Story Songs at the Folk School of Fayetteville with Still on the Hill, also Smoky and the Mirror

                     !!!STORY SONGS IS COMING TO THE FOLK SCHOOL OF                                                         FAYETTEVILLE!!!

After several years of presenting Story Songs at festivals from Kansas to Indiana, “Ernie Hill Presents Story Songs” is finally coming home! December 17, 5:30 - 7:30, the Folk School of Fayetteville is opening its warm and welcoming doors as I host Fayetteville songwriting story telling legends, Still on the Hill, and Smoky and the Mirror for a special 2 hour set of story songs, stories, and mind probing discussion about each individual writing process. What WERE they thinking when they wrote those lines! We will each perform original story songs and talk about the spark that ignited the flame that burned those words and notes into songs. Click here to learn about this event, tickets and all about the Folk School of Fayetteville.                                                                                                   

Still on the Hill is Kelly and Donna Mulhollan. Kelly and Donna are Folk-music songwriting story-tellers from the Arkansaw Ozarks, having created numerous programs aimed at preservation of the Ozarks, wildlife and peace as well as dedicating complete albums to such historic landmarks as Cane Hill and the Beaver Lake area. They have travelled the world with their engaging and prolific story telling songs and are recognized for their songwriting and roots causes by such festivals as the Walnut Valley Festival, The Philadelphia Folk Festival and the Kerrville Folk Festival and countless others. The Mayor of Fayetteville, Arkansaw, their hometown, proclaimed December 20, "Still on the Hill Day" for all of the work this duo does in community service. 


Smoky and the Mirror is Bryan and Bernice Hembree, also of Three Penney Acre. Bryan and Bernice created the Fayetteville Roots Festival which is no longer happening, but from the rich experience of managing so many artists and venues in Fayetteville through the Roots Festival, they saw a true need to serve the community with music and access to learning and performing music, so the Folk School of Fayetteville was created with that in mind. Click the above link to learn all about the Folk School. As Smokey & The Mirror, Bryan and Bernice have toured nationally/internationally over the past decade, including a touring collaboration and album with Denmark’s The Sentimentals.  The band has also supported tours/concerts for The Wood Brothers, I’m With Her, Elephant Revival, John Fullbright, and more.  They play most often as a duo, but also regularly collaborate with luthier/musician Bayard Blain (3 Penny Acre/Bayard Guitars), and drummer/songwriter Ryan Pickop (Nature & Madness).  Whatever the configuration, the interplay of their two unique voices coupled with their provoking and engaging songs form the foundation of Smokey & The Mirror.

Read all about Story Songs with Ernie and browse the Story Songs archives. Click here.

Story Songs at the 51st Walnut Valley Festival!

I have had the great fortune to share the stage with some of the nation’s finest songwriters and this year’s Walnut Valley Festival “Story Songs with Ernie” set is going to be a highlight for sure with Jim Ratts and Elexa Dawson, two seasoned pros in the Roots/Americana field.

Elexa Dawson is one of the busiest and prolific songwriters and business women in the field. Born from Oklahoma Potawatomi and Cherokee country, Elexa now calls the Kansas Flint Hills her home. Elexa is an outreach coordinator for Folk Alliance International as well as co-founder/producer at Goodway Gardens in Emporia, Kansas- a project utilizing native plant gardening and live music to promote a sustainable lifestyle and agricultural education while creating a platform and venue for Roots musicians.

Elexa's first solo album “Music is Medicine'' (Lost Cowgirl Records) brings her storytelling to life through loveable lamentations, and won her “Best Country Recording” at the Native American Music Awards. Her stirring performances connect land-based programming to folk stages.Two albums from Elexa’s primary ensemble, Weda Skirts, (“Many Moons”, “Mother”) offer immaculate harmonies, articulating themes of nature, kinship, passion, and place. Elexa’s song and video “Circle Song” is an example of her depth and heart and intentions to promote peace and harmony. “you belong in the circle”.

