John Hartford And Family Celebrate Earth Day At Louisville Zoo

Tex and photos by Jean Metcalfe

Bright sunshine flooded the stage of the brand-new, bright-blue outdoor concert facility at the Louisville Zoo on Earth Day (April 22) 1990. Folk singer-songwriter John Hartford brought along his fiddle, his guitar, his banjo and his son Jamie. Jamie brought his mandolin.

It was a family affair, as John's wife and grandbaby and other assoned kin helped man the table that held the albums, T -shirts and books for the eager fans to look over at intermission. Both father and son were very available to anyone who wanted an autograph or just to chat. No purchase necessary. And you should see the autograph it's great!

John Hartford signs an autograph for an unidentified fan.

The concert consisted mostly of Hartford originals from his "whole big bunch" of albums and a couple of numbers which featured the younger Hartford on lead vocal.

Early on the elder Hartford had the audience singing along on "Learning to Smile All Over Again," and the audience participation continued though many of the selections.

Standing side by side with his famous father, 25-year-old Jamie Hartford squinted into the sun and played a mandolin that surely must have made his dad proud.

Hartford's trademark "Gentle On My Mind" (which won two Grammies in 1967: Best Folk Recording and Best C&W Recording) came early in the first of two sets. The Glen Campbell hit was instantly recognized and applauded by the large group of folk sitting on the grassy floor of the alfresco auditorium.

Before the sun had set on the lovely Sunday afternoon, the Hartford duo had played and sung a "big old bunch" of songs, including "Tall Buildings," "Skipping in the Mississippi Dew," and "The Six O'Clock Train and A Girl With Green Eyes."

Jamie Hartford joins his father on mandolin.

The younger Hartford took the lead on a cover of Ernest Tubb's classic "Walking the Floor Over You," after which John Hartford said, "Actually, that's not fair, he writes songs." Jamie proved it with a clever number "about one of the other things we need to fix in the world." Here's the chorus:

It's a dangerous world we live in,

So you'd better keep up your guard, ' You can have all the safe sex you want to,

But she's still gonna break your heart.

There was "Take Me Back to That Mississippi River Home," with the audience echoing the "take me back" parts.

Popular local folk singer John Gage filled the intermission with several appropriate Earth Day songs, including "This Land Is Your Land," "Slow Down" and "Garden Song." Gage had been responsible for lining up a sound system for the event and Susan Miller of the Mayor's office asked us to express their appreciation to him.

"Orange Blossom Special" was the perfect vehicle to get crowd participation and to play around a bit. "The best I ever heard right there," Hartford said, complimenting the fans on their echo part.

There was "Here I Am In Love Again," "Gum Tree Canoe," from the album of the same name and the song in which he compares and old washing machine with a new one. The old machine was more like "a real, live washing machine"; the new one was more like a television set. The sounds of both the old and new machines were imitated by the writer of the song. Mouth noises abound in Hartford's tunes.

"(Hey, Babe, You Wanta) Boogie" turned up, as did "Don't Leave Your Records In the Sun," "General Jackson" and "Delta Queen Waltz."

John Gage sings at the zoo dujring Earth Dy

Hartford is famous for his riverboat songs. He has earned a real pilot's license and it is not at all unusual for him to use that license. (He told my husband, who helped build the General Jackson, that he had recently gone along to New Orleans where the showboat was put in dry dock for a five-year check-up.)

The entertaining concert came to a lively close with Hartford playing and calling a square dance of enthusiastic dancers from the audience. He sing-songed from the stage that "It's all right for the men to hold hands" and "We want the men to take directions from the ladies we want to make this as realistic as possible." He redeemed himself by adding, "This is every man's dream to be outnumbered by the women."

Before the dancing ended, Hartford jumped from the stage (and it was pretty high), fiddle in hand and joined in the dancing. He returned to the stage via the steps.

Following the concert the two Hartford gentlemen were again very accessible. Jamie mentioned that he and his father had recorded a duo album for which each had written about half the songs. It's being mixed down and the release date is not yet known.

Jamie Hartford invited me to stop by Joe's Village Inn on April 24 if I happened to be in Nashville on that date. His group "The Buzzards" were scheduled to play there.

I wish I could have been in Nashville on April 24.