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September 07, 1978 - Image 45

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1978-09-07

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The Michigan Daily-Thursday, September 7, 1978-Page 45

Folk,
friends
aboard
the Ark

(Continued from Page 43)
special series of concerts featuring
Michigan folk artists, many of whom
had never played before a paying
audience.
Where else could you hear an Ozark
Mountain flat-picker,,a British concer-
tina master, a storyteller from Maine,
or a nationally known harmonica wiz-
zard from Ann Arbor? At the Ark,
everybody strives for a closeness, A
rapport exists between the musician
and his audience, a relationship that is
becoming a rarity in this time of mass-
entertainment.
"IF YOU PRESENT a singer who
has a completely presentational style,
and in that style they cannot break out
and sit back or stand back and look at
the audience and say 'there you are and

here I am', they wouldn't go over very
well at the Ark," says Dave..
"They might go over very well at
other coffeehouses with a stage,
because you would have that barrier,"
he adds.
At the Ark coffeehouse, the big-
name recording artists are few and
far between. There are countless places
,in town with better acoustics. And if you
want to relax and have a drink while
some big band jams away, you'd best
go elsewhere.
FROM THE TIME you step up the
bug-ridden, peeling porch steps, it is ob-
vious that you will not be seeing another
musical extravaganza. The light show
is basically bare light bulbs shielded by
coffee cans covered with tinted gels.

And there ain't no dance floor-what
unoccupied floor space there ifs
stAlked by Chumly the cah; as he poss
his nose from coffeeep.lWocffeecup.
The obligatory singalor g uually, a
hollow concert gesture, is much more
at the Ark. Oftimes, the audience will
sing out whether the singer asked them
to or not. And there are countless
gestures, from the performer who buys
pizza for his entire audience to the
singer who promises to stay all night
that make the Ark what it is.
But as one of the most famous cof-
feehouses around the country, the Ark
offers an experience in communication,
friendliness and heritage that is
becoming harder and harder to find.

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AGAIN
ECORDS

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The RFD Boys strike a pose out in the country wilderness.
Of bands, bluegrass
and the RFD Boys

1:
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By DONNA DEBRODT
There's no obvious reason for an
M.D., an economist working on his
PH.D., a medical student, and the
owner of a fledgling recording studio to
spend their precious weekend evenings
playing bluegrass, with comedy
routines between numbers, for over
eight years.
Perhaps it's lunacy. But it's also a
deep loyalty to the music and the people
who visit Ann Arbor's Pretzel Bell to
hear the band play.
LIKE COUNTLESS other musicians
in the area, the RFD Boys spend their
weekends hauling equipment, driving
into town and putting up with oc-
casional drunks in an effort to share
their music with Ann Arbor audiences
in bars, restaurants and coffee houses.
Witness Dick Dieterle, fiddler and
practicing pathologist. Dieterle is the
founder of the RFD Boys and has wat-
ched the band's bluegrass following
grow since their first performance at
Ann Arbor's Mr. Flood's party back in
1969.
Dieterle's bond to the music and the
band is so strong that while stationed in
Dayton, Ohio with the Air Force he
went AWOL every weekend to come up
to Ann Arbor and play.
"I WOULD quietly fade away from
Dayton at six and get to Ann Arbor just
in time to play at ten," Dieterle says.
"In those two years I drove over 30,000
miles back and forth."
Dieterle claims it is relaxing to per-
form every weekend. But his fiddling
hardly seems a relaxing activity; his
bow just dances across the instrument,
which in the best Hillbilly tradition,
contains a rattlesnake's rattles to
"drive out the evil spirits."
The RFD Boys represent a unique
mix of. personalities. In addition to
Dieterle, there's recording engineer
and onstage clown Willard Spencer,
outgoing songwriter and lead singer
Charlie Roehrig who is working on his
Econ. doctorate, and Paul Shapiro,
bass player and M.D. candidate.
AND LIKE ALL musical groups,
whether punk rock or classical string
ensembles, the RFD Boys share a deep

commitment to their music-bluegrass
-A sound which is becoming more
and more popular in town.
"Bluegrass has become a legitimate
art form here. Ann-Arbor is a great
town for introducing something like this
because of all the different kinds of
people here," says Dieterle.
Bluegrassis a fairly new arrival in
music, at least officially. Bill Monroe
and his Bluegrass Band are generally
credited with having "invented"
bluegrass in 1945, but its origins go back
to Scottish and Irish folk songs and the
gospel and church hymns of the Ap-
palacian mountain people. Bluegrass
tunes vary from ballads with complex
harmonies to wild instrumentals with
improvisational solos for each of the
five traditional instruments-the fid-
dle, banjo, string bass, guitar and man-
dolin. But in any form, bluegrass is toe-
tapping, hand-clapping, sing-along
music.
AND THE RFD Boys are a serious
bluegrass band. Pretzel Bell Manager
Max Balden says, "If they all didn't
have other commitments, they could go
nation-wide and be one of the top
bluegrass bands around."
But their serious attitude toward
bluegrass doesn't stop them from lap-
sing into numbers such as Teenager in
Love, complete with "doo, wops," or
the doper's lament, Seeds and Stems
Blues.
Since they have been together, the
RFD Boys have played to a strange
assortment of audiences, among them
the Flint Classical Music Society and
the American Quarterhorse
Association. "In the beginning we were
just trying for exposure, to have people
listen to us," says Dieterle.
THE BAND NO longer has that
problem. They have appeared by in-
vitation at bluegrass festivals
throughout the country and on radio
shows in Detroit, Toronto and
Washington.
Although it's doubtful the RFD Boys
will ever become a nation-wide craze
they certainly serve their purpose. Like
most of the other local bands, they
make our free time a little more en-
joyable and have a good time doing it.

1

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