- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 25, 2004

At first glance, one wouldn’t think that one of the most popular country music performers of the ‘90s and an ‘80s roots rocker turned family performer would have very much in common. But Patty Loveless and Dan Zanes have actually followed the same path to their current success: They’ve gone back to the music that first touched their hearts when they were young.

For Patty Loveless, who will be at Wolf Trap tonight, the return is to the traditional country and bluegrass that she grew up on. In the past few years, she has been embraced by a whole new group of fans who have come together around the musical stylings made popular by the success of the movie, “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”

Miss Loveless’ beginnings are in the coal-mine country of Kentucky. Inspired by bluegrass and rock ‘n’ roll, and by country singers such as Patsy Cline and Dolly Parton, she started performing in a duo with her brother Roger. After graduating high school in the mid-1970s, they made an unsuccessful move to Nashville.

In 1985, she took a second shot at Nashville as a solo performer, and this time, things clicked. From 1988 through 1997, she had 19 Billboard top-10 country singles including five No. 1s. Nine of her albums have gone gold, and four of those went platinum.

Her return to the music she grew up on started in 1992 when bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley invited her to perform at his bluegrass festival in Coeburn, Va., where she plays again tomorrow. The experience touched something, and over the next few years, Miss Loveless started doing some traditional country and bluegrass music in her live shows. Eventually, she added an acoustic section. More and more, her fans would ask her where they could get recordings of her doing those songs.

In 2000, after the hit-making stage of her career seemed to be past, Miss Loveless decided to make that record.

“We wanted to do a record that’s just kind of off to the side here,” Miss Loveless says. “Just a little something extra for the fans and for the people that were buying the Patty Loveless music and were requesting some of this.”

The result was “Mountain Soul” (released in 2001), an affectionate and moving collection of bluegrass and old-time country. To the surprise of all involved, it won major critical acclaim, including best traditional country album of 2001 from Entertainment Weekly magazine. It also helped Miss Loveless join the Down From the Mountain tour, a nationwide concert tour that included Ralph Stanley, Alison Krauss and others who had performed for “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”

“On Your Way Home” is her latest album. “The ‘Mountain Soul’ album was sort of an influence on the making of this record,” Miss Loveless says. “I had no fear at this point of going in and experimenting even that much more with the more traditional sound of country music.”

The album is a very successful blend of traditional country music styles, the songs of several well-known contemporary songwriters and Miss Loveless’ very successful personal sound.

For Dan Zanes, the music of his youth was the classic folk songs of the ‘60s from the likes of Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie. This is the kind of music he and his band will be playing Saturday afternoon at Iota Club and Cafe when he brings his nationally renowned family-fun “House Party” to the Washington area.

Mr. Zanes grew up going to Pete Seeger singalong concerts and contra dances. He especially liked the contra dances.

“Not only did you get to go out and hear acoustic music, but you could dance to it,” he recalls. “It was such a communal activity. And so much of what I think about now when I think about music is the idea that it really can be so communal and so much fun.”

Today’s family concerts are a long way from the days when he was the leader of the hot ‘80s roots-rock band the Del Fuegos. The band had just enough success for Mr. Zanes to be glad when it broke up in 1991. When his first child was born soon after, he went looking for the new version of the singalong folk songs he grew up on.

When he didn’t find much, he decided he make an album of his own to share with the children in his neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y. It was so popular with family and friends that he started selling the album (and making four more), playing concerts and getting everybody to join in just as he remembered.

“I think what we’re doing is a very traditional thing,” Mr. Zanes says. “We’re going out and singing and dancing. But I’m trying to desegregate it a little bit in terms of age. It’s really entertainment for everybody.”

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