It’s Thursday night and Boudin Dan Ferguson is at home in the barn.
Since 1987, he’s hosted the Boudin Barn Dance show on WRIU-FM – a roots and Americana music show that airs from 6 to 9 p.m.
But if you’re conjuring the images of a Texarkana midnight ramble in the barn, well ...
Ferguson, slight and softspoken, sports a Yayhoos T-shirt and keeps a stack of CDs lined up around him. The studio walls are splattered with a Brooklyn subway car splash of graffiti.
But while the barn dance is distilled imagery, Ferguson’s passion for music and musicians is 100 proof. As a University of Rhode Island undergraduate in the late 1970s, record albums gobbled up much of the space in Ferguson’s room in the former Theta Chi fraternity house.
Trips to the old Richie’s record shop in Wakefield were rituals. “I had a punk rock phase, a New Wave phase and so on,” he says. “I don’t know why, but I never got involved in the radio station.”
He’s made up for it since then.
Ferguson works with a broad palette. For three hours he offers a musical gumbo — folk, blues, Tex-Mex, Cajun, bluegrass, rhythm and blues. The country is the earthy kind as opposed to the current Nashville sound.
So if you are shocked to hear Ernest Tubb and Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings on the same set list, it makes perfect sense to Ferguson. “I have a pretty good idea of where I’m headed when I get here. My tastes are a wide range.”
By day, Ferguson is a veteran software engineer in Middletown. But the passion for music has almost morphed into a second job. He started at the station after becoming friends with WRIU roots music patriarch Chuck Wentworth. As the years moved along, Ferguson added freelance music writer and local concert promoter to his resume as Boudin Dan — boudin being a spicy sausage of the south.
His Peace Dale home is the site of regular house concerts, fitting 60-plus people, and a summer tradition, the all-day Swamp Stomp. “I still like to go out and hear music,” he says. “But it’s so much fun to bring the music to us.”
His co-consprator is his wife, Liz, a language arts teacher at Broad Rock Middle School, whose passion for music rivals his. The two met as teenagers growing up on Long Island, and she followed him to URI at the start of his junior year. When he graduated, he landed a job in Middletown. They married, raised three kids and made South County their home. They flirted with a move to roots music mecca Austin, Texas, but scrapped the idea, feeling the city has lost some of its charm in recent years. “I don’t know if I can put my finger on it, but it’s changed,” Ferguson says. “So we decided to stay here.”
Musicians such as Mark Cutler are glad they did. A Rhode Island music scene mainstay for 30 years, Cutler has performed at the station and at the house concerts. “Sometimes when I write a song, I think to myself, ‘Would Dan play this?’” Cutler says. “Seriously.”
Cutler sees the Fergusons as arbiters of quality music, as well as nice people. “When one of my songs is played on his show, I feel pretty proud.”
Ferguson, who is not paid for the radio gig, prefers albums and CDs to downloads, but much of the music he receives arrives in that format. “I’m kind of old school,” he says. “I like to feel the music in my hands. But the younger deejays just hook up their iPads and start their shows.”
Speaking of technology, the advent of WRIU.org has brought him something of a national following. He’s received calls and emails from 3,000 miles away. In the early days, the signal stretched a little into Connecticut and Massachusetts, on a good night. “There was a guy who called from the Cape,” Ferguson says. “He used to climb onto his roof and adjust his antenna. He didn’t call for a few weeks. He fell off the roof.”
Not every listener takes such risks. But many are that loyal.
Karen Cunningham of Newport has been listening since the show’s earliest days. She says Ferguson reignited her love of music. She is still a fan but now a friend. “His house concerts have enriched my life,” she says. “I’ve seen people in Dan and Liz’s living room I used to have to travel to Boston to see.”
Cunningham recently watched “Nashville 2.0” on PBS and was happy to see performers she’s seen from 15 feet away in the Fergusons’ home: “I found myself saying, ‘I saw her at Dan’s’ or ‘I saw him at Dan’s’ over and over again.”
Ferguson likes to meet listeners, and the Fergusons have become friends with fans and performers through the house concerts. On a recent Thursday, the phones were quiet except for ticket giveaways. “I take it as a sign people are sitting back and enjoying the music,” he says.