Some of my first memories, not just of music, but of life in general, are of Gene Shay on stage at The Philadelphia Folk Festival, telling jokes and putting everyone at ease. The images of him up there, introducing bands and looking sharper than I could ever imagine are etched so deeply in my mind. It’s as if he’d always been there and will always be forever.

I remember boxes of cassette tapes that my dad had recorded of Gene’s radio show. They’d come out on any long car ride, or really whenever the commercial radio just wasn’t cutting it. When we needed a sense of familiarity and comfort, hearing Gene’s voice between those timeless cuts was immediately disarming.

I’ve come to learn that we weren’t the only family with boxes of bootlegged Folk Show cassette tapes. His taste and curation was unrivaled anywhere. I’ve since heard stories of people ritualistic listening of Gene through the decades. Like clockwork they would tune in every week with their college friends over a poker game, or with their families for a late meal. He was the go-to for so many in our region for anything folk music related. We were lucky to have his expertise and passion in our lives.

In my late 20’s I decided I wanted to learn everything I could about Folk music. After breaking the ice over our mutual admiration of certain folk musician heroes, Gene said, “Why don’t you come by the station on Sunday night?” And so I did. And I came back the next week too. He was more than happy to impart as much knowledge from his 50 years of experience as he could. He never made me feel too young, or uninformed about certain musical events or people, knowing full well that most of the subjects took place before my time. Instead he spoke to me about them with infectious joy and welcomed me into his world.

My Sundays for the next two years consisted of sitting in the studio with Gene talking about music, sharing wild stories, and witnessing his natural ability to make everyone comfortable and happy amidst bouts of near-uncontrollable laughter. As the time of his retirement approached, we worked together closely to carry out his last shows in the manner fitting of a living legend; collecting artifacts and recordings from a five-decade-long career in folk music. But only after stepping into his former role as the host of The Folk Show was I able to see how truly unique and beautiful his contributions to music as we know it were.

There are many landmarks to Gene Shay’s career; from helping to produce Bob Dylan’s first Philadelphia concert at The Ethical Society on Rittenhouse Square in May of 1963, to hosting Joni Mitchell’s first ever performance of “Both Sides Now,” to early interviews with Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Doc Watson, Richie Havens, John Prine, and Tom Waits, long before any of them had reached the legendary status that we regard them at today. But what separates Gene from the rest is how he relates these stories to others. There is no ego involved at all. He doesn’t lament on days past and he certainly doesn’t brag. He doesn’t demand credit for the hundreds of musicians he’s helped out along their way to success (although credit is certainly due!). For Gene, it was clearly always about the love of the music. That was the driving force behind it all. That is how I will remember him, and that is his biggest lesson that I will keep with me forever.