You may want to say Berk Bryant is the Dick Clark of Bluegrass. Since June 1989, the venerable Bryant has hosted the Sunday Bluegrass show on Sunday evenings from 8-11 P.M. on WFPK 91.9. Known as the Country Gentleman (a moniker taken from a Chet Atkins' song), Bryant has been Bluegrass music's ambassador in Louisville as well as across the region where he has hosted several Bluegrass festivals. While he may not have a Rate-a-Record segment, he's the only person in town spinning the likes of The Kruger Brothers and Dry Branch Fire Squad.
To celebrate Bryant's 80th birthday, WFPK will host a show at The Vernon Club Sunday June 6th at 8:00 P.M., and doors will open at 7:00 P.M. The free show is for 18 and over, but children under 18 can attend with a parent or guardian until 10 P.M. It's no surprise kids are welcome because Sunday Bluegrass is family radio in its most traditional sense.
The Sunday Bluegrass show will be broadcasting live from The Vernon Club that night and will feature live performances from Grammy nominated Cherryholmes, Blue River, and Bluegrass 101. Cherryholmes, who infuses a touch of Celtic music with their bluegrass, won the 2005 Entertainer of the Year Award at the International Bluegrass Music Association Awards. On Tuesday of this week, they played The Grand Ol' Opry radio show at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center's Andrew Jackson Hall in Nashville. And while a venue in a bowling alley building isn't quite as majestic, The Vernon Club is salt of the earth like the best bluegrass music.
Virginia native Bryant has done his show for twenty-one years on a volunteer basis, doing it for the love of the old time country music. Bryant's compensation is spreading the word on the best traditional and up-and-coming Bluegrass artists. He plays pioneers like Bill Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs, Ralph Stanley, Doc Watson alongside current, established acts like The Del McCoury Band, Ricky Skaggs, and Rhonda Vincent while getting young acts like Uncle Earl into the rotation as well.
One thing Bryant probably can't be too happy about is that fact that it's been nearly six years since Louisville hosted the International Bluegrass Music Association Awards, losing out to Nashville. Reportedly, the local and regional economic impact of the 2009 awards for the Nashville area was an estimated $4.8 million dollars. There's even a Facebook page set up to try and help lure the event back to Louisville. The state of Kentucky seems to like to claim ownership of bluegrass; even the International Bluegrass Music Museum is located in Owensboro. Hopefully, Bryant and like-minded listeners will be able to help the effort.
But on Sunday night, strategic plans will have to wait because there will only be celebrating going on at The Vernon Club, and maybe there could even be a spotlight dance.
Although tickets are free, they are available on a first-come basis, limit two per person. They are available at WFPK Studios at 619 South 4th Street, ear X-tacy records, and at The Vernon Club at 1575 Story Avenue during regular business hours.