This week on From the Vault, we explore a recently restored recording from the series The Free Music Store, free public weekly concerts organized by Eric Salzman, former Music Director of WBAI in New York City. Starting in March 1969, the concerts were at WBAI’s studios, a de-consecrated church on East 62nd Street. It was a new kind of concert experience for New Yorkers, one that broke the mold of museum and music-hall concerts by boasting, among other things, free admission although audience donations paid the performers, refreshments and floor seating. The church’s excellent acoustics and eclectic schedule of musical acts packed the house, and included folk singers, chamber musicians, electronic composers, country fiddling, Brazilian percussionists, and even spoken word poets. The series shared a group of award-winning engineers and producers, including two-time GRAMMY award winner David Rapkin, Ed Woodard, and Eric Salzman.
The performance you’re about to hear is “An Evening of Country Fiddlin’” recorded in March of 1972, the same year the film “Deliverance” introduced “Dueling Banjos” into popular culture in America. At the time this program was recorded, bluegrass was a fairly recent musical phenomenon to New Yorkers; it’s likely that many audience members had never encountered this style of fiddle playing at all before this evening. “An Evening of Country Fiddlin’” proved to be one of the most popular Free Music Store evenings: the program was re-broadcast several times by popular demand, and a WBAI program folio published after this event took place notes that the audience almost literally brought the house down with their cheers, hand-claps and foot stomps, as you’re about to hear. Introducing today’s concert is the man who organized it, engineer and country music aficionado Tom Whitmore.