Scandinavia and More

September 7

I’m cruising down the Sognefjord on the way to Bergen, Norway. Via this modern ferry’s WIFI I’m listening to Fergus Stone on KGNU in Boulder Colorado.

He’s remembering our mutual friend Clover, one of KGNU’s most long-standing and stalwart volunteers, who died last night. I also know from Fergus’ recent emails that the mountains west of Boulder are aflame with wild fires. One of my favorite places, the Gold Hill Inn, is threatened by the fires, as are the homes of several friends. Outside the ferry window it’s the steep banks of the fjord below sunny skies. In my ears the music runs from Sibelius, to Afro American spirituals, to ragtime piano piece, to a big band piece, to my sister singing “Big Red Sun”. What a world we live in.

Clover was a quiet, unassuming, burley man in black who played steel guitar. Every Saturday morning from 6 to 9am, he would play along to KGNU’s hard core country show called “Honky Tonk Heroes.” He was Knucklehead #1. In Hot Rize’s and Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers’ heyday. During those years, Clover hosted annual daylong jams that he called Lap Steel Day, or LSD. Also during the period, the members of Hot Rize met and made friends with steel guitar legend Leon McAuliffe. Once, while one of the band recalled our time with Leon to Clover, he innocently asked, “Do you think Leon would come to Lap Steel Day?” Well, we asked Leon, and he indeed did come to Boulder one weekend when the Trailblazers were scheduled to play one of their own nights at a local road house called Peggy’s Hi-Lo. Leon arrived in time for our second set, and he sat in the rest of the night. The next morning he went and hung with all the Boulder County steel players, before leaving in the late afternoon. Thanks Clover for paying for Leon’s flight and for giving a lot of people the thrill of a lifetime. We’ll never forget you.

October 11, 2010

Five weeks later, I’m sitting in front of the fireplace on a cool fall morning in Nashville. It was 80 degrees yesterday, but this morning it was cold enough to pull my head under the covers. Leaves are changing and the air is dry and crisp. I’m back home after driving around playing concerts in the northeast the past three weeks.

The prettiest colors on the trip were in the Poconos. Kit and I stayed at the beautiful Lackawanna Hotel in Scranton and then drove East over the mountains toward Marblehead MA where I played solo on Friday the 24th of September. In Marblehead we ate a clam roll and a lobster roll on the beach at Lime Ricky’s. Later we had a fried seafood platter at the Barnacle. We looped up to Brownfield Maine and then to Middlebury VT before parking the Prius at the airport in Manchester NH.

We flew home for a few days of IBMA madness, where I was honored to present a lifetime achievement award to Pete Wernick and a Hall of Honor induction to John Hartford. Both those guys had a huge influence on me, and because public speaking without holding a musical instrument is a challenge for me, I worked a hard on my speeches. It was great to meet Tex Logan, the great fiddler and scientist, who received a lifetime achievement award along with Pete at the Thursday luncheon. I wore my dad’s old White Tie formal wear that night at the awards show and used my friend Jimmy Golman’s S.S. Stewart cello five string banjo as a prop when presenting Hartford’s award. I think John Hartford would have liked that giant banjo.

After a late night, and an early morning flight, Bryan Sutton and I started a duet tour in Randolph VT. We played in Hamden CT and Albany NY, followed by New York City, Philadelphia, and Annapolis, where we shared the bill with my sister Mollie and her husband Rich Moore. Please check out Mollie’s wonderful new CD “Saints and Sinners” – www.mollieobrien.com. There you can purchase the CD as well as a special “Saints and Sinners” shot glass, with different fill levels - saint or sinner - marked on the side.

The City Winery in NYC bottled a few cases of Tim O’Brien and Bryan Sutton wine. It’s a pinot noir and I brought my complimentary bottle home for later. After the City Winery show my Boulder friend Rocky and I took over digital the juke box at the Emerald Pub nearby, playing Dylan, Bob Wills, Altan, the Dead, and more.

Next were shows in Bristol TN and Charleston WV. We had nice crowds, even some big ones, at every stop. We have two more duet shows coming up Thursday and Friday in Berea KY and Asheville NC, which is Bryan’s hometown so we should be seeing a lot of Suttons in the audience. This particular duet format was the idea of Chris Werth in Hamdon CT, who asked about a show with the two of us about a year ago. We mostly played into microphones using various combinations of fiddle, mandolin, banjo, and guitars, on both new and old songs. Bryan sang Brendan Croker’s “That’s Where I Belong” and Guy Clark’s “Anyhow I Love You” as well as some fine harmony to my lead. It was cool!

Scandinavia recap August 26 – September 19.

Hot Rize played at Tønder this year and the crowd was ready for our style of bluegrass. As festival “uncle” I play there every year and try to bring something different each time. They put me up in the same motel room each year – number 3 – alongside my fellow uncles Brian McNeil in number 1 and Ron Kavana in number 2. Also staying there was Arlo Guthrie and I sang him his dad’s song “The Sun Came Up” on the patio outside the breakfast room. Late on Sunday night, Chieftains Paddy Maloney and Matt Malloy joined Kerryman Seamus Begley in the backstage bar for good long whiskey and song session.

After Tonder, Kit and I went to Norway for a week. I played gigs in Oslo, Halden, and Bergen with a fine Norwegian musician named Freddy Holm, then Kit and I went sightseeing in the fiord for a few days. Kit flew home on September 8th, and I flew to Gothenburg Sweden, where I played 8 shows with Arty McGlynn. We played in little towns along the western seacoast under the auspices of an organization called Musik I Vast (Music in the West).

At a festival in Stromstad we shared a house with a young Swedish traditional band named Lyy. It was wonderful to eavesdrop on their rehearsals and to play some music together after their concert. I got a close look at David Eriksson’s’s nyckelharpa (keyed fiddle) and attempted to play a few notes on it. Arty and I recorded a few songs on our day off with the fine singer Sofia Karlsen. The seafood around Gothenburg is great, and I made some chowder at the recording studio. While I chopped and cooked, I Skyped Kit in Nashville, and she said it was like watching a cooking show. Thanks to Goran Berg, who organized the tour.

Latest Chicken item:

An item on the World Café Live bar menu – Chicken Fingers and Egg Rolls – could be adapted into a band name. I’ll be Chicken Fingers. And Mollie gave me a very special rubber chicken handbag.

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by R & T