John Hill is the sort of guy who, when a car accident left him with fractured vertebrae and a painfully damaged ankle last November, found both his ex-wife and ex-girlfriend waiting in the hospital when he was brought in. He’s the sort of guy for whom local musicians like Terri Allard and Corey Harris are putting on a benefit show March 15 to help pay his more than $20,000 in hospital bills. And he’s the sort of guy to whom, during the course of lunch in the fitting venue of the Bluegrass Grill, at least four different people stop by to say hi.
The Bluegrass is fitting because a) Hill became pals with the owners when he sold the restaurant an ad for his acoustic show on MIX 107.5, b) bluegrass is such an acoustic genre, and c) Hill is an acoustic kind of guy, the originator of WNRN’s Acoustic Sunrise show.
Hill teamed up with Mike Friend to launch WNRN in 1996 and put in killer weeks both on the air and off. “I’d be hammering in the studio, and we’d have to stop when we were on the air,” he recalls.
Acoustic Sunrise evolved in its 6 to 10am slot into something different from anything else on the air anywhere. “Most folk shows are genre specific— Irish, bluegrass,” he says. “The success of our show came from mixing music. People were not sure what was coming next, and that left them surprised and pleased.”
Hill’s tenure at WNRN— “three years that felt like 10”— ended when he didn’t see a way to stay and just do the show and “disengage from my other responsibilities,” he says.
Now he’s hosting an acoustic show on Mix 107.5 but looking for ads rather than for underwriting. Hill writes the ads, lending his reputation and voice to businesses such as the Bluegrass Grill.
Clear Channel, which owns six radio stations in Charlottesville, may have a Rupert Murdoch reputation in its attempts to dominate the airwaves. But not surprisingly, Hill has only good things to say about the company: “Clear Channel has been great to me,” he says. “There’s not another station in the U.S. like Mix doing a show like mine. That speaks a lot about Charlottesville.”
So exactly why are so many area musicians trying to help Hill pay his medical bills? “I guess they’re doing it because they think I’m worth it,” he offers. “People feel like I’ve helped the music community in Charlottesville for years.”
Despite his reputation for being chronically nice, Hill admits he gets irritated like anybody else. The difference is that he refuses to let petty annoyances prevent him from walking the walk in a world that needs more kindness.
Except in one case. When a deer ran in front of him on I-81, he lost control and totaled his car. He spent eight days in the hospital, was laid up in bed for three months, endured pain, frequent physical therapy, and mounting debt.
No more Mr. Nice Guy. The next time a deer crosses his path, John Hill won’t swerve.
For more information on the March 15 John Hill Benefit Concert, check out acousticmuse.shows.org/JHBhome.htm.