As a young child, Stuart Duncan hung out in the Escondido, California, folk club where his father was the soundman. He was inspired by the music of Vassar Clements, Byron Berline, Dan Hicks and others. At age seven, he took up playing fiddle and now, more than four decades later, he has chalked up a career that includes two Grammy Awards and being named the International Bluegrass Music Association's Fiddle Player of the Year eight times, to date! He was a founding member of the Nashville Bluegrass Band and is perennially one of Nashville's most sought-after session musicians. His CD Stuart Duncan is on the Rounder label.
At the 1967 Newport Folk Festival, 20-year-old Arlo Guthrie took the stage, sang "Alice's Restaurant," and was catapulted into a career that is now into its fifth decade. Son of the legendary Woody Guthrie, Arlo soaked up folk music from his dad and family friends such as Pete Seeger and Leadbelly. But he has also branched out with "An American Scrapbook," a program of symphonic arrangements of his own songs and other American classics, and his award-winning children's book, Mooses Come Walking, illustrated by Alice M. Brock (that Alice). The Old Trinity Church in Great Barrington, Massachusetts — once Alice's home — is now home to the Guthrie Center and the Guthrie Foundation, formed to help local cultures preserve traditional music, stories, medicine, dance and spiritual practices. Guthrie's recent recordings include 32¢ Postage Due and In Times Like These, both on Rising Son Records.
Actor, author, comedian, musician — Steve Martin has never been short on versatility. His career includes dozens of films — among them, Pennies from Heaven, Roxanne, and The Pink Panther — two novellas, Shopgirl and The Pleasure of My Company, and a memoir, Born Standing Up. He is the recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor and the Kennedy Center Honors. Lately, he has again taken up the banjo, the instrument he learned as a teenager by slowing down Earl Scruggs records. He wrote or co-wrote all of the material on his new CD, The Crow: New Songs for the Five-String Banjo (Rounder). Released earlier this year, it is Steve Martin's first all-music album.
Heather Masse grew up in rural Maine and currently makes her home in New York. She has appeared on A Prairie Home Companion a number of times, often with her band the Wailin' Jennys. Now, while the Jennys take a break from touring, Heather is keeping busy with other projects. She performs regularly with her Brooklyn-based outfit, Heather and the Barbarians — a group that first formed when the members were students at the New England Conservatory of Music. Their album Tell Me Tonight was released in 2007. Heather's solo EP is titled Many Moons (Heather Masse Music). Look for a full-length album from her later this year.
Erica Rhodes starred in the 2008 indie horror film Plague Town, which has shown in festivals and theaters nationwide and beyond, and she had roles in Go West, Javatown, and Blindsided. Her Web series include "Upstairs Girls," the story of a sweet girl named Sandy and her roommates, and "Fourplay," about modern single urban women trying to figure out the elusive rules of 21st-century L.A. Erica currently makes her home in Los Angeles.
Growing up in Dayton, Ohio, Martin Sheen (born Ramón Gerardo Antonio Estévez) always wanted to be an actor. His father thought otherwise, but undeterred, Sheen finally borrowed a few bucks from a local priest and headed for New York. That was in 1959. Over the years, he has piled up Emmys, Golden Globes and other accolades for his performances in movies such as Badlands, The Subject Was Roses, Apocalypse Now, The Departed and Bobby, and on television for "Kennedy," "Blind Ambition" and his seven seasons in the role of President Josiah Bartlet on NBC's "The West Wing." For his work as a tireless activist for social and environmental causes, he has received numerous honors, including the César E. Chávez Spirit Award.
The Steep Canyon Rangers
The Steep Canyon Rangers, first got together in college, and over the past decade or so the Asheville, North Carolina-based quintet has built a solid reputation among bluegrass fans. The group has been regularly featured on the Grand Ole Opry and at music festivals such as MerleFest, Telluride and RockyGrass, as well as venues in Sweden, Ireland, Germany and Canada. Lovin' Pretty Women (Rebel Records), their fourth CD, was nominated for a 2008 International Bluegrass Music Award. The Rangers are: Woody Platt (guitar), Graham Sharp (banjo), Mike Guggino (mandolin), Charles R. Humphrey III (bass) and Nicky Sanders (fiddle).
