Amy Garland Angel Jason Masters

Little Rock has never been short of wattage when it comes to music. That holds true for both the high-voltage music scene and the 100,000-watt community hub known as KABF, where local deejays have been pumping up the volume and kicking out local jams since 1984. Rightfully touting itself as “The Voice of the People,” KABF has hosted its fair share of unique and unforgettable voices through the years. 

Perhaps most distinctive of those voices is that of Amy Garland Angel, better known to the TGIF-ers, happy-hour hustlers and old five-and-dimers in Central Arkansas as “Amy G.” The longtime host of KABF’s “Backroads,” Amy has been easing Little Rock and environs into the weekend for years now, dialing up a steady stream of old-time country music and homespun tales of Arkansas and Arkansawyers. We caught up with her in between her gigs as DJ, musician, entrepreneur and mother, and then called her for a follow-up when the pandemic hit. 

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Oh, and five bucks says you’re reading the answers in her voice. 

You’re a solo performer, a member of the Wildflower Revue (for which your husband Bart, of Salty Dogs fame, drums), and every Friday you host “Backroads,” the weekend pre-game of choice for the discerning country music fan. What’s it like to be at the center of such a substantial chunk of Little Rock’s roots music scene?  

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Well, I really enjoy music in whatever way I can get it! It is a blast to play with my long-time bandmates (Nick Devlin, Mike Nelson and Bart Angel), though we all agree we don’t do it enough. Singing with my soul sisters, Cindy Woolf and Mandy McBryde, in the Wildflower Revue is dreamy. I think we have as much fun before and after the gigs, as we do at the actual performances. And having a radio show, where I get to play other folks’ music on the airwaves is just icing on the cake. It keeps me on my toes and constantly listening for new music, which, ultimately, keeps me inspired. 

Three years ago, Wildflower Revue sat for an Arkansas Times interview just before the release of the group’s eponymous album. The release party took place at a benefit concert for the Dreamland Ballroom, a show that has since firmly ensconced itself in local lore. What was it like to be on stage at that historic venue, and how does it feel to have been a part of such a legendary show? 

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If you have ever stepped foot on the third floor of Taborian Hall, then you know its magic. From those big old windows, to the peeling paint on the walls, you can just feel the history and its significance. And recognizing you are playing on the same stage where Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald (among others) once stood just takes your breath away. I could feel the ghosts in that place. And I felt honored and humbled to be there. 

The playlists each week on “Backroads” lay bare your passion for an older form of country music, and community radio — welcoming, warm, lovingly ramshackle — seems an ideal format for your show. Is the medium the message to some degree when you take the mic each week? Or would it be the same show if, say, you had a “Backroads” podcast?  

I’ve never thought about that before. But I guess you could say it probably is. I grew up with live radio broadcasts, where there were living, breathing DJs answering the phone, taking your dedications and requests; filling up your evenings with stories. I can remember sitting in front of the radio anxiously waiting to hear what song they would play next. I felt that same way when I would listen to Flap’s “Not Necessarily Nashville” when it was in the same time slot on KABF. It was my ritual to start the weekend that way. When Flap decided to move stations, she and Deb (of “KABF Blues House Party”) conspired to get me to take over her timeslot, I knew I had to keep that same spirit in whatever I did with “Backroads.” So, ramshackle it is! I never really know what I am going to play or say until I do. Or if the soundboard is going to work or bug out. And I think that makes my show intrinsically human. I think I would lose that with a podcast. 

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Along with the solo shows, playing in local-legend supergroups, and hosting the radio show, you also find time to craft handmade guitar straps. Seems appropriate, as many musicians ascribe a totemic mystique to different tactile bits of their music. Does that creative process resemble the one that drives your music? Or is it a whole other outlet? Have you ever sent a custom strap to one of your musical heroes? (A certain stranger, perhaps, one with red hair?)

Stone County Strap Co. straps at Starr’s Guitars in Cedaredge, Colo.

