Art by William Matthews

Yes, alas, it came to pass — on Christmas Day, no less. Legendary DJ Pastor Mustard (aka Dan Sadowsky) announced during his weekly “Bluegrass with Mustard” show on KDNK that, after the better part of two decades on the air with it, this would be his last one.

In a recent conversation with The Sopris Sun, Sadowsky explained, “It was creeping up on me, and it was time to stop,” continuing, “I set standards with myself, and [the show] was taking half my life.” He explained that it took ten hours to prepare one hour of on-air programming. That meant some three days or more every week for each two-hour show on Saturday mornings. “I have a new grandson and want to spend more time with him.”

Sadowsky traced his love of bluegrass to a Bill Monroe LP he bought as a teen in Rochester, New York, in the 1960s. However, he also got enamored of old-timey swing music through his mother. Along the way he met banjo pickers Tony Trischka and Pete Wernick in Syracuse, furthering his love of bluegrass.

He toured with a traveling marionette troupe for a time and, while in Denver in 1970, he heard of a man in Boulder developing a marionette show based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit.” He landed in Boulder in 1972 and briefly worked on the show. But his passion for swing was stronger, and he soon formed the Ophelia Swing Band, which included future bluegrass great Tim O’Brien.

He recalled that Fred Shellman (whom Sadowsky calls “the inventor of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival”) heard about the group, and in 1975 the band was invited to play at the nascent festival. That proved to be a pivotal moment.

Sadowsky moved to Telluride in 1977, and on a Sunday morning that year took to the airwaves for the first time at the tiny KOTO radio station there. “A mighty ten watts, couldn’t hear it outside of town,” he remembered. On his way to that first show, he dreamed up the Pastor Mustard persona as a satiric counter to KOTO’s “fire and brimstone” host Brother Al, who was on Sunday afternoons and “told everyone they were going to hell.”

The next year he became the emcee for the festival, a job he held for three decades. He also soon moved to Aspen, hoping to further his musical career. He played banjo in some bluegrass-oriented bands and, in the early 1980s, joined the punk-spoofing Dr. Sadistic and the Silverking Crybabies. “It was dark humor, local humor, brutal humor,” he said of the band in a 2003 interview. The group disbanded several years later after a poorly received gig at a ski-racing event.

Sadowsky had also taken on day jobs, teaching at the Aspen Community School for a decade in the 1980s and later publishing a visitors’ guide for his adopted town. He settled down to raise a family and largely dropped out of the music scene for more than a decade, observing, “Family and late-night gigs don’t mix.”

By the early 2000s he was ready to play the odd date again. He opened for the duo Mollie O’Brien (Tim’s sister) and her husband at Steve’s Guitars in 2003 and played the occasional Dr. Sadistic band reunion — now to more receptive audiences. He also got the idea of putting together a radio show that would focus on bluegrass but would reflect as well his eclectic tastes in music and “bump into its neighbors,” like country, rock, blues and swing.

“Bluegrass with Mustard” debuted on Aspen Public Radio (KJAX/KCJX) in June 2004. “We had a great 14-year run there,” he recalled to The Sopris Sun, but near the end of it he could see changes looming. The new board of directors “didn’t want local DJs,” and it brought in an executive director with a reputation for changing station formats (the switchover happened in January 2020).

Sadowsky stayed a little while longer “to keep a thumb in their eye,” but by early 2019 he was ready to move on. Fortunately, Carbondale’s KDNK was happy to welcome him with open arms. His first program aired in late March. “Public radio is supposed to reflect the community,” he observed, “and I have to credit KDNK for staying old school.”

Almost three more great years later, however, it was time to go. “It was a sad thing, but I had to,” he explained. “But I’m not done yet!” Indeed, he has already spoken to “one of my favorite DJs, April” (aka Ape on the Dink), about subbing on her Friday morning show.

He also wants to revive his popular house concerts, which he started three or four years ago, featuring friends of his like blues musician Roy Book Binder — but not until “this damn COVID” is over. “Folks are dying to play out here, and I can’t wait to do it again.” We can’t wait, either!