As singer-songwriter Chris Smither puts it, “Dick Pleasants was so much a part of the acoustic music scene in and around Boston, so instrumental in its growth and continuing popularity, that it’s inconceivable I wouldn’t want to pay tribute.”
A longtime DJ at Boston’s WUMB and champion of the New England folk music scene, Pleasants died Nov. 8 at age 75 in Concord after a long struggle with Parkinson’s disease.
Now folk artists are gathering to pay tribute.
WUMB is hosting a concert to honor Pleasants Saturday at the Somerville Theatre. The show is at capacity but will livestream via the station’s Facebook page at 7 p.m.
Besides Smither, the lineup includes Tom Rush, Lori McKenna, Guy Davis, Nashville singer/songwriter Kate Campbell, and Canada’s Garnet Rogers.
WUMB general manager Patty Domeniconi said the show will run about 2½ hours and Pleasants’s family will be in attendance. “I can’t give specifics on what each performer will sing, [but] it will be a very special concert honoring a very special person,” she said.
For many a local listener, Pleasants was the link between Boston folk and their ears. For some 40 years, his was the voice that introduced this area to New England’s folk artists and rising stars.
“If a folksinger sings in the forest, do they make a sound? Dick was a main connection between the musicians and the audience — an absolutely crucial role,” said Rush, who will honor a pal he’d known since childhood. (Pleasants, five years younger than Rush, “was a faculty brat at Groton School,” Rush said. “His dad tried, but largely failed, to teach me French.”)
“The concert will be a gathering of players who, in many cases, haven’t seen each other in years. I expect there will be some great moments as we collectively pay tribute,” Rush said.
Especially before the Internet, Smither added, every “thriving music scene” needed three legs to stand strong: entry-level venues, a supportive local paper, and a supportive radio station. “Dick personified that third leg,” Smither said. “Appearing on his radio shows was something beginning artists aspired to. He was a benchmark, a sign that you had achieved a certain status.”
Pleasants, a Groton native who discovered his passion for radio at 10, spent 25 years at WGBH, then 15 years more at WUMB.
“He had that one-on-one connection that put him with you on your morning walk, your drive to work. He was a morning companion,” said Brian Quinn, a former WUMB program director, who hired Pleasants in 1996.
Quinn will be in attendance at the show, along with former WUMB on-air host Barnes Newberry. In 2018, the two co-produced a tribute concert for Pleasants in Arlington.
At the time, Newberry gave an example of Pleasants’s influence: “Patty Larkin, nobody knew who she was when she first started, but he gave her such exposure. Lori McKenna, who he helped break, now writes for Faith Hill and Tim McGraw.”
The heart of the upcoming event is to showcase “the legacy Pleasants leaves behind,” Domeniconi said.
At WUMB today, Domeniconi considers herself part of that legacy. “Honestly, if it weren’t for him, I don’t think I would’ve succeeded at WUMB,” she said. Arriving at the station after 20 years in commercial radio and television, “some people didn’t think I was a good fit. Dick became my mentor and biggest supporter. He made me CDs every week [and] little quizzes each week to make sure I was listening.”
Pleasants was the founding executive director of WUMB’s Summer Acoustic Music Week camp on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. “When he realized he wouldn’t be able to keep working, he made me promise I would take over his summer music camps,” she said.
Initially, in that summer of 2012, “many people made it abundantly clear that they didn’t want me taking over,” she said. But Pleasants championed her. By summer’s end, “everyone said: If Dick believes in you, so do we.”
Watch the concert for free at facebook.com/wumbradionetwork; learn more at wumb.org. Lauren Daley can be reached at [email protected]. She tweets @laurendaley1.
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