Well … I have not sent one to Willie Nelson, if that’s what you are askin’. He has his signature red/white/blue rope strap … so what would be the point? Though, meeting him is No. 1 on my bucket list. I have made straps for some other legends: Marty Stuart, Kenny Vaughn, Jim Lauderdale, John Oates, Nick Devlin. … I started making them a couple of years ago after a particularly long gig that caused significant shoulder/neck pain from holding my guitar all night. I knew there had to be a better way to hold my guitar on than by a thick piece of leather grooving into my skin. I made myself one, then my friends started asking me to make them one. I think of the person I am making it for … and try to create something unique to that person’s style/music/nature. And, hopefully, I am making them with extra good juju to inspire the wearer! 

Your bandmate once described the Wildflower Revue song “Don’t Call it Country” as a song intended to send up pop country that “ended up being a total pop-country song.” So instead of asking you to list your five favorite country artists, we’ll ask instead to list five contemporary country artists that might not get a lot of play on your show but are worth a listen, nonetheless. 

Ha! Yes, Mandy and I still laugh about how that song turned out. I think I’ll have to go with the gals on this one. There really are some incredible female country artists getting lots of exposure right now. And the ones on my list are amazing songwriters, as well as performers. First, I must recognize our own Arkansas ladies, Erin Enderlin and Ashley McBryde. I also really like Kacey Musgraves, Miranda Lambert and Ashley Monroe.

How are you doing during quarantine? How is your family? Presuming everyone is healthy, we imagine the most pressing thing you’ve had to do lately is add “schoolmarm” to your many titles. How goes the homeschooling?

Fine.  I have plenty to do at home to keep me busy. So far, so good. They are fine, too.  Eli’s an only child, and very social, so it’s been a little hard on him at times.  Not so much when he stays up until 11 and sleeps until after 9.  

Bart doesn’t do much so this is kinda like “Wednesday” for him.  

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Homeschooling is for the birds.  It has been a challenge and only amplifies my respect for Eli’s teachers. Heroes.  

Obviously, a working musician needs gigs to get by. How are you coping with the rampant cancellations in the local music scene? And live music, of course, creates and drives lots of ancillary jobs: bartenders, bouncers, sound techs, and on and on. Are there any grassroots efforts in the music community to support each other while so many venues are closed? Anything that fans of local music can do to help out right now? 

Fortunately, I have a full-time job but I do miss the extra spending money when it’s time to go to liquor and thrift stores. Mostly, I miss seeing and playing with my wonderful friends and fellow musicians. So, so much.  

I know some folks are doing live Facebook and online shows where fans can tip and Venmo and all that. Trey Johnson, for one. Jason Tedford is streaming music from his studio. Brad Williams and Isaac Alexander are releasing stuff online under “The Eulogy Brothers” name.  I’m sure there’s a ton I’m missing. … There seems to be a lot of creativity coming out of all this and I think it’s cool. People making the best of it.    

If fans want to do something, reach out online, enjoy a show and then tip. It’s not hard to find local artists and their shows with Facebook, Instagram and the Googles. The Times is an excellent resource, too.  

One venue that isn’t closed, of course, is KABF. Community radio would seem to be a living, breathing avatar of the old saw: “Think global, act local.” How important is the presence of a local, noncommercial station with members of the community on the air relaying information, providing a platform for local concerns and, perhaps above all, spinning some records for everyone stressed out and stuck at the house? 

Well, like you said, it’s local. People that walk among us are on the air relaying information and music right back to us. It doesn’t come from “on high.” It’s not exactly a media giant but it’s “ours” and is focused 100 percent on our community. I know a lot of people take it for granted and maybe roll their eyes sometimes when they listen, but I hope people realize how special and what a treasure KABF really is. There are very few stations like that left in the country. Like, very few.

Personally, people call during the show or leave online messages saying that it’s a breath of fresh air right now. They look forward to the music they like. It takes them away from the coronavirus for a little bit. Music’s always been entertaining and healing so that’s what I can speak to directly.