For over 45 years, Gene Shay was prominent in the Philadelphia folk scene, producing folk radio shows every Sunday since 1962. A founder of the Philadelphia Folk Festival and the event’s emcee since its inception, he has been called the “Godfather of Philadelphia Folk Music” and also the “dean of American folk DJs.”
Throughout his career, Shay discovered dozens of folk, blues and Americana. His early interviews include Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, John Denver, Tom Waits, Phil Ochs, Bonnie Raitt and Judy Collins, some of which have been bootlegged. It was Gene who brought Bob Dylan to Philadelphia for his debut concert in the area. And as an advertising writer-producer, he also wrote the original radio spots for Woodstock. Gene came up with the name “World Cafe” for the nationally syndicated series produced by WXPN. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Delaware Valley Music Poll in 1994.
On Saturday, March 6th the national folk music community will celebrate the life of legendary DJ Gene Shay. Fifteen plus Facebook Live sites will host the WXPN Welcome event, including organizer Jefferson Berry & the UAC.
When Berry saw Gene’s Birthday come up on the calendar, he thought, “We should do something. For all the people we’ve lost during the pandemic, none of us have gotten any closure. But thinking about Gene’s passing, one can be sad for just so long. So many good times. So many good stories.”
Of Gene Shay and the event, Jefferson Berry tells ABS:
If you knew Gene Shay, one thing you knew for sure was “That Guy Was Fun.” But writing and recording the song “That Guy Was Fun” in the middle of the pandemic really didn’t prepare me for the experience of producing ‘WXPN Welcomes That Guy Was Fun, the Gene Shay Birthday Bash.’ He touched so many people in so many ways and when we were putting together all the performances, I realized that he touched everyone in so many ways.
You have folks like Ernie Tokay and me, for whom for all his stardom, Gene was one of the guys. And for Ben Arnold he was this, but also someone he could run his new songs past. The heartfelt sincerity of his loss on this show is balanced with the playful memories.. A father figure. A world class broadcaster. Gene Shay was so many things to so many people. I think this show captures that.
Hosted by Ian Zolitor (Shay’s successor on WXPN’s 88.5 FM’s Folk Show on Sundays from 8-10 PM EST), the online event will feature stories and performances from folks who knew Gene well: Tom Rush, Susan Werner, Ben Arnold, Kim and Reggie Harris, Michael Braunfeld, John Francis O’Mara, Kicking Down Doors, LisaBeth Weber, and Jefferson Berry & the UAC. Jayne Toohey has compiled a photographic memorial to Gene.
Grants will be given in Gene Shay’s name and redistributed to Folk artists in need via Greg Seltzer, the founder and curator of Philly Music Fest — whose micro grant program has put significant money into the pockets of those performers and venue workers who were impacted the most intensely by Covid-19. Grants will be given in Gene Shay’s name and redistributed to Folk artists in need via PMF. Gene’s family felt that this would be an appropriate way to pay tribute to him.