Remembering Burt Meyer

by John Ford

On Thursday July 13th of this year, the community and this station lost a friend, and a good one, too.

Burt Meyer, host of "Wheels of the World” on KAOS died in a hiking accident at Eagle Peak in Mt. Rainier National Park.  He was there with other members of the group he founded, the Olympic Hiking Club.  He had gone there to spread some more of the ashes of his late wife Di; who had passed in 2016.  The idea was to commemorate all their favorite hiking points.

Choosing to scout ahead for a safety check of a path, he took off, singing a song in German as he did so.  When he failed to return, his party contacted the Park Service, who found our friend at the bottom of a fatal rock slide.

But once upon a time in the ‘90s, Burt Meyer stepped up to prevent KAOS' Celtic music show from fading away; for well over a decade, he served the community in that capacity.

I had worked with Burt since the day he arrived at the station as a volunteer; tho’ he’d worked with KAOS on other folk/bluegrass projects over the years, sometimes as guest host, often as tech support at the board.

Burt was an amazing and multi-faceted man; it was tears before I found out he’d been a local teacher (of German no less!) and all the other hats he wore.  He was also, by his own admission an incurable ham… funny thing; this ham never failed to make sure others got their needed and deserved spotlight. All hams should be so generous

To keep this piece something you can finish reading in one sitting, I’ll eschew a lengthy reflection on Burt’s beloved Di.  Suffice to say she was a bright light and sparkling voice; I treasured them as a couple almost more than as individuals. Her passing, and now Burt’s have left a hole in the tapestry that is the Oly Folk/Celtic scene; thankfully, it’ll be mended by all the voices and musicians they touched over the years.  Mended- never filled.

Goodbye Burt, and thanks.

I asked two trusted friends of KAOS to share some Burt-ness with you- here they are:

Sean Williams, KAOS alumni, TESC faculty:

Burt was the most confident person I have ever met: about folk music, about Irish music, about German and French languages, about hiking, and about travel. No matter what the subject was, Burt was ready to chat about it with great aplomb! I photographed him playing his concertina once, with the plan that the photograph would end up in my Irish music textbook. It did! During the photo session he regaled me with talk of concertinas old and new. At one point I invited him to come to the final day of my Irish Studies class (after they had already lived in Ireland for a couple of months) because we were going to play Irish music, which he loved. From the moment he arrived, he began telling my students all about Ireland, about the finer points of Irish music, and about all his favorite places. We may have played a tune or two!

I think it was clear that Burt felt that he was a teacher both inside and outside the classroom. He embodied the ideal of “talking story” by engaging friends and strangers alike in conversations that were deep, wide-ranging, and lengthy. It lifted his spirits every time he was in conversation with someone, or teaching a subject he knew and loved. As a mainstay of the Olympia music scene — whether it was through the Irish sessions at Tugboat Annie’s (and the several places the session was before Tugboat Annie’s) or the folk sessions at Traditions, his heart resided in songs and tunes of several different genres. He was an ambassador of authenticity, focused on doing things the “right way.” As part of a decades-long partnership with his wife Di, his devotion to her was obvious and everlasting. His kindness to his friends was legendary. And his pursuit of knowledge was lifelong. May he rest in peace.

Michael Huntsberger, KAOS GM 1980-2000:

I can’t say I knew Burt Meyer well: It’s been more than 15 years since I last sat down with him, and we never spent enough time together for me to presume that we were familiar. Still, Burt was a powerful presence, and I am deeply saddened by his passing. As I knew him, he was a person full of energy and ideas, strong in his convictions, who gave much of himself to others and to the world. To me, he seemed to be a force of nature.

The first time I met Burt was at a house party in west Olympia in 1981. The gathering was populated by an interesting mix of Evergreeners and local characters, and the conversations about traditional music were animated.  My first impression was that Burt was a ringleader, inhabited by tremendous vitality and passion for life. I had been told in advance to expect this: Those around the Olympia music scene and the Apple Jam community had spoken about Burt often. My expectations were not disappointed.

I got to know Burt better the following year, when he agreed to participate in a bluegrass festival that was sponsored by KAOS.  In addition to performing in the all-day event, Burt pulled together an auction of musical instruments. This was back in the day when the second floor lobby of the Evergreen Library was surrounded by a third floor balcony, and Burt helped me fill that space with instrument makers and vendors who put their guitars, mandolins, and other items on display. Burt contributed a hurdy-gurdy, and spent about 15 minutes explaining to me how it worked and how it was used in performance. That’s when I saw Burt’s gifts as a teacher for the first time. His enthusiasm for the instrument was practically bursting out. I still have a clear memory of the two of us chatting over that instrument.

From time to time I tried to persuade Burt to put his knowledge and passion into a radio show for KAOS, but it always seemed he had too many other things on his plate. So I was surprised – and thrilled – when he agreed to take over as the producer of the station’s long-running Celtic music program, a duty he performed faithfully for several years. The show gave Burt the opportunity to talk extensively about the music he loved, and to perform with guests from time to time (though I often had to remind him to use the headphones). And though he was a busy person, he never failed to perform all of the responsibilities associated with the show, attending additional meetings and supporting the stations events and fundraisers.  Burt was a model community radio producer, and I have always been grateful for his sustained contributions of time and energy during those years.

The last time I saw Burt was in the fall of 2000. I was casting about for new opportunities, and decided to sit in on the Celtic music nights at the old Columbia Street Pub. I brought my guitar, and tried my hand in the circle of musicians who were all far more experienced that I in that setting.  Burt was a focal point of that group, calling the tunes and driving the tempos. After a couple of hesitant rounds, I settled in more or less comfortably in background, holding down a steady rhythm to accompany the singers and fiddlers. I don’t think I contributed much, but it was fun, and occasionally I caught an encouraging glance from Burt as he kept everyone focused on the tunes.  Those were fun nights, and I wish now that I’d had many more of them.

Burt Meyer was a great man, and it was a pleasure to know him during his brief time on Earth here with us. Fare Thee Well.