Two albums from Elexa’s primary ensemble, Weda Skirts, (“Many Moons”, “Mother”) offer immaculate harmonies, articulating themes of nature, kinship, passion, and place. Elexa also co-fronts Heyleon, a 7-piece, bluegrass-adjacent joyride, and released Heyleon's “Friends & Family”, “Fiddle Road”, and "The Stranger" on her label, Turns Out Records. To hear my interview with Elexa for the 51st Walnut Valley Festival Campground Radio, click the pic!








Jim Ratts has some stories to tell for sure! Everything from writing hit Roots songs like Howlin’ At the Moon, recorded by Sam Bush and on Sam’s album, titled with the same name, to writing Ozark Nights for the John McCuen produced film about the Dillards, Ozark Nights, to being the man behind the amplification of John Hartford’s famous plywood dancing board. Jim even wrote for the Kingston Trio. Jim is proficient in so many areas as well as being a pro sound engineer. He hales from Englewood CO, and travels often to Lubbock TX, where he earned his degree in psychology, to record in their state-of-the-art studio.

In the early 1980’s, serendipitously, Jim Ratts joined forces with Jimmy Ibbotson of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and Jim Salestrom who performed in Dolly Parton’s band for 12 years, along with Sam Bush to form The Wild Jimbos, and went on to record two albums and tour. Jim Ratts’ “Howlin at the Moon” was listed as one of the top 200 songs of the decade. Jim continues to tour when he’s not working on projects and enjoying the Rockies with his talented wife, co/musician and graphic artist, Sally, who, along with Denver based artist Greg Carr, did the cover for Steve Martin’s Grammy winning album “The Crow”. Together, Jim and Sally front the band “Runaway Express”. Jim’s album covers are out of the world art! They pop up and spread out! Grab a copy of “Howlin at the Moon” and see for yourself, while listening to some great originals and covers. To hear my interview with Jim Ratts for the 51st Walnut Valley Festival Campground Radio, click the pic!

(from 2020, the Walnut Valley Festival 50th Anniverary)

Story Songs continues at the 50th Walnut Valley Festival with Special Guests, Chris Jones, Kelly Hunt and Still on the Hill!

Ernie Hill invites you to join him, Chris Jones, Still on The Hill and Kelly Hunt for Story Songs, at the 50th Annual Walnut Valley Festival and National Flatpicking Championships, Saturday, September 17th, Stage 2, at 9:00a.m.  Walnut Valley Festival, Click the link to get your tickets and please, read on. 

This year's panel is loaded with great songwriters, Chris Jones's new album, "Make Each Second Last", has yielded 6 consecutive #1 Bluegrass hits! Kelly Hunt's debut CD, "Even the Sparrow" has garnered great reviews from Rolling Stone and has been added to "20 Best Folk Albums for 2019" by popmatters, and also "10 best Country and Americana songs to hear now"-Rolling Stone Country. Kelly and Donna Mulhollan aka Still On The Hill, are Folk-music songwriting story-tellers from the Arkansaw Ozarks, having created numerous programs aimed at preservation of the Ozarks, wildlife and peace as well as dedicating complete albums to such historic landmarks as Cane Hill. They have travelled the world with their music and have been recognized for their songwriting and roots causes by such festivals as the Walnut Valley Festival, The Philadelphia Folk Festival and the Kerrville Folk Festival and countless others. The Mayor of Fayetteville, Arkansaw, their hometown, proclaimed December 20, "Still on the Hill Day" for all of the work this duo does in community service. Click each pic to learn more about these special guests for this year's Story Songs with Ernie.


Story Songs 2021- The Walnut Valley Festival with Juni Fisher and Chris Jones!

Am I ever excited to be hosting this set, this year and sharing the stage with Juni Fisher and Chris Jones! Covid hit us all very hard. While it is still seeming to be rampant, folks are doing the wise thing and getting vaccinated. While everything could come to a grinding halt again, the plans are to move forward with the Walnut Valley Festival, Sept. 15-19, Winfield KS. 

