Bluegrass Stories presents The Seldom Scene @ 1983

Bluegrass Stories, the ongoing podcast hosted by Katy Daley and Howard Parker, has released a very special episode this week, taking us back to the early days of Seldom Scene in 1984.

It’s a video produced by George Mason University for their on-campus network, and broadcast there in ’84. The 30-minute presentation mixes interviews with the Seldom Scene at the University, with live footage of the band recorded at The Birchmere in Arlington, VA.

This was just after John Starling had made his exit from the Scene, replaced by Phil Rosenthal. Founding members John Duffey, Tom Gray, Mike Auldridge, and Ben Eldridge remained.

People coming of age in bluegrass during the 21st century may have only a faint realization of the power and impact of this group in the 1970s and ’80s. Their new, more urban type of grass won followers all over the world that might not have warmed to the lonesome mountain sound of The Stanley Brothers, et al. Embracing both original material and crossovers from the pop, rock, and country music worlds, along with a dash of pure traditional bluegrass – acid grass as Duffey liked to call it – found them favor in the DC metro market, and eventually all over the country.

John Duffey’s reluctance to fly made them truly seldom scene, especially on the west coast and in mountain west states, which rather than muting their appeal, made fans all that much more eager to catch them live. As a result, their weekly shows at Washington and northern Virginia establishments found admirers traveling in from all over to catch them in person.

This historic glimpse of the band was rediscovered wholly by accident, when Katy’s husband, Bill Brown, a program director at WAMU in a former life, came across the Beta video while going through boxes one day. When he saw it marked as “Seldom Scene 1983-84, Birchmere,” he knew this was something of value.

Unfortunately, this tape was a third generation copy (copied from a copy), so the resolution is not superb. But it is still a wonderful look at this timeless band in their prime.

Katy says that she had wondered many times what had ever happened to this program, which she participated in when she was a young radio professional in the region. After it was found, she reached out to George Mason trying to get permission to share it with the bluegrass community, most of whom will never have seen it, as it was only shown on Mason’s closed network. By the purest chance, the lady who answered her call remembered the project, and recognized Katy’s voice on the other end of the line.

Mike Kelley with George Mason was the one behind this production, who was a Chaucer professor in the English department, who also headed up a video program called Capitol Connection. They had Noah Adams from NPR provide narration, and absent Bill’s discovery of it in a box in their attic, it would have been lost forever.

Howard Parker tells us that it was a real treat to be able to offer this video through Bluegrass Stories. The Seldom Scene, Mike Auldridge in particular, was a big part of Parker’s desire to become a reso-guitarist, and like many bluegrass players in the area, he caught them live as often as he could.

“It was an honor and privilege to work with this documentary. Katy and I are thankful for Bill Brown’s discovery, and the support of many, including the folks of George Mason University, PJ March for his technical skills, and without a doubt, the past and present members of DC’s own, the Seldom Scene.

I’ve always told folks, the Scene is MY band but, I’m happy to share.”

It’s a wonderful piece of bluegrass history. Enjoy!

Many thanks to Katy and Howard, and to Bill Brown, Mike Kelley, Noah Adams, and the Seldom Scene!

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.