business, effective leadership, sales, and relationship building. Just in the last year YesAndLife has customized programs to teach teamwork, collaboration, overcome negativity and conflict resolution. Over 20 years since my initial pursuit of comedy just for laughs (which most students secretly want even when they won’t admit it, Read: the endorphin release knowing you were responsible for making someone laugh will always be the best drug) has transformed for me personally into a healthy obsession with compassion, empathy, and a continuing study of interpersonal dynamics.


TAC: The press release for the NCCAF announces that you will be donating some of the proceeds from this year’s festival to the NAACP and to Planned Parenthood. I suppose that speaks to our current political environment. As you put it, “Laughter may be the best (only) medicine we have over the next four years.” Can you discuss the relationship between the political arena and the stage? What does laughter do for us in times like these?


ZW: I’ve regularly posted the hashtag #laughtokeepfromcrying since we sat in the theater on November 8 and watched the (very UNfunny) election results roll in. I stand by comedy as a tool for self-care (#laughmore), as a way to break tension and lighten the emotional weight of communication, especially for the conversations we seem to be having daily in our current political environment. Modern improvisation was actually founded in the 60s by and alongside artists who were exploring comedy, improvised works and satirical sketch comedy, to push for social change. Satire then and now has the opportunity to passively educate an audience and highlight absurdity through entertainment. Laughter is the best medicine, this we know. With the repeal of the ACA it may soon be the only medicine my friends can afford. I always want to make sure we are able to help people laugh in the moment, but right now it was also important for me that we give to Planned Parenthood and the NAACP, orgs who will be actively helping people fight for basic human rights over the next 4 years.


The NCCAF takes place February 15th – 26th.  For a full schedule and to purchase tickets, visit