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story.lead_photo.caption Courtesy Photo The current configuration of National Park Radio, about to go on a summer tour, includes (from left) Grace Slayden, Stefan Szabo, Kerrie Szabo and Riley Slayden.

Watching Stefan Szabo during a concert last Sunday at the Fayetteville Public Library was like watching any other talented maestro guide his musicians. But Szabo didn't have a baton in hand. Instead, he had a guitar, his voice, a kick-pedal for a drum, and some of the most expressive eyebrows in the world.

Szabo had to lead the rest of National Park Radio more than he usually does. Out of the four musicians joining him for the Mountain Street Stage concert, only one -- his wife, Kerrie -- was a regular. And two of them -- brother and sister Riley and Grace Slayden -- had just arrived from Missoula, Mont., for an extended tour with the band.

FAQ

National Park Radio

WHEN — 6 p.m. Saturday

WHERE — Steel Creek campground near Jasper

COST — Free

INFO — nationalparkradio.com

Had Szabo not told anyone, no one would have known National Park Radio hadn't been playing its "modern folk" music in that configuration for months, if not years. But he did, joking that after 40 dates on the road this summer, the band would be "tight" and expressing his excitement about the group's biggest tour ever, which will take them to the Northwest first, then the East Coast and finally, the Southwest.

It is not a road Szabo ever expected to travel, he says in an interview. He was not born into a musical family, and his only musical experience as a teenager was a couple of years with a church youth group in his hometown of Harrison.

"But I always had the dream," he says. "I always wanted to play guitar and sing."

The youth group dissolved when he was about 16, he remembers, and "by the time I was 18, I was married, and we had started a family, so I just kept some guitars around and played once in a while."

He says when he was in his late 20s, he started to worry about getting older and resolved that he'd better start writing songs right away, before it was too late.

"I had a brother and a friend who would hang out and mess around with music," Szabo recalls. "It took awhile to get over the hurdle of getting confidence to share the songs I wrote. I thought they were cheesy. But after a year or two, I decided we were going to make a record and keep it super simple by recording it at home. So we did five songs, and people ended up loving it -- people across the whole country!"

Comparing National Park Radio to Mumford and Sons and The Lumineers, one critic wrote:

"There is an excess of new Americana bands and singer/songwriters trying to replicate the sounds of these popular acts with no originality that separates them from the pack," writes Jason Rooks in Glide Magazine. "But there are bands like National Park Radio that come along and impress with their songwriting and passion that can make one grateful for this acoustic/ folk revival."

National Park Radio has made two albums since that self-titled debut in 2013 -- "The Great Divide" and "Old Forests" -- and another is in the works. But the band might be best known in Northwest Arkansas for its relationship with the Buffalo River, where they've played several years of free summer concerts. Szabo admits it did in fact inspire the group's name.

"It was such a big part of our lives growing up," Szabo says, "and [it reflects] our deep love and passion for exploring, preserving and glorifying all of the amazing national parks and landscapes throughout the country. Our hope is that our music will inspire others to explore and appreciate all the incredible places they've always wanted to experience."

NAN What's Up on 06/14/2019

Print Headline: Headin' For The Hills

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