Everywhere you go on the Palouse, there’s Dan Maher ’78. He’s playing at the Co-op in Moscow, the farmers’ markets in Pullman and Moscow, on Terrell Mall on the WSU campus—if there’s acoustic live music, Dan Maher, his guitar, and his guide dog can’t be far.
But, says Maher, the music scene is nothing like what it once was. “When I was a student here in the early ’70s there was a guitar every 30 feet. Everybody played guitar! We used to go to the basement of the K-House and jam every night.”
Even if you’ve never seen Maher play live, you may have heard him on public radio. He’s the voice—the force of nature—behind Inland Folk, heard across the entire Pacific Northwest. On the air since 1982, Maher’s show may be the longest continually running folk music show on radio with the same host. A show called The Folk Sampler has been on the air in the Ozarks since 1978, but has had multiple hosts.
When Maher started Inland Folk, National Public Radio was only 12 years old. In 1982, “NPR was expanding, and the Spokane station wanted a folk show. So I got the show,” he says.
Long a collector of what he calls “nonindustrial folk,” Maher hauled a box of vinyl records up to Spokane on the bus once a month to record his show. After a year of that, “I was tired of hauling that vinyl around!” So he pitched the show to the Pullman-based KWSU, which was in the process of becoming the Northwest Public Radio network. “We’d record the show down here and send reels of tape up to Spokane, so they had it too.”
What started as a show of a couple hours per month quickly grew to two hours a week, then in the early 2000s, three hours a week.
“Inland Folk was a popular part of fund-drive weeks, back in the day when NWPR did seven-day pledge drives. Robin Rilette is a good singer, and we’d do live shows, with her singing harmonies.” Rilette left NWPR for Maine Public Radio earlier this year.
Maher has played hundreds of shows all over the West. He’s opened for many of his “nonindustrial” folk heroes: Tom Paxton, Norman Blake, Bill Staines, the Irish folk band Patrick Street, Dave Van Ronk, Utah Phillips—the list goes on. “It seasoned me, and I had to open for people who intimidated me. Van Ronk would say, ‘Don’t upstage me,’ while Paxton would say, ‘Make me work! Upstage me!’”
Maher has had a day job at WSU since 1980, when he started working with the Associated Students of WSU. He’s been there ever since. “I advise students, teach them how to program events, how to fundraise, and so on.” Maher’s work at WSU has touched the lives of thousands of Cougars.
His one piece of advice is that “the sky really is a limit,” he says.
But once you figure out the few things you truly can’t do, go for what you can do. “I’ll never drive a car or fly a plane,” the blind-from-birth Maher says. “After that, develop your confidence and just stick with it, whatever it is.”
Inland Folk with Dan Maher (Northwest Public Radio)
Video: Washington Gov. Jay Inslee congratulates Dan Maher on 35 years of Inland Folk
Video: Dan Maher helps Robin Rilette say goodbye to NWPR, and they close with a gorgeous harmony vocal performance of Paul Simon’s “Homeward Bound.”