If you have attended a Story Songs set, then you know it's a panel performance/discussion between songwriters, including me. I host and moderate. In a nutshell, we get inside each other's noggins and discuss the creative spark, while giving the audience some mighty fine songs, and helpful insight as to how this all comes about. Both Juni and Chris are Walnut Valley favorites and both have conducted workshops in Songwriting and musicianship. Chris is also the new curator of the Walnut Valley New Songs Showcase. This years Story Songs will be held on Friday,the 17th, Stage 3, at 9:15- 10:15 a.m. This set will be loaded with spontaneous conversation, songs, and commentary. Be prepared to take notes, laugh and cry! So...

Juni Fisher and Chris Jones are highly acclaimed and respected singer songwriter/musicians and authors with Juni having already published one novel, Girls from Centro, with another, Indelible Ink on the way, and several albums of original music. Juni was raised in a San Joaquin Valley, CA farming family, and was active in 4-H and FFA. While studying Equine Science at the College of the Sequoias she rode horses for customers and was captain of the college horse show team. She rode sale pens for extra money at a local livestock sale and earned honors at Intercollegiate and Quarter Horse shows. During college she began singing big band standards in a dance orchestra to pay for horse show entries. Her first Western release, “Tumbleweed Letters” (1999) reached Monterey Cowboy Poetry and Music Festival director Gary Brown in 2003. With his encouragement and endorsement, Juni shifted to music full time. Fisher has penned songs recorded by Rex Allen Jr., Joe Hannah (Sons of the San Joaquin,) Ranger Doug (Riders in the Sky,) Kristyn Harris, Devon Dawson, Judy Coder, Notable Exceptions, 43 Miles North, and others, and her songs have been in award winning film soundtracks most recently Out of the Wild.

Juni has received multiple awards for her talents including: 

  • 2005 Academy of Western Female Vocalist of the Year
  • 2005 WMA* Crescendo Award (*Western Music Association)
  • 2006, 2009, 2011 WMA Female Performer of the Year
  • 2007, 2011, and 2013 WMA Song of the Year
  • 2008 WMA Songwriter of the Year
  • 2008 Natl. Cowboy & Western Heritage Wrangler Award 
  • 2009 WMA Album of the Year
  • 2011 WMA Entertainer of the Year (first female ever to win)
  • 2014 Western Writers of America Song of the Year 
  • 2012 and 2017 True West Magazine Best Solo Artist
  • 2019 Women Writing the West WILLA Award Finalist                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Chris Jones is a Bluegrass Icon, destined for legendary status. Chris is also a writer/journalist with a regular humor column at Bluegrass Today. Chris hosts Sirius radio's Bluegrass Junction for more than 15 years. He also hosts the classic bluegrass show "Truegrass.", and has also appeared in the PBS series “The Appalachians” as a both a performer and commentator.
      Chris Jones’ “Fork in the Road” won the IBMA Song of the Year award in 2007, when it appeared on the Infamous Stringdusters’ album of the same name. Today, Chris continues to build on his sparkling career by writing new songs that display solid craftsmanship, deep emotion, and inventive subject matter. As he has for the past two decades, Chris creates original bluegrass music that maintains the highest standards, lyrically and musically. He shows that it is possible to write directly from the heart in a way that is authentic to the roots of bluegrass as well as the contemporary world in which he lives. 
    The ten songs he wrote or co-wrote on his latest album, The Choosing Road, can stand among the best of his long and distinguished career, and that is quite a feat. Bluegrass is fortunate to have such a dedicated, talented, and tasteful songwriter working in the genre, and still at the top of his game. 

