The famed essayist’s writings of Henry David Thoreau inspired the busy Michael Johnathon’s latest projects: Walden: The Ballad of Thoreau, a play available free to all middle schools, high schools, colleges, and community theaters across the country; a CD, Walden: The Earth Song Collection, released in spring 2008; and two books, WoodSongs 1 and WoodSongs 2.
Through the years, Johnathon has performed some 3,000 Earth Concerts in which he’s sung about nature free of charge to 2.5 million school kids; produced nine of his own albums with such music greats as Jean Ritchie, Odetta, J.D. Crowe, and Homer Ledford; written two books to accompany his WoodSongs album; created the volunteer-run Troubadour Concert Series in Lexington and Ashland; and continued a regular schedule of tours singing his own folk music.
But it’s the extremely popular, award-winning WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Show for which he’s best known these days. On Monday nights for the past nine years, 38 loyal volunteers have convened at Lexington’s historic Kentucky Theatre to become stage crew for the live-audience, multimedia show of grassroots musicians 44 weeks a year.
“You may not be able to play an instrument,” says Johnathon, “but the excitement of being around those who can and of the audience is fun, no matter what your role is.”
Though musicians aren’t paid either, the gig can be great publicity for those just getting started and for seasoned performers as well.
“Not only are artists getting promotion,” says Bryan Klausing, talent coordinator for Johnathon’s production company, PoetMan Records, “but it’s only costing them travel expenses on a night when most performers would just be sitting in their hotel rooms. That’s why we can get Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Odetta, and that level of musicians.”
With its beginnings on one station, WoodSongs is now on nearly 500, plus XM Satellite Radio, Kentucky Educational Television, and PBS stations nationwide, as well as the commercial BlueHighways TV, America’s first folk, bluegrass, and roots music television channel, and has streamed more than 1.6 million shows online as MP3s and MP4s.
To read the Kentucky Living August 2008 feature that goes along with this supplement, go to Michael Johnathon’s WoodSongs & Walden