Got To Get Over the Hump Day! (And Childish Adults Will Lead Them)


As revelers in the nation’s capital wake up hopeful but hung over, I offer John Hartford’s revolutionary bluegrass record Aereo-Plain (1971) as a remedy for headaches and other inebriation injuries.  John Hartford was a fascinating, talented, funky individual.  Having penned the famous “Gentle On My Mind,” John had a financial safety net that allowed him to experiment.  Country and bluegrass were traditional, conservative genres of music, but the late 1960s-early 1970s was a time of dramatic change.  John Hartford was well-versed in Americana having played behind many of the legends, but was also a bit of a hippie, which is evident when listening to Aereo-Plain.  Newgrass, a style of bluegrass practiced by Bela Fleck and Yonder Mountain String Band (who introduced to Hartford’s material) among others, was spawned by John Hartford’s landmark run of albums starting with Aereo-Plain, which fused bluegrass tradition with hippie ideals.

Hartford was a master storyteller who could write profound songs about the personal and pleasures of life.  A master of the banjo and fiddle, a historian of Americana and fiddle music, and a preserver and passer-on of culture, John Hartford’s love of life is evident in his music.  Aereo-Plain is just one of a significant number of releases, but serves as a useful introduction to one of the funkiest individuals who lived and founder of newgrass.  A man who lived what he played, John Hartford was a true artist.


John was supported by an impressive cast of musicians on Aereo-Plain.  John played guitar, banjo, violin and provided vocals.  Norman Blake also contributed vocals and guitar, in addition to playing mandolin.  Vassar Clements played the violin, cello, viola and provided vocals.  Tut Taylor played dobro while Randy Scruggs plucked the bass, and both gave their voices.

Opening with a short, gospel-tinged number, Hartford’s counter-cultural bent isn’t obvious on “Turn Your Radio On”.  However, his joyous, gentle soul and religious background is.

As I stated above, Hartford lived what he played.  He received a steamboat pilot’s license in the ’70s, which he utilized throughout his life.  In fact, he had planned on making that his life, having been capitivated by steamboats at a young age, “but music got in the way.”  “Steamboat Whistle Blues” is his steamboat number.

“Back in the Goodle Days” is a song that looks back affectionately, but not does not dwell depressingly, on the past.  I understand his sentiments.

“Up on the Hill Where They Do the Boogie” is a fun, up-tempo ditty.  Watch out for thieving hippies.  The rhythmic grunting foreshadows what is to come next.


Strange doesn’t begin to describe “Boogie,” which relies upon grunts, foot stomping, farts, and panting.

Melancholy envelopes “First Girl I Loved.”  I often talk of the mood of songs.  This is because it is essential for the  lyrics, and their delivery, to match the mood of the music.  On “First Girl I Loved,” the mandolin and fiddle echo John’s singing.

“Presbyterian Guitar” is a gentle instrumental.

Hartford sings of his love of the fiddle on “With a Vamp in the Middle” while playing the banjo.  Hartford was a master of the fiddle and banjo.  The song builds as it goes on turning into a powerful jam.

“Symphony Hall Rag” is another superb instrumental.

“Because of You” is extremely short, but sweet.

“Steam Powered Aereo Plane” is a gem of vibrating strings.  Hartford’s elated  state is evident in his singing and playing.  It is impossible to not put a smile on while listening to “Steam Powered Aereo Plane.”

John sings of his love of left-handed cigarettes on “Holding,” which has some banjo runs and  scat.

“Tear Down The Grand Ole Opry” is a tribute to Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, which would be  abandoned in 1974.  Hartford romanticizes the

“Leather Britches” (Traditional) is an awesome fiddle and banjo instrumental.

“Station Break” is just John Hartford reading a radio station promo.

The album ends with a longer version of “Turn Your Radio On.”

John died from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in June 2001; however, his legacy has been carried far and wide by his followers, including Bela Fleck, Sam Bush, Darol Anger, and many more.  His soul was pure, his talent was immense, and his music is capable of bringing at least a little joy to the weariest days.  Aereo-Plain is a nice swift kick to the ass when one is annoyed with fruitless job searching.  And, like a good book or movie, it spirits one to a place of enchantment where the ennui of life is shattered through the expression of the raw and pure.  Sentimental, but not sappy, John’s songs were filled with the range of human emotion.

Here is the track listing.

1. “Turn Your Radio On” (Albert E. Brumley) – 1:22
2. “Steamboat Whistle Blues” – 3:23
3. “Back in the Goodle Days” – 3:34
4. “Up on the Hill Where They Do the Boogie” – 2:43
5. “Boogie” – 1:42
6. “First Girl I Loved” – 4:35
7. “Presbyterian Guitar” – 2:04
8. “With a Vamp in the Middle” – 3:25
9. “Symphony Hall Rag” – 2:48
10. “Because of You” – 1:02
11. “Steam Powered Aereo Plane” – 3:43
12. “Holding” – 1:47
13. “Tear Down The Grand Ole Opry” (Hartford, Robert Taylor) – 3:28
14. “Leather Britches” (Traditional) – 1:58
15. “Station Break” – 0:13
16. “Turn Your Radio On” (Albert E. Brumley) – 2:16

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