If this story were a documentary about longtime Boston radio personality and folk guru Dick Pleasants, it might open with Patty Larkin musing about his impact on her career, as she did recently in her Cape Cod home.
“He supported me from the very beginning,” says the 11-time Boston Music Award winner, who once busked Cambridge streets. “Dick made a huge difference for the music community in the Greater Boston area. He was a fan of the music, and a true supporter of the people involved in it.”
It might then cut to Pennsylvania native and singer/songwriter Cliff Eberhardt: “Without him, it’s doubtful I would have been able to play in New England. He established the folk scene in Boston. He was a taste-maker.”
Then to radio mainstay Barnes Newberry, who worked with Pleasants for years at WUMB: “For many Boston listeners, Dick opened up folk radio to them. He was a teacher on the air. He taught me a hell of a lot.”
Now to folk icon Tom Rush: “I personally have him to thank for the fact that I have so many fans in New England. Dick was a cornerstone of the folk scene in greater Boston and beyond.”
This could be a very long documentary.
Because when it comes to Pleasants, it’s difficult to find anyone on the Boston folk scene whom he hasn’t helped in some way — and now folks want to say thanks.
Pleasants, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2003 and retired from WUMB around 2010, will be feted at “A Celebration of Our Friend: Dick Pleasants,” a folk singers-in-the-round concert with Larkin, Eberhardt, Lori McKenna, Garnet Rogers, and Mark Erelli April 7 at the Regent Theatre in Arlington. He plans to be in attendance.
Pleasants, who was unavailable for an interview, spoke about his disease to the Globe in 2010. He said then that he suffered tremors and the Parkinson’s had begun to affect his voice. “I talk very, very quietly. My speech is also starting to slur. The disease is doing its thing.”
Born in Groton in the late 1940s, Pleasants fell in love with radio at age 10, when he and a friend set up a small transmitter in his house that could broadcast for about a mile, according to his website.
After graduating from Emerson College in 1970, Pleasants began his career hosting folk programs on WCIB in Falmouth, WCAS in Cambridge, WVOI in Martha’s Vineyard, and WATD in Marshfield, among others.
Pleasants joined WGBH in Boston in 1978 as host and producer of the popular weekend “Folk Heritage” show, and spent the last 15 years of his on-air career at WUMB, the public radio station based at UMass-Boston.
“He connected with listeners and they connected with him: radio gold,” says Brian Quinn, a former WUMB program director who hired Pleasants in 1996.
A champion of the local folk scene, Pleasants plucked area singer-songwriters from obscurity and launched careers simply through his taste, which to loyal listeners was as good as a Zagat rating at a restaurant.
“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,” says Newberry, who is co-producing the upcoming concert celebration with Quinn.
Newberry is now an online show host for WMVY on Martha’s Vineyard; Quinn wears various hats, including production coordinator for the New Bedford Folk Festival.
Quinn says Pleasants “had all this musical knowledge, but he never came off as ‘I know more than you.’ His shows felt like he was a friend showing you new music in his living room. Like, ‘Hey Brian, I got this new John Prine record, come over and hear it.’”
For years, he was a concert promoter, bringing singer/songwriters like Greg Brown and John Gorka to the Boston area., and he helped organize the Boston Folk Festival. He also launched and served as executive director of Summer Acoustic Music Week camp on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire, where aspiring musicians take classes with established folk singers.
“As I travel throughout my career, people say, ‘What’s with Boston being a huge mecca for singer/songwriters?’ And Dick has helped make that difference,” says Larkin.
Larkin recently visited Pleasants at his assisted-living facility outside Boston “and he just genuinely loves the music still. He has not lost his sense of humor. He had his Red Sox cap on. He’s doing a radio show where he lives; he’s trying to sort of educate people where he lives now.”
Quinn and Newberry say they got the idea for the concert after visiting Pleasants one day.
“We started to think of all of the wonderful things Dick has done over the years,” Quinn says. “We came up with the idea to produce a concert with some of his favorite artists, just to say thanks.” Proceeds from this concert will go to the Richard E. Pleasants Supplemental Needs Trust.
This isn’t the first time the folk community has thanked Pleasants. A similar concert at Harvard in 2011 saw artists including McKenna and Rush perform.
“His shows gave voice to so many artists who might have been overlooked were it not for his great ear, and his tireless work in sharing the music,” says Rush by e-mail. “His love for music is evident and infectious.” Besides being fans of each other’s work, Rush and Pleasants are linked by coincidence: Pleasants’s father was Rush’s teacher at the Groton School.
The Arlington show will feature all five artists onstage together, each taking turns with their own songs. Larkin says they just might end the show by joining together on one of Pleasants’s favorite songs, John Prine’s “Paradise.”
“Hopefully I’ll look over at him Saturday night and see a big smile on his face,” Newberry says. “You’ll be able to feel the love in the room that night.”
A CELEBRATION OF OUR FRIEND DICK PLEASANTS
With Patty Larkin, Cliff Eberhardt, Lori McKenna, Garnet Rogers, and Mark Erelli
At the Regent Theatre, Arlington, April 7 at 8 p.m. Tickets $33, www.regenttheatre.com
Lauren Daley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.