John Hartford is one of those unique American creations whose life could have been born from the pen of Mark Twain. Like Twain, Hartford grew up along the banks of the Mississippi River, where in his youth he worked on a steamboat, a passion that would have become a career, he said, had the imprint of the roustabout minstrel within been any less strong.
Like the great American river, Hartford’s music traverses vast terrain: he was a masterly country-folk songwriter, a brilliant interpreter of old-time and early bluegrass, a progenitor of newgrass, and a dynamic live performer whose sense of exuberance and whimsy influenced scores of musicians across generations. Vince Herman of Leftover Salmon recalls Hartford’s onstage power, saying, “I’ve never seen a performer so absolutely capture a crowd. He was the complete package … and there will never be another like him.”