When the Met Opera is not in broadcast season (typically May through December), 88.9 WCVE fills the Saturday afternoon block with music and variety programming, including a nationally-syndicated program out of New Orleans called American Routes (pronounced “roots”).
American Routes explores the shared musical and cultural threads in American styles and genres of music - and how they are distinguished. The songs and stories on the show describe both the community origins of our music, musicians and cultures - the “roots” - and the many directions they take over time - the “routes.” American Routes is hosted by folklorist Nick Spitzer, who builds documentary style features and artist interviews into each episode.
In addition to being broadcast weekly on Saturdays at 2:00 p.m. on 88.9 WCVE-FM, all episodes of American Routes - from 1998 to present - can be listened to online. There are many episodes worth checking out. Below I have listed just over a dozen favorites.
5/20/98 – Doc Watson
Dating all the way back to American Routes’ first season, this program features a characteristically eclectic assortment of music and a conversation with mountain guitar legend Doc Watson.
1/6/99 – Gillian Welch
A winter themed playlist that includes an interview with the songwriting team of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings.
8/4/99 – Jerry Garcia
A tribute to guitarist Jerry Garcia that features an exclusive interview with Garcia from his 1989 visit to the Smithsonian Institution. The roots and branches of the Grateful Dead's sound are also explored in music and memory.
12/6/00 – Don Byron and Raymond Scott
Jazz, klezmer and funk clarinetist Don Byron talks music. This episode also includes a profile of Raymond Scott, one of the great unknown composers and inventors of the 20th century. Scott set the template for the music in Looney Tunes cartoons, and went on to develop some of the first electronic instruments.
9/11/02 – Arabs and Jews in Jazz and Blues
The impact of Jewish, Arab-American, Middle Eastern and Islamic influences on African-American music and culture is traced: Old Testament tales in gospel and reggae, Middle Eastern images in jazz and pop, and Islam meets the blues.
4/28/04 – Ibrahim Ferrer and Regina Carter
This American Routes takes a look at the two-way musical influence between the Caribbean and Latin America and the U.S. Cuban vocalist and Buena Vista Social Club star Ibrahim Ferrer recalls his long life and career, and jazz violinist Regina Carter talks about going from Detroit to the conservatory and back again. Plus, the role of the violin/fiddle in jazz, blues, country and other genres is examined.
2/16/05 – Tom Waits and Dave Brubeck
The piano is the focus here. Iconic singer, songwriter and piano player Tom Waits is interviewed. Also, a look at jazz legend Dave Brubeck, who became known for using odd, unconventional time signatures back when jazz was supposed to be for dancing.
9/27/06 – John Prine
A two-hour visit with John Prine as he walks us through his catalog and his life - from urban Illinois to Muhlenberg County, Kentucky. Prine’s songs present a slightly off-kilter and darkly humorous look at working class America.
3/14/07 – America’s Hippie Heritage
Tune in and turn on to our nation's fringe heritage. Like their spiritual forefathers, the beatniks and folkies, the hippie generation latched on to the great music that came before them - old-time, country, bluegrass, bebop, blues and more - and created their own versions. Maria Muldaur recalls making jug-band music in the West Village in the '60s, and bass player Jack Casady, a founding member of the Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna, talks of the early days.
12/7/11 – How To Improvise: Bela Fleck and Jason Marsalis
Bela Fleck and Jason Marsalis are two masters of the art of improvisation. Fleck, a banjoist, discusses banjo traditions and experimentation in bluegrass, jazz and classical music, while New Orleans percussionist Marsalis breaks down jazz improvisation.
3/28/12 – Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane
This special American Routes follows the lives of two giants of jazz: Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane. From their humble North Carolina beginnings to their triumphs on the world stage, their individual and inspired paths to creativity are analyzed.
8/7/13 – Norah Jones and Andy Statman
Multi-instrumentalist Andy Statman comes from a family steeped in Jewish musical traditions and has explored bluegrass, klezmer, free jazz and more. Norah Jones shares the country side of life through her work with The Little Willies.
9/24/14 – Music, Comics & Collecting Records: R. Crumb & Jerry Zolten
In this episode, American Routes spins some shellac and waxes nostalgic with the iconic cartoonist, musician and record collector Robert Crumb, who shares his love of musical times gone by. Later, educator and vinyl aficionado Jerry Zolten talks about the story of Paramount Records, started by a furniture manufacturer, whose recorded legacy is now contained in two swank suitcases.
1/20/16 – The Carolina Chocolate Drops and The Black Experience in Country Music
The founding members of the Carolina Chocolate Drops - Justin Robinson, Rhiannon Giddens and Dom Flemons - started playing music together under the tutelage of legendary black old-time fiddler Joe Thompson in his backyard shed. The Chocolate Drops describe how they came together to carry on the old time and country traditions from the Piedmont region of the Carolinas, and how they show their audiences that African American music finds its roots in genres beyond blues and jazz.
3/16/16 – The Folk Revival Revisited
Folk heroine Judy Collins is interviewed about her move from traditional British folk songs to the songs and sounds in Greenwich Village. Jug bandleader Jim Kweskin talks about his love of communal living. The late Pete Seeger and Alan Lomax offer opinions on their divergent views of folk music and the quest for authenticity. Jerry Garcia tells of his most influential folk music source and hear Dylan go electric at Newport in 1965.