Hello everyone. I think you will find this interview especially interesting because it is about a local duo. Of course they are Nick and Loretta Rivard. They are very special people and friends to many of us around this area. I thank them for sharing their journey.
BB: Introduction – Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
Nick: I grew up in Wisconsin and really had no early exposure to bluegrass music. In fact I didn’t play any music at all as a youth (except, of course the radio). I came to KC in 1968 to attend college and have been here ever since so Kansas City really is my home. I have always loved gardening and it was this passion that took me from a career in children’s therapeutic services into the greenhouse/bedding plant/vegetable produce business that we are now in.
Loretta: I was born in W.VA but moved to VA when I was small. I made KC my home in the mid-1970’s. I went to work at Farmland Industries where I met Nick. We married in ’75 and have 2 sons; Zack, 32; and Cary, 30.
BB: When did you get started in your musical journey?
Loretta: My dad was from the mountains between Virginia and Kentucky, a huge bluegrass fan from its beginnings. He played guitar and mandolin. I and my 5 sisters grew up singing and
or playing with dad as the ‘leader.’ Mom grew up in Harlan County, Kentucky. Her family did not play acoustic music. All of our family activities centered on music and song. This is true to this day, even after my parents have long since passed away.
Nick: After Loretta and I got married in 1975 she was instrumental in getting me interested and encouraged me to buy my first banjo. I bought the Earl Scruggs Five String Banjo instructional book and used it as my primary instructor. In addition we spent a lot of time at the Foolkiller Folk Theater where I did a lot of theater and participated in a lot of jams with those folks back in the late 70’s and 80’s. We went to many jams in those days but most of them were more geared toward folk styles. Loretta came from a solid bluegrass background so bluegrass was always there in the shadows as we jammed with people around the area. We did find our way to the old bluegrass jams in the northeast (Lykins Center, etc) a few times but were always a little overwhelmed at the skill levels of those people at the time. We did play in our first band (called THE BRUSH CREEK EXPRESS) in the 80’s. It was an acoustical band with a definite bluegrass tilt.
BB: What happened after that?
Loretta: While our boys were young we focused our family life on them—soccer, music lessons, school activities. Nick and I practiced our music at home, but went to jams infrequently. As the boys got into high school, our jam attendance picked up speed. We re-connected with both our folk music friends and our bluegrass friends.
Nick: It was later (1997ish) that we started to play with Kenny & Roberta Huckabey, began to play more steady bluegrass music and frequented the bluegrass jams around town. We played on stage at Vesper Hall and in NKC fairly often back then. We’ve been playing with Kenny and Roberta ever since the late 90’s and I have gained a lot of bluegrass skills through that experience. Kenny is such an unselfish musician and goes out of his way to give people he plays with the best chance to develop as musicians and singers. I never sang at all until we started playing with Kenny and through his and Loretta’s help I started to sing harmony and even learned a few lead songs.
BB: Where did you go from there?
Loretta: We’ve attended some indoor bluegrass festivals in winter (that’s our slow time for the greenhouse), but these days we don’t even do that. There is just not enough ‘down’ time from the business to get out of town a lot. HABOT and KCABC have been great when we can make it, and we have loved what time we can spend at the regular jams around town.
Nick: Currently our music is mostly of the “living room” venue. We get together as often as we can with our music friends and family and play but don’t do much actual performing. Our job at our greenhouse keeps us pretty tied up most of the year so we don’t get to many festivals, etc. and it’s difficult to be able to commit to a steady performance routine. Still we love the music and enjoy playing it every chance we can. It is still our primary social outlet.
BB: What happened after the next?
Nick and Loretta: We have hosted some jams and potlucks in the past, but we are still locked in to having a full-time business that runs 7 days a week from January till November. We look forward to retirement at some point in the future!!
BB: How did you get into Bluegrass/Old Time/Other Music?
Nick and Loretta:I think we can both thank my dad for that great bluegrass connection. And the gift he gave us both has been passed down to our sons—both play acoustic instruments and sing. And when we can get together with the boys, we always tune up the instruments and get the jam going. It is wonderful!!
BB: What is your favorite Bluegrass Band or Artist? Who influenced you the most?
Loretta: Bill Monroe the King, of course. I love the Original Country Gentlemen, as well as the Seldom Scene. Both groups had their own special blend of folkish-bluegrass that I love. And Emmylou Harris is probably the female vocalist that I have followed the longest.
Nick: Definitely Earl Scruggs and JD Crowe would have to be up there for me. As far as Band I’d have to say Nashville Bluegrass Band is right up there and we listened a lot to Blue Highway when I was learning how to sing.
BB: How many songs have you written?
Loretta: I have written 2 songs, but I don’t bring them out too much.
Nick: I have not written any songs
BB: What advice would you give to young people wanting to get started in Bluegrass?
Nick: Just find people you enjoy being around and play with them every chance you get. Definitely play with other people and in jams because it helps you with rhythm, group dynamics as well as harmony singing.
Loretta: Get help from a musician friend when buying your first instrument—good action and tune-ability is everything. Learn Jam Etiquette (i.e. stay in tune, take turns properly, respect other jammers while they have their turn, etc.). Play, Play, Play!!!!!
BB: Anything else you want to say to wrap up this interview?
Nick: Only I owe whatever musical and singing skills I have to Loretta. To put it mildly I couldn’t sing a lick when we first started out and it took a tremendous amount of patience and perseverance on her part to help me get to the limited skill level I have now.
It is the best thing in the world to have your Life Partner also be your Pickin’ Partner!!!
We push each other when it’s needed.
And I owe everything to Nick!!!
BB: Many thanks to both of you. Your talents and friendship really add a lot to our Bluegrass Jams.