Written by James Killen

HMR has been celebrating birthdays with KPFT for years. They always have fantastic musicians donating their time and talents to the cause, as well as fantastic venue owners sponsoring the party, and a myriad of listener/supporters giving everything from time to silent auction items. It’s a wonderful celebration of one of Houston’s coolest institutions.

KPFT (90.1 on your FM dial) is a Pacifica network station. It is listener supported so there are no corporate commercial breaks. Most of the DJ’s and programmers are volunteers providing a service to the community. Many of the special interest groups that share the airwaves would have no other place to broadcast their views. There are also progressive news and opinion shows and of course the music.

In the late mornings during the week, Roark spins the discs like a pro. There are shows featuring roots music, South Asian dance music, Texas country and folk, jam bands, Celtic music, Americana, bluegrass music and half a Sunday of the blues. KPFT is a progressive reflection of one of the most culturally diverse cities in America.

This year the birthday festivities were held at Heights Theater and started in the late afternoon on a Sunday. The silent auction items were displayed in the lobby of the venue. The building was awash with people’s favorite radio personalities. Border Radio’s DJ, Susan Darrow seemed to be doing most of the heavy lifting for the event’s organization.

The opening band was Charlie Faye and the Fayettes. The three Austin ladies brought their special vocal harmonies to the stage with a full band that accented an act that is generally presented acoustic. The ladies revived that Motown sound with a Texas downhome feel.

Jimmy Dale Gilmore, the Buddhist Cosmic Cowboy, followed alone and acoustic. He lent his unique voice to a list of his best known ditties while he rambled through stories of Texas music personalities that he has had the fortune to interact with.

The Peterson Brothers brought their Bastrop brand of R&B to the show for the second year running. This year they did away with some of the theatrics and focused on the music, which was still tight and talented. Alex’s violin rendition of “Amazing Grace” contrasted with the rest of the set’s electric stylings to hint at the breadth of talent these young gentlemen are capable of.

Another repeat performer was Ruthie Foster. Last year she played without her longtime friend and drummer, Samantha Banks, who was in hospital in a coma at the time. Sadly, Ms. Banks passed on last year. Ruthie brought a group of musician friends that had known Samantha for this show and they dedicated their performance to her memory. These were serious musicians with notable solos by Stephanie Blue and Matt Underwood, on keys and guitar respectively. Of course, Ruthie wowed the listeners with her amazing voice, reaching a climax on the Maya Angelou inspired, “Phenomenal Woman”.

The evening wrapped up with a visit from San Antonio performer, Rosie Flores and her band with a blues and rockabilly set. She brought the remaining crowd into her sphere with a warm down home stage presence while stoking the fires with guitar licks.

It is significant that KPFT was able to lure these five artists from different cities in Texas to donate their time, gas money and travel expenses to perform in support of the station. It’s not that Houston doesn’t have talent that could be tapped. There have been many KPFT birthday celebrations featuring Houston artists. It’s that KPFT is such a unique resource for our city that other folks recognize what a great organization it is. Many Houstonians tune to the station daily without ever contributing. In fact less than ten percent of listeners ever send in a donation. Even though the station has been here for almost fifty years, its existence is far from guaranteed. They operate on a shoestring budget and often have to choose between things that they would like to provide to listeners and expenses like utilities or equipment maintenance. I encourage all to listen or stream this station and contribute regularly. Their fund raising events are top notch entertainment. Just showing up and buying a ticket is a big help!