International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) awards received:

  • 2005: Album Of The Year (for his role in the Larry Sparks album 40)
  • 2007: Song Of The Year (co-writer of "Fork In The Road" by the Infamous Stringdusters)
  • 2007: Broadcaster Of The Year
  • 2014 Print Media Person Of The Year for his writing at Bluegrass Today
  • 2014: Best Graphic Design for Lonely Comes Easy (with designer Lou Everhart and Rebel Records)
  • 2014: Broadcaster Of The Year                                                                                                                                           

Music instruction

  • 1993: The Traditional Bluegrass Songbook book, CD (Musicians Workshop) ISBN 978-1584961246
  • 1999: The Bluegrass Wordbook with Chris Jones book, CD (Musicians Workshop) ISBN 978-1584960874
  • 2002: The Art of Bluegrass Rhythm Guitar with Chris Jones DVD (Musicians Workshop)
  • 2003: Learn the Art of Bluegrass Guitar streaming video (Musicians Workshop)
  • 2004: Bluegrass Guitar Solos with Chris Jones DVD (Musicians Workshop)  

The 1st Annual Bushyhead Farm Summer Festival is happening to a limited audience June, the 17th through the 19th. Lot's of great Red Dirt and Roots music as well as speakers and workshops on sustainability. Check out the website here. This fest caps at 300 full fest camping tickets and 40 single day Saturday only tickets. I am tickled to be able to present Monica Taylor, Rachel Bachman and Bonnie Paine as my guests  for Story Songs.

Monica Taylor and I go a long ways back- she is no where near as old as I am, but we have been friends for decades. Monica has a soothing personality. She is a deep, soul touching songwriter, a true Red Dirt pioneer, and somewhat of a legend in this songwriting, country/roots niche. Monica is somehow able to not only tell great stories in song, but also write feelings and emotion. Not many songwriters excel at both. Having jammed with Monica and having heard her in concert, I am so looking forward to this opportunity to present not only her songs, but her heart and mind in this intimate setting.Read more about her at

Rachel Bachman is a multi-faceted gem. With a theatre background, this songwriting multi-instrumentalist is loaded with energized talent. Rachel is animated, ingenious and creative. She approaches her musical performance with her entire self, body and spirit in a way that is as physically interpretive as audibly. I am really looking forward to hearing what she will present for Story Songs, and discussing her creative spark. Lots more about Rachel at

Bonnie Paine was born in Tahlequah Oklahoma, the capital of the Cherokee Nation and end of the Trail of Tears, where she grew up playing music with her sisters. She began on drum kit, then guitar, hand drums, flute, washboard, vocals, cello and musical saw. 

Bonnie is a founding member and songwriter of internationally touring Colorado band Elephant Revival and continues to travel far and wide to learn about music from around the world that inspires her songwriting.

Story Songs at the 47th Annual Walnut Valley Festival, Winfield KS with Gina Furtado (Clowes) and Chris Jones!

Gina Furtado (Clowes) and Chris Jones

Gina Furtado (Clowes) is one super fine banjo picker, nominated for this year’s IBMA Banjo Player of the Year. She’s an insightful and freshly original songwriter too. Her album, "True Colors" reflects a broad range of styles and is super ear friendly. And...she, along with bandmate and multiple IBMA award winner himself, Bluegrass Icon, Chris Jones, will be my guests for Story Songs at the Walnut Valley Festival, Winfield KS, coming up in just a few more weeks! Yep, I’m stoked!

Gina Furtado (Clowes), hails from Winchester, VA. As a young banjo player, Gina was a frequent finalist in the prestigious Galax banjo contest. Gina joined Chris Jones and The Night Drivers after a long stint with the popular West Virginia/Virgina band, “Bud’s Collective.” Gina’s innovative and unique musicianship and songwriting opens up and redefines the usual “can” that is normally generalized in bluegrass and particularly banjo music. She has her own distinct and masterful flavor. 

