Peter Read: Musicians’ friend 

What: Nightflying 25th Anniversary Party
Where: Juanita’s and Midtown Billiards
Time: 7 p.m.
Performing: Juanita’s show headlined by Trout Fishing in America and the Schwag. Also appearing will be Bob Hayes, Barbara Raney, Dean Agus and Seth Freeman, John Lee, Andy Panas, Big John Miller, Mojo Depot, Tony Nardi and Co., Jeff Coleman and the Feeders, Salty Dogs and the Amy Garland Band. Aces Wild starts Grand Jam Band session at Midtown about midnight.
Admission: $10.

It’s funny how life for some folks circles back on itself. Peter Read, a touring musician living in Fayetteville at the time, decided 25 years ago to put his heart and soul into an all-music publication for Arkansas. Two-and-a-half-years ago, many of those musicians Read had covered all these years stepped up when Read’s life took a sudden turn and he spent 39 days the hospital. The benefits those musicians held for Read in 2003 helped him with massive medical bills following a brain aneurysm and subsequent stroke.

These days, a recovered Read admits, the holiday anniversaries of “Nightflying” are even more special. On Thursday, Dec. 15, Read and company will celebrate No. 25 at Juanita’s Cantina Ballroom and Midtown Billiards, in the 1300 block of Main Street (they convened for the Fayetteville portion of the celebration on Wednesday).

“My father can’t believe I worked for the same person for 25 years,” the 51-year-old Read joked last week. “I fire myself from time to time, but I’m a softy and I give myself a sob story and always hire myself back.”

I knew Read through his publication many years before he walked up to me at a Musicians Showcase early in my Times career and introduced himself. I long had enjoyed the publication with its local record reviews, features of unsung bands, concert listings from throughout the region, and those candid tiny snapshots of club-goers lining the tops of nearly every page. Though his illness in 2003 forced Read and his small Nightflying crew (he has six employees and shares writing duties with Jennifer McClellan and assorted free-lancers) to miss four issues, the normal run is an issue a month with an average of 40,000 copies printed.

“We’ve had a remarkable run,” he said.

The odds were against Nightflying from the start. But Read and his sister took opposite sides of Dickson Street and went door to door to sell it in Fayetteville in late 1980, and it was embraced. Two years later, Nightflying was covering the state and by 1990 was available in five states surrounding Arkansas. In 1989, he relocated from the Ozarks to Morrilton, where his family had settled after moving from Seattle years earlier. Read proudly notes that though he never had any personal money to put into the paper, Nightflying has been in the black, if only slightly, since before the first issue was published.

“To me, it shows how much people in this part of the country value music, especially live music,” he said. “I think that’s very cool.”

Read’s motivation, he says, was questioned by some musicians, who thought he was just starting the paper to publicize his own gigs. His reasoning, rather, was that not only was he being ignored by the press, so were other musicians.

“Every time I looked around I’d see these fantastic musicians just gigging on their front porch,” Read said. “I thought, ‘These people need support. Maybe if we had an all-music publication, maybe they’d get that support.’ ”

Dec. 8, 1980. It’s known the world over as the day John Lennon was killed. It was also the day Read was putting Nightflying “to bed,” in newspaper terms, for the first time. At the last second, as news broke, Read remade his cover to get in the news that Lennon had died. “We in effect scooped all the media in the area about that,” he said.

A quarter-century ago, he says, he was playing piano and guitar “and being a smartass and hassling the crowd.” The Lennon killing made him take pause. So did a full-time newspaper gig. Nightflying and showing up at various clubs five nights a week then made him a household name among musicians and contemporary music lovers in Arkansas.


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