WDVE morning show host displays other talents at Hartwood Ramble
Randy Baumann had a choice to make in October 1999: join a national touring band or go to Pittsburgh to work in radio. The Erie native opted to join the WDVE Morning Show instead of taking a gig with Peter Prince, a Boston-based musician.
Baumann could not have known that decision would eventually play a role in bringing together generations of Pittsburgh rockers.
Randall Baumann's Hartwood Ramble, June 14 at Hartwood Acres, is the latest in a series of musical gatherings that adhere to the spirit of the legendary Midnight Rambles hosted by the late Levon Helm. The event will feature Scott Blasey, Rob James, Casey Hanner and 20 other musicians playing the music of The Band, Bob Dylan and other similar artists in the spirit of “The Last Waltz.”
“It's selfish; I want a gig,” Baumann says with a laugh when asked why he, with assistance from Rob James of The Clarks, started the Rambles three years ago.
But he quickly turns serious: His goal is to let musicians and fans know about what he perceives as a golden age in local music.
“In all my years in Pittsburgh, it's crazy; the thing that separates anything that's come before it — and there certainly were a lot of good bands before — is there's so much quality,” Baumann says. “It's not just there's a lot of bands, but the performances and musicianship are so high. And the way they support each other is unlike anything I've ever seen.”
Not long ago, getting Joe Grushecky or The Clarks on the same stage with Nathan Zoob or Andre Costello — two of the new talents to emerge recently — would have been impossible. Baumann says Grushecky and The Clarks, by virtue of touring out of town and having families to attend to, simply don't have the time to seek out new acts.
“Randy's events have helped mix Pittsburgh musicians of all ages — serious hometown legends playing with new ‘kids' — in a way that would have never happened in the past,” says Josh Verbanets, the lead singer and guitarist of the band Meeting of Important People, and a frequent participant in the Rambles. “I've found it to be one of the most inviting musical worlds imaginable.”
Baumann, who recently turned 43, started playing organ at Mt. Calvary Catholic Church in Erie when he was in middle school. (He admits to slipping in snippets of Led Zeppelin and the Doors during the communion recessional.) By the time he was 16, Baumann was playing at the Docksider Tavern, a famed Erie nightspot and, a few years later, was in the regional band Plato's Cave. But when he first came to Pittsburgh, he devoted his energies to the morning show.
“I was very hesitant to do anything musically because I thought Eddie Murphy's ‘Party All the Time' was the exact reason you have to pick one (talent),” Baumann says. “No one can deny Eddie can sing. He's very talented and probably has wicked musical chops. But when you're the funny guy trying to do comedy, it really doesn't translate so much.”
Baumann occasionally went home to Erie to play a gig. For a brief time, he sat in with Isabella, a band led by ex-Rusted Root vocalist Jenn Wertz. When Sodajerk appeared on WDVE's Coffee House, Baumann started to play with the alt-country band that would later relocate to Atlanta.
“I didn't know he was such a serious musician,” says Chad Sipes, the ex-bass player for Sodajerk who now fronts his own group, Chad Sipes Stereo. “I was blown away when I heard him noodling along as he warmed up.”
When Baumann enlisted him to play bass regularly for the Rambles, Sipes says it “kept music fresh for me at a time when I really needed it. I'm proud to be part of (the Rambles).”
Baumann resists the notion that he's a catalyst for the synergy that's now evident among local musicians. Instead, he talks about the emerging talents: Verbanets and Meeting of Important People are “world-class talents.” Chet Vincent is like “Neil Young and David Byrne wrapped into one.”
Nathan Zoob, who will serve as musical director for the Hartwood Acres show, is “one the most talented guys I've ever known.” Baumann also raves about Clinton Clegg of Common Heart, Costello of the Cool Minors, Paul Luc, and Jay Wiley of the Hawkeyes. At this Ramble, Baumann will direct each performer to play one new song to show fans “how talented these musicians are.”
But what about his role? Baumann doesn't consider himself to be “part of the scene. I feel like more of a promoter for what's going on.”
Scott Blasey, lead singer for The Clarks, says Baumann is more than just a figurehead. In addition to being “a bridge between all these bands, the old guys to the young guys,” Baumann has proved he belongs on any musical stage.
“Randy's a musician, and that changes the dynamic of it,” Blasey says. “He's not just a guy on the radio. He really gets it.”
Rege Behe is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.