Although Gina is known mainly for her work as the banjo player for Chris Jones and the Night Drivers, she has a long history with her banjo and is making huge waves as a songwriter. Born and raised in Front Royal, Virginia, Gina began touring up and down the east coast in her tween years with her siblings, earning countless ribbons from fiddlers conventions,  a strong reputation in the regional bluegrass scene, and a stamp from Bluegrass Today as “absurdly talented”. She later played in a number of regional acts (Blue Light Special, New Girls Nite Out, On the Run, Bud’s Collective) and has made her international touring exposure with Chris Jones and the Night Drivers soon after joining the group. Gina is sought after as a teacher privately and at camps across the country. Her new album, "True Colors" was released in September 2017 and debuted at #13 on Bluegrass Billboard Charts. Gina was featured on the cover of Banjo Newsletter in the December 2017 issue, along with her original tune "Saylor's Creek".

“An exceptionally well-rounded artist! It is no surprise that her songs would showcase her swift and graceful picking, but [True Colors] also reveals her to be a graceful singer and insightful songwriter.”        -The Bluegrass Situation 

"True Colors", the first album release from Gina Clowes, is a wonderful opening to the solo career of this gifted songwriter/ banjo player. The Virginia native, and member of the wildly talented Furtado family, astutely mixes traditional numbers among her more current interpretation of bluegrass music and strands of swing and jazz even work their way into the performances but this album is an assortment of instrumentals and her deep lyrics. Gina is gifted as a melodic songwriter. Gina’s’ album features only one cover. The eleven originals touch on familiar genres while showing unquestionable individuality. "True Colors" is an album I will load onto the old ipod and put on loop over and over. It’s pleasing and encouraging to hear folks like Gina Furtado keeping it fresh and real. Keep up with Gina Furtado (Clowes) at


Chris Jones is no stranger to the Walnut Valley Festival having headlined the event with his band, Chris Jones and the Night Drivers five times. Chris Jones is a quadruple threat as a singer, a songwriter, a guitarist—and, thanks to his role hosting SiriusXM’s Bluegrass Junction, as one of the most widely heard broadcasting voices in bluegrass music. His immediately recognizable voice, warm sense of humor and abundance of talent have combined to make him one of the music’s most distinctive personalities, and one of its strongest artists. Chris Jones is literally a household name in the world of bluegrass and beyond having garnered IBMA award after award including taking center stage at the IBMA’s Awards Show in 2007, where he earned both a Song Of The Year award as a co-writer of “Fork In The Road,” the title track of the year’s Album Of The Year by the Infamous Stringdusters, and the organization’s Broadcaster Of The Year trophy. The occasion marked the first time that both music and industry awards have gone to a single person. Chris had previously won an IBMA award for Recorded Event of the Year for his role in the album Larry Sparks 40.

Since then, Chris has continued to draw attention for all aspects of his multi-faceted career, including a 2014 IBMA award for Print/Media Person of the Year for his widely read humor column for the bluegrass web site Bluegrass Today, and a second award for Broadcaster of the Year in 2015.

Following apprenticeships with bluegrass legend Dave Evans and Chicago’s durable Special Consensus, Chris moved to Nashville in 1989 as a member of the band Weary Hearts, where his colleagues included Ron Block (Alison Krauss & Union Station), Mike Bub (Del McCoury Band, 18 South) and acclaimed mandolin master, the late Butch Baldassari. Forming Chris Jones & The Night Drivers in the mid 1990s, he’s led the band through a set of stellar recordings and tours while appearing and recording with some of the world’s most respected musicians including The Chieftains, Earl Scruggs, Vassar Clements and Tom T. Hall. He has performed on the The Grand Ole Opry with Laurie Lewis, Lynn Morris, and The Whitstein Brothers. And, while the Night Drivers have made extensive use of his original songs, Chris’ songs have also been recorded by a range of other artists, including the Gibson Brothers, Lou Reid & Carolina and The Chapmans.

Chris’ album, A Few Words, features 16 tracks of original songs, and gives the listener a good idea of Chris songwriting skills. He is quite a story teller and his progressive bluegrass arrangements are top notch in proficiency and the beauty of the craft. Read more about Chris Jones at


















Story Songs at the 9th Annual John Hartford Memorial Festival with The Matchsellers, Bill Poss and The Whispering Willows ! Full Set courtesy of Troy Phillips.

