Photo: Sam Silkworth Courtesy of eTown


eTown Hall, a solar powered oasis nestled in the Foothills of Boulder, Colorado, has long been a place of performance, collaboration, and content creation since it’s inception in 1991. Founded by Nick Forster and his wife Helen, who cohosts and produces the show. Nick is best known as the bassist for the progressive bluegrass band Hot Rize. For many, Hot Rize was the bridge between traditional bluegrass and what came next, i.e.,  Leftover Salmon, Yonder Mountain String Band and The String Cheese Incident. eTown was a project based around music, but it is also about education and outreach. Each show features an individual or nonprofit that is doing good in their community as well as two musical performers. They’ve recorded hundreds of episodes that air weekly on NPR as well as public and commercial radio stations across the globe. Everyone from Billy Strings to Cake to David Crosby has played on the show and I’ve been lucky enough to run a camera for over 100 tapings.

Zach Littlefield, aka shimmer ready, is the director and video guru who has provided eTown with a massive catalog of content and a YouTube channel with over 100,000 subscribers. His docile country candor has been in my ear each night as we shot video for the radio show. But in March of 2020, it all came to a screeching halt. Nick was forced to dig into his archives and rely on some remote collaborations to create his show. Forster notes, “The Covid shutdown was a big shuffling of priorities for millions of us, and for me, it reoriented me back towards what really feeds my soul, and that’s making music.” Despite having a massive back catalog of live songs and interviews from music luminaries, the future of eTown was uncertain. With all live venues essentially shut down, eTown had to make to most of a tough situation. “We had a blast piecing those shows together and rediscovering all those recordings.” Nick continues, “..,there’s nothing like the real thing, live in front of an audience. What we do is unique, and in a fractured world, our voice seems more important than ever.”

So when I got the call that eTown was happening in December with Daniel Rodriguez and Dead Horses, I was all in. In fact, earlier in the month, Nick and company taped a show with The Milk Carton Kids and Buffalo Nichols in Bentonville Arkansas. So it would appear eTown is full steam ahead. Nick adds, “We have a schedule of two or three tapings each month in 2023, plus a special weeklong celebration of all things eTown slated for mid March. We’ve evolved, but we’re back!”

Daniel Rodriguez, formerly of Elephant Revival, has a long and personal history with eTown. So it made sense that the first hometown taping would feature Rodriguez. The added bonus of his forthcoming album Vast Nothingness meant he’d have a few new tunes for the air play.  David talked to me about eTown before his set, “It’s really a community centerpiece to Boulder.  It has a state of the art studio… They have world-class musicians come through and play their music hall. All the while staying on the humble path…” eTown is unique and in today’s cookie-cutter music business, it’s not always easy to be different. The fact that eTown is back and still continuing to share the power of music and community after three decades is a testament to their mission. Rodriguez concludes, “It really is a huge honor for me.  Such a rich and authentic legacy has been created at eTown over the years, and to be part of the first show coming back means a whole lot to me.”

The taping started as it always does, with the lights dimming and Ron Bostwick warming up the crowd. The format is always the same and since the program will air soon, I’ll refrain from any spoilers. Daniel Rodriguez started the night with his friend Emma Rose from the up and coming bluegrass band, Big Richard. He had help from the house band aka The eTones as well as Nick and Helen. Dead Horses is made up of folk duo Sarah Cos and Daniel Wolff from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Their truncated set at eTown also featured some help from the band. They have a new five-song EP due out February 7th.

There’s never been a bad eTown. They are always informative and incredibly entertaining. The intimacy of the 200-person hall, the cafe with curated drinks, the perfect acoustics, the attentive crowd and the laid back vibe are all a part of it. It just works. Look for big things from Nick and Helen as they continue the journey in 2023 and congrats on 30 plus years of eTown.