www.americanpublicmedia.org American Routes turns 10!
Public radio program from New Orleans celebrates a decade on the air with an anniversary concert and broadcast, new Web site and retrospective CD
(New Orleans, La.) January 6, 2009—American Routes,® the weekly nationally syndicated public radio program devoted to music and musicians, stories and cultures from New Orleans, the Gulf South and America beyond, is celebrating its 10th anniversary with a series of special events, culminating in a blockbuster concert at the House of Blues in New Orleans on Friday, Jan. 16, 2009, at 8 p.m. The show, to be recorded for network broadcast during the week before Mardi Gras, will feature the spirited R & B of Deacon John's big band, neo-traditional Cajun music from Feufollet and Dr. Michael White's Original Liberty Jazz Band. Additional guests include vocalist Topsy Chapman, Trombone Shorty and Al "Carnival Time" Johnson. A national travel contest will bring winning out-of-town listeners in from public radio markets across the country. Additional information about the concert can be found at www.americanroutes.org.
Produced and hosted by folklorist and Tulane University professor Nick Spitzer, American Routes reaches nearly half a million people on almost 200 stations nationwide. American Routes is co-produced and distributed by American Public Media,™ the nation's second-largest producer of public radio programming.
Launched in 1998 from its studios in New Orleans' French Quarter, the program started modestly, with national carriage on only seven stations. "A lot of people said the program"—which presents blues and jazz, roots rock and soul, country and gospel, zydeco and Tejano among other styles of American vernacular music—"was too eclectic and roots-oriented to succeed at a network level," noted Spitzer; however, "within two months we had thirty stations; sixty stations by year's end; and within two years we'd reached a hundred."
American Routes, which prides itself on creative segues—or sonic and topical sequencing of music to tell a story, suggest a cultural meaning, or take listeners on an aural journey—is celebrating 10 years and hundreds of programs worth of its unassuming but informed interviews with a collection of some of the best in a new retrospective double CD: American Routes: Songs and Stories from the Road (Highbridge Records). The album gathers some of Nick Spitzer's most memorable meetings with artists like Dave Brubeck, Nina Simone, Tom Waits, Tito Puente, Dolly Parton, Jerry Garcia and Rufus Thomas. There is also a walk in a Tremé second line with the Rebirth Brass Band and a visit in the studio with then-teen Cajun band, Feufollet. Along the way are explorations of the origins of "Beach Music" in North Carolina, a humorous romp through an antique radio museum in St. Louis, and Jewish songwriters Leiber and Stoller describing how Yiddish theater met four-part gospel harmonies in their early R & B classics like "Smokey Joe's Café."
In addition, anyone who wants to find an American Routes classic program—be it in-depth biographies of Ray Charles, Johnny Cash or Louis Armstrong; part of the highly acclaimed "After the Storm" series; or topical themes like "The Color of Music," "The History of New Orleans Music," and the recent "Singing and Swinging the Election"—can now stream every show, interview and feature since 1998 in its entirety on demand at www.americanroutes.org. The Web site is an encyclopedic resource of American music and culture for students, fans, scholars and communities, and contains more than 300 conversations that run the gamut of the American experience, from musicians and oral historians to chefs, street dancers, fortunetellers and fishermen.
American Routes' success has occurred even as public radio stations—long presenters of classical and jazz—were abandoning music formats in favor of news. "The audience for Routes is very loyal," said Spitzer. "They write us a lot of letters from New York, Seattle, Chicago, Phoenix, Nashville and Austin, and even a lot of smaller places like Indian reservations, rural Alabama and Midwest college towns.
"A lot of people don't think you can find this kind of music on public radio," added Spitzer. "Recently we added stations in Fort Myers, Florida, all of Oklahoma and eastern Washington State. Also, XM satellite radio has carried us for several years."
All of these milestones will come together in a live celebration in front of a home audience at the New Orleans House of Blues, 225 Decatur St, on Friday, Jan. 16 at 8 p.m.
"We have been hoping to do more live events," said an enthusiastic Spitzer. "Last year, we did a live show at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, Minnesota and this year several shows here and around the country are planned. Personally, I prefer the spontaneity of a live stage with interviews, humor, and whatever else happens with great players and audiences like ours. It makes for very listenable radio the old school way."
Information about the concert at House of Blues and the retrospective double-CD collection can be found at www.americanroutes.org.
Tulane University collaborates on the production of American Routes, underwritten by the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities and the Louisiana Office of Tourism. Additional support is provided by the University of New Orleans and Offbeat magazine. The anniversary concert and broadcast are underwritten by Louisiana Entertainment in the state Department of Economic Development; Lafayette: Louisiana's Crossroads; and the W Hotel of New Orleans.