 I was thrilled to present Story Songs at the 46th Annual Walnut Valley Festival, Winfield KS, on Stage 3. I've attended this festival with my soulmate/wife, Patti, and son Matthew, for 34 years or so. Who's counting now? I was a late addition but I'm still flattered to have been in the lineup, app and all! With such short time to prepare, I was excited to be joined by Juni Fisher and Kenny Cornell, two great and very different songwriter/musicians. We played some original songs and talked about the process and how it works for us. The intimacy of that stage lends itself well to workshops and question sessions. The Muse flowed freely. I wish we had hours to present this but we only had 50 minutes  to pry out all I could, and reveal all I could, about our approach to songwriting, and perform our songs as well. Juni and Kenny were a pure joy to share this concept with. Each of these two were right at home opening up to an interested and appreciative early morning crowd. I was surprised so many folks either got up or never went to bed, and turned out to be a part of this set. I hope the Walnut Valley Festival lets this happen again.

Juni Fisher -Juni Fisher's name is synonymous with the kind of songwriting that, according to one promoter "Plumbs the depth of your soul…". Living now in Franklin, TN, Juni was born in the San Joaquin Valley of California, Juni grew up in a farming family. Juni's first Western release,"Tumbleweed Letters" (1999) reached Monterey Cowboy Poetry and Music Festival director Gary Brown in late 2003. He shared Juni's music with other promoters and soon Juni would shift to music full time as her profession. 

 Juni Fisher performs at major festivals, and concert venues of all sizes across the US, and spends saddle time on her cutting horse, keeping her tuned up for competition. More than a Singer, more than a Songwriter, Juni is a horsewoman with a message. Click Juni's name above to read more about her (and her new book!) and connect with Juni on FB.

Kenny Cornell should have some sort of coronation as "The Most Awarded Songwriter in Walnut Valley Songwriting Contest and Showcase" history. In over 30 years of WVfest contests and showcases, Kenny has 32 awards. Kenny lives in Tulsa, but he calls Tahlequah home, and has been a graphic artist for most of his life. He’s been to every WVfest since 1972! I met Kenny in the first songwriting contest, yep, over 30 years ago. I still remember that song! “they checked my Pepsi at the gate today, he put his hairy nose in my can, I looked inside, they left me a surprise, I guess they consider that contraband” Kenny went on to Nashville for six years where he wrote for famed publisher Tom Collins and landed a song on George Jones and Tammy Wynette’s last album. He won several songwriting contests while there and took 2nd at the highly acclaimed Merlefest. Kenny is quoted in my book, "The Cosmic Path to Melody and Lyric".

Story Songs Lineup for the 8th Annual John Hartford Memorial Festival, 5/30-6-2, 2018

 I’m way beyond excited to have the opportunity to share the stage at JHMF8 with Micahlan Boney, Chicago Farmer and Mike Oberst and a special closing guest appearance by Giri and Uma Peters. Read on to learn a little more about them, and me.
Micahlan Boney-  I met Micahlan through our John Hartford Songwriter’s Challenge contest. Micahlan made the top 15 at age 13, she made the top ten the next two years, and last year, won the contest with her soulful song about John Hartford, “Gone Too Soon”. At 17, Micahlan is an old soul. Proficient on any instrument she chooses to play, her lyrics are deep and thoughtful and her knack for melody is fresh. I quoted her in my book, “The Cosmic Path to Melody and Lyric”.
 Micahlan, from Claxton, GA, began performing on fiddle and writing songs at the age of eight.  She added the guitar, mandolin and banjo in the following years. Micahlan's songs simmer with ingredients from old-time, country, blues, and rock traditions with revealing relatable messages about heartbreak, hope, love, longing and her ongoing evolution as an artist and young lady. She has performed in 10 states and solo and as part of various bands . She has been a member of 2 Americana bands playing first with banjo master and a musical mentor, James McKinney in his band, The Night Travelers. She also played with Grammy award winning songwriter Louisa Branscomb in her band, Louisa Branscomb and Friends of Distinction. Micahlan won the Savannah Country Music Showdown in 2017.  Also, in 2017 she won the John Hartford Memorial Songwriting Contest in Bean Blossom, Indiana. In Sept of 2017, her show and abilities as a fiddler attracted the attention of The Kentucky Head Hunters who asked her to join them on stage at the Gram Parson's Memorial Festival in Waycross, Ga. Micahlan joined in for last year’s JHMF Story Songs set at a last minute invitation. I’m looking forward to introducing the JHMF8 audience to Micahlan’s take on creativity and her original story songs.

