HPR’s All Things Considered Host Dave Lawrence is wrapping up an Off the Road New Year’s Special: Story and Performance Highlights, with Day Two in the special airing today to bring in 2021. Over two days, we’ve dug deep into interviews we’ve conducted since April with over two dozen guests, and put together a two day New Year’s presentation of some of our favorite, lighter moments of storytelling, and some of our favorite exclusive musical performances. The artists, most internationally renowned, come from a wide range of genres and styles.
We started the Off the Road series after the pandemic shut down the touring entertainment industry. On All Things Considered over the last decade, most weeks we had musical and entertainment guests, often touring artists, with concerts here in the islands. But it came to an end, as all live shows and tours were cancelled or postponed. Sadly, before starting the new remote interviews that would become the series, we featured artist flashbacks to conversations related to artists passing on from COVID-19 during the start of the crisis: Manu Dibango, Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne, and Ellis Marsalis.
The series began thanks to a one-off phone conversation with Jack Johnson in April, the first musical guest in weeks after all touring came to a halt around the world. From there, a series developed organically, and has featured artists from across the musical spectrum; here’s the complete list, in order of appearance on the show (and you can click on each to get to their episode):
Jack Johnson, Soul Asylum’s Dave Pirner, Marco Olivari, Carlos Santana and Cindy Blackman Santana, Al Di Meola, Alice Cooper, Jimmy Webb, Joe Satriani, Steve Hackett (of Genesis fame), Randy Brecker, John McLaughlin, 10,000 Maniacs’ Mary Ramsey, Jon Anderson (of Yes fame), John Scofield, Moody Blues’ John Lodge, Deep Purple’s Steve Morse, Third World’s Stephen “Cat” Coore, William Shatner, George Benson, Linda Ronstadt, System Of A Down’s Serj Tankian, Dave Mason and Michael Des Barres.
While there were many engaging, sometimes even frightening stories about the ways the pandemic has touched these artists, their loved ones, and careers, we also gathered more uplifting, fun and entertaining stories, some of them based on classic experiences in the lives of our guests, others about remote recording projects and various activities they were engaging in during their time at home, which is where we reached the artists heard on Off the Road.
Since the year in general has been full of rather intense moments during this crisis, we’ve decided to focus our Off the Road New Year’s Special on the fun, entertaining, and at times inspiring stories we got along the way.
Another facet to these interviews has been the incredible array of live and exclusive musical performances. With artists at home, many with instruments and home studios handy, we were able to collect a lot of different and very personal musical performances, material offered exclusively to HPR and the Off the Road series. We got everything from impromptu tributes offered to fallen heroes like Willie K, who left us this year (not due to the virus), to covers of classic songs, performed examples of song fragments from their repertoire, and similar on the spot, very personal, sometimes improvised renditions.
We’re sharing some of the very finest musical performances along with the stories, for a remarkable, and decidedly upbeat celebration of the series. We appreciate all the artists who took time for us so far, and you can hear not only all the aired radio features, but the complete interviews, which contain many musical segments and stories that didn’t make it onto the air.
Day One of our special included two of the many guests we’re grateful to have had: reggae legends Third World, and their founder, guitarist/cellist/vocalist Stephen “Cat” Coore, and one of the greatest guitarists of all time, noted fusion/jazz hero Al Di Meola, who not only told some great stories, but played a pair of Beatles tunes during his appearance. We put one, Strawberry Fields Forever, in our Day One special.
Today it’s American songwriting legend and keyboardist Jimmy Webb and 10,000 Maniacs’ longtime vocalist/violinist/viola player Mary Ramsey.
Jimmy joined us from his home on Long Island, and shared how he’d had a lot of concert dates blown out by the virus, and was quarantining at home, sometimes doing online performances on social media. He also shared details about the making of his recent SlipCover Piano Arrangements album, and some incredible stories from his The Cake and The Rain memoir. We picked out one based around Glen Campbell for our feature, perhaps one of the funniest stories we’ve gotten throughout the series. Jimmy is a master storyteller, and his hour+ complete interview session illustrates that pretty well.
Mary also joined us from New York, but in her case, Buffalo, where she lives. She shared details about her experiences quarantining during the pandemic, as well as her thoughts on the Black Lives Matter / Police Reform movement, and her reaction to a local protest incident there that became a national news story, when a 75-year old man was left with a fractured skull after being pushed to the pavement by police during a street encounter. Mary shared what her 10,000 Maniacs bandmates were up to, as well, during the crisis, and dialed in on the song Over The Rainbow, for some storytelling and performance. Mary connected the dots from the popular cover by the late legendary Hawaiian artist Brother Iz, Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, to the Jewish American songwriters from Buffalo, New York who wrote it. Mary offered an hour of conversation and music, performing three times during it. One thing she played was a stunning instrumental version of Over The Rainbow on viola, and it ranks among the very best musical offerings we got in 2020.
Hear the complete series online now, and get ready for some exciting guests to come this year, with more fascinating stories and tasty musical offerings!