Concert, radio show to honor labor & songwriter icon Joe Hill |

Concert, radio show to honor labor & songwriter icon Joe Hill

Labor activist Joe Hill is commemorated in a show 7 p.m. Sunday on KVMR radio and live starting at 6:30 p.m. at KVMR's Community Room in Nevada City.
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Exactly 100 years ago this month, iconic labor activist and songwriter Joe Hill was killed by a firing squad in Salt Lake City for the murder of a grocer and his son.

That came after appeals for clemency from the American Federation of Labor, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, the ambassador from Sweden (where Hill was born) and many others, according to musical historian and social justice activist George Mann.

“There is little doubt today that Joe Hill was framed for the crime because he was a foreigner and a well-known labor activist,” Mann says.

“His death inspired a number of songs including ‘I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night’, and his life has inspired many fellow workers, “ adds Mann, “but Joe also wrote some of our best known labor songs that are still sung today at union rallies and events.”

And that’s what jump-started the “Joe Hill 100 Roadshow,” a national concert tour to mark the anniversary of Hill’s death a century ago on November 19, 1915, featuring Mann and fellow folk musician/activist David Rovics, along with traveling guests like spoken word artist Chris Chandler and local labor and folk luminaries where “the songs of Joe Hill will be sung.”

It all started, when and where else but May Day in Chicago, headquarters of Hill’s union, the International Workers of the World (IWW) and now begins an 11-stop western swing, including this Sunday at the KVMR Community Room, 120 Bridge Street at Spring Street, downtown Nevada City. Tickets will be available at the door.

Local guests are longtime San Juan Ridge music artist Bodie Wagner and second generation folk/roots musician Brendan Phillips, son of the late folksinger/storyteller/labor activist and IWW member himself, U. Utah Phillips. Brendan has been making a name of his own “in the trade” (as his father fondly called it) with his band Fast Rattler and other projects.

They’ll join Mann, Rovics and Chandler for a 6:30 p.m. show and the first live radio broadcast of the tour Sunday 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on KVMR (89.5 FM, streaming).

Chandler has earned acclaim for his deft combination of storytelling with a musician’s singing and accompaniment, with Utah Phillips calling him “the best performance poet I’ve ever seen.”

“He’s as hilarious and entertaining as he is provocative and rabble-rousing, delivering vignettes about politics, modern culture and pre-modern history with the fire of a Baptist preacher and the dexterity of a Shakespearean fool,” laughs Mann with a sly smile.

Rovics describes himself as a onetime Boston subway busker who evolved into a world-traveling “professional flat-picking rabble-rouser.”

Adds Mann, “he (Rovics) will make you laugh, he will make you cry, he will make the revolution irresistible.”

Mann himself is a former union organizer who created and produced the “Hail to the Thief!” album series during the George W. Bush era, and he describes his concerts as “part sing-along, part history lesson.”

Hill’s songs include “The Preacher and the Slave,” which Mann notes added the phrase “pie in the sky” to the American lexicon), “Casey Jones,” and “There Is Power In The Union.” Hill often wrote songs using the popular tunes of the day.

The tour ends up, well, when and where else but Salt Lake City on Nov. 20, the day after the execution anniversary.


Walter Salas-Humara, the chief songwriter and co-founder of the acclaimed indie rock band The Silos, will talk about his life and career in a 45-minute interview with Morning Show host Steve Baker this Monday 9:10 a.m. on KVMR (89.5 FM, streaming)

Salas-Humara will play several songs from his recent solo “Curve and Shake” album, plus the former art school student will talk about how he is drawing original portrait art from photographs of dogs as a side project.

“Now that’s something you don’t hear about every day,” mused Baker.

On The Air is a weekly irreverent look at Nevada City’s volunteer-driven community radio station at 89.5 FM and streaming at Complete KVMR schedule available at the station’s website, The station now features an easy-to-use archive of all music shows for two weeks and talk shows for two months at

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