Chicago Farmer -Folk hero Todd Snider says, "I love Chicago Farmer's singing and playing and songs, but it's the intention behind the whole of his work that moves me to consider him the genuine heir to Arlo Guthrie or Ramblin' Jack Elliott. He knows the shell game that goes on under folk music… which is sacred to me. Chicago Farmer is my brother; if you like me, you'll love him."
Cody Diekoff, known across the globe as Chicago Farmer, participated in the first ever Story Songs set, along with St. Louis musician/songwriter, Ryan Spearman. Cody reminds me of what would happen if Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie and John Prine were cloned into one entity. Cody writes as if he’s lived forever, from the blue- collar angle. He is a natural story teller. I’m really tickled that he’s back at JHMF and particularly, sitting in with Micahlan, Mike and myself. Lyrically driven, Chicago Farmer delves into the social and political issues of today’s world, taking it all in and putting it back out through music as a commentary on modern times in the Midwest. With his unfeigned and relatable approach, Chicago Farmer has earned a place in the heart of this generation’s rise of protest songs. He composes music written and sung by and for the working man, the "regular person", bringing to mind modern day folk tales. He writes music for “the kind of people that come to my shows. Whether in Chicago or Delavan, everyone has a story, and everyone puts in a long day and works hard the same way,” he says. “My generation may have been labeled as slackers, but I don’t know anyone who doesn’t work hard - many people I know put in 50-60 hours a week and 12 hour days. That’s what keeps me playing. I don’t like anyone to be left out; my music is for everyone in big and very small towns.” He listened to punk rock and grunge as a kid before discovering a friend’s dad playing Hank Williams, and it was a revelation. Prine and Guthrie quickly followed. The name Chicago Farmer was originally for a band, but the utilitarian life of driving alone from bar to bar, city to city - to make a direct connection to his audience and listener, took a deeper hold.
Folks, I could easily do the whole 90 minutes with any of these three songwriters, and Mike Oberst, an accomplished multi-instrumentalist, musician, and songwriter best known as a co-founder of the Cincinnati, Ohio string band, The Tillers, could do the whole day just telling stories and singing story songs. 
Mike was born and raised in the Sayler Park neighborhood of Cincinnati, a stone’s throw from the historic US Route 50 as it winds down the banks of the Ohio River. He was introduced to music at a very early age, starting Suzuki piano lessons at the age of four. At the age of 13, Mike’s father showed him some chords on the guitar, and within a year, he began forming punk rock bands with his friends. Mike’s interest in traditional music began with his membership in the Cincinnati Caledonian Bagpipe and Drum Corps from the ages of 17 to 22. At age 23, Mike became a part of “The Blue Rock Boys”, an Irish Traditional Folk band, which gave Mike his first taste of the life of a touring musician.
When Mike began performing solo shows around town, he became consumed with a love of clawhammer-style banjo playing and an interest in American folk music in the vein of Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, Pete Seeger, and other Depression-era performers. He soon chanced upon a like-minded musical compatriot in the form of guitarist Sean Geil, with whom Mike formed the band “The Tillers”.
The Tillers’ rise to prominence in the local and regional folk scene was a rapid one, bolstered by a stroke of good fortune in the summer of 2009, when The Tillers’ recording of Mike’s song “There is a Road (Route 50)” was featured on veteran NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw’s USA Network television documentary on the history and significance of US Route 50.
In 2011, Mike released his first solo album, “Mike Oberst and His Five-String Banjo”, which featured collaborations with a number of Mike’s musician friends from Cincinnati and beyond.
