One day in the early 1990’s I came across the unmistakable, droning voice of Leonard Cohen singing on a Twin Cities radio station. I hadn’t heard Cohen’s voice in twenty years, and it stopped me in my tracks. I paused long enough to discover that I was listening to Bob Feldman’s weekly stint on the “Urban Folk” radio show on KFAI in Minneapolis. (If I remember correctly, Bob later brought on Marian Moore to alternate the show with him.) The theme song for Bob’s installments of the show was John Gorka’s “The Gypsy Life,” Gorka’s tribute to traveling musicians.
Listening to the show regularly, I found that Bob had surprisingly broad but unfailingly superb taste in music. I also found that Bob occasionally brought in his young son Ari to cohost the show with him. It was evident that Ari shared his father’s taste and intelligence. I learned that Bob was the proprietor of Red House Records, the St. Paul-based label that featured many of the artists whose work Bob most admired, Greg Brown foremost among them, but Stoney Lonesome and Kate Mackenzie, Peter Ostroushko, Lucy Kaplansky, Eliza Gilkyson, John Koerner, John Gorka and many others as well. The quality of Bob’s taste is faithfully reflected in the incredible catalogue he built on Red House.
Bob was a true Dylan fanatic. Primarily using his Red House artists, he produced “A Nod To Bob,” an excellent sixtieth-birthday tribute to Dylan. The disc has several highlights, of which the Roches’ version of “Clothes Line Saga” must be one. Whenever Bob talked about Dylan on the “Urban Folk” show, his voice radiated admiration and respect.
For several years Bob improbably produced an annual summer festival of folk music at the Hyland Hills Ski Area in suburban Minneapolis. At the last of the festivals Bob produced, he attracted performers including Shawn Colvin, Townes Van Zandt, Gorka, Ostroushko and, of course, Brown.
I ran into Bob at events around town and always looked for an excuse to stop him and chat. On one occasion in 1997 Bob was taking Lucy Kaplansky to lunch following her performance the previous evening celebrating the release of her new recording on Bob’s label. He was a fan of hers (as was I) and obviously delighted to host her, but Lucy seemed to look up to Bob as well. He was a guy who more than anyone I have ever met managed to unite his passion and his livelihood.
Bob unexpectedly died this week at the age of 56. The St. Paul Pioneer Press has a good obituary here. An industry site posted an excellent profile of Bob and Red House here. City Pages profiled Bob and Red House here in 1998.
Bob was one of a kind. I suspect that there is no one to take his place, and know he will be missed by many, myself included. RIP.
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