Funny how things come together. Born in Rome, Italy, to parents from Minnesota, Hilary Thavis grew up loving music — especially folk music — from Woody Guthrie and Joan Baez to Italian folk singers like Fabrizio De André and Francesco De Gregori. But it was the blues that ultimately captured her attention. A few years back, she became the female lead vocal in an Italian blues band called Gaia Groove.
The Wailin' Jennys
The Wailin' Jennys first got together in 2002. It was supposed to be a one-time gig, but the collaboration proved such a success that within a few weeks the trio was dubbed "a bona fide Canadian sensation." They have continued to wow audiences across North America and beyond. As one music critic wrote, "This is about as good as contemporary folk gets." The most recent recording from soprano Ruth Moody, mezzo Nicky Mehta, and alto Heather Masse is 2009's The Wailin' Jennys — Live at the Mauch Chunk Opera House (Red House). Jeremy Penner is on fiddle and mandolin.
Garrison Keillor was born in Anoka, graduated from the University of Minnesota ('66), and lives in St. Paul. He is the author of numerous books, including Pilgrims: A Wobegon Romance, and Guy Noir and the Straight Skinny (Viking), and the editor of several anthologies of poetry, including Good Poems: American Places (Viking).
The Guy's All-Star Shoe Band
The Guy's All-Star Shoe Band is led by A Prairie Home Companion music director Richard Dworsky. Keyboard player, composer and improviser in any style, he also writes all the script themes and underscores. His latest CD is So Near and Dear to Me.
Chet Atkins called Pat Donohue (guitar) one of the greatest fingerpickers in the world today. And he writes songs too — recorded by Suzy Bogguss, Kenny Rogers, and others. Nobody's Fault (Bluesky Records) is the most recent of Pat's 10 albums.
Gary Raynor (bass) has performed with the Count Basie band and Sammy Davis Jr., with whom he toured for several years. He was first call for dozens of touring Broadway shows, including the first presentation of The Lion King. Gary teaches at the McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul.
Peter Johnson (percussion) has played klezmer music with Doc Severinsen and jazz with Dave Brubeck. He was a drummer for The Manhattan Transfer and for Gene Pitney. He has toured the world, but he always comes back to home base: Saint Paul.
Andy Stein (violin, saxophone) has far-flung musical leanings: He was a founding member of Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen; he collaborated with Garrison Keillor to create the opera Mr. and Mrs. Olson; and he has recorded with dozens of artists, from Itzhak Perlman to Nellie McKay.
Sound effects man Fred Newman is an actor, writer, musician, and sound designer for film and TV. He is author of the book (and CD/CD-ROM) MouthSounds. Fred admits that, growing up, he was unceremoniously removed from several classrooms, "once by my bottom lip."
One minute he's mild-mannered Tim Russell; the next he's George Bush or Julia Child or Barack Obama. We've yet to stump this man of many voices. In other roles, Tim played the part of Al, the stage manager, in the Robert Altman film A Prairie Home Companion and a detective in the Coen brothers' A Serious Man.
On APHC, Sue Scott plays everything from ditzy teenagers to Guy Noir stunners to leathery crones who've smoked one pack of Camel straights too many. The Tucson, Arizona, native is well known for her extensive commercial and voice-over work on radio and television, as well as movie and stage roles.
Lovingly selected from the earliest archives of A Prairie Home Companion, this heirloom collection represents the music from earliest years of the now legendary show: 1974–1976. With songs and tunes from jazz pianist Butch Thompson, mandolin maestro Peter Ostroushko, Dakota Dave Hull and the first house band, The Powdermilk Biscuit Band (Adam Granger, Bob Douglas and Mary DuShane).