Also that year, Mike was the driving force behind “To Sing with You Once More”, a benefit concert to raise money and awareness to fight multiple myeloma cancer, the disease which claimed both Mike’s mother Lori and one of his musical heroes,  Mike Seeger. The concert, which featured rare appearances by folk giants like John Cohen and Tracy Schwarz, was a rousing success.
Mike continues to play and tour, both solo and with The Tillers. He was recently bestowed with the Ohio Arts Council Traditional Arts Apprenticeship for clawhammer banjo in 2011-12, and again in 2013-14.  He also teaches clawhammer banjo lessons from his home to a number of students both locally and regionally.
Mike’s appreciation and gratitude to the tradition of Field Recording for its preservation of rapidly-disappearing musical styles and traditions has led him to attempt some of his own. In 2016 he produced and co-recorded an album of original music by North Carolina songwriter Jean Dowell.  He is currently in the early stages of recording and compiling the music of legendary Kentucky fiddler Tommy Taylor.
Mike is also interested in American folk art, history, and methods of sustainable city living. He enjoys gardening, farming, and raising chickens at his home.
Giri and Uma Peters-   JHMF7’s Story Songs set introduced the audience to the songwriting of Giri and Uma Peters, along with Micahlan Boney, as a kids set. All three are very wise beyond their years, old souls. Uma stole my heart with her timely, important, soulful “How to Help The World”. This song has become a “hit” in the folk world and I am honored that Giri and Uma will take a few minutes out of their busy JHMF schedule to perform this song and close out the JHMF8 Story Songs Set.
Giri (age 13) and Uma (age 10) Peters are an Indian-American brother/sister duo from Nashville, TN. These award-winning multi-instrumentalists - Giri on fiddle, mandolin, and guitar, and Uma on clawhammer banjo - have been electrifying audiences with their refreshing, soulful blend of old-time, folk, and roots music. Although young in age, their musicianship and vocal harmonies showcase a level of creativity and originality well beyond their years. They have attracted the attention of Dobro master Jerry Douglas, IBMA guitar player of the year Molly Tuttle, and blues harmonica great Phil Wiggins and have jammed with practically everybody who is anybody in acoustic music!  MacArthur Genius Grant awardee and former Carolina Chocolate Drop, Rhiannon Giddens,who has befriended and taken a deep interest in these two, recently recorded with them on their soulful, deep collaboration, “How to Help the World” This song, pinned by Uma and melodically arranged by Giri, was released as a digital single and published on the Folk Alliance International Conference CD for 2018. These gifted and very busy young folks continue to perform at festivals and venues all over the country while maintaining a school presence and continuing to “just be kids”.
Ernie Hill-  If you are a JHMF veteran, you’ve probably seen Ernie and wife/co-writer Patti, scurrying about the grounds here and there, and on stage. Ernie created, manages and hosts the John Hartford Songwriter’s Challenge and Showcase, created and hosts/participates the Story Songs Workshop, and sometimes plays a set which in he usually involves guest musicians and the audience. Ernie is also a JHMF Staff writer among other JHMF duties and currently writes the newsletter for the John Hartford Office, Ernie is an inadvertent story teller. He calls himself a “cosmic muser”, meaning that he does not plan to write or tell a story. In his words, “They just fly through.” Ernie’s curiosity about the Muse has led him on a journey to interpret what this Muse is to different songwriters and himself, leading to the birth of the Story Songs Workshop concept. It’s led him to publish a little mind journey on the subject, “The Cosmic Path to Melody and Lyric”, illustrated by cosmic muse artist, Jon Griffin. In keeping with the changing times, Ernie’s story songs can be downloaded from this website. His only CD to date, The Highway That Runs Through the Graveyard, is available from the site or directly from him. Ernie loves to interact with an audience and his natural curiosity lends itself well to hosting a panel of highly creative songwriters.