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Blog | Northeast Tour, Family Band in Colorado, and the Continuum

It’s family band fun time in Colorado. The O’Brien Party of 7 assembled in Denver on Tuesday, rehearsed all day Wednesday, then played a show at fab record store Twist and Shout.

Then yesterday we drove 6 hours to Ouray and played a free show in the town park. Both shows were a blast. Today we play for a much bigger crowd in Telluride town park. It streams live on mighty KOTO.org.

I greatly enjoyed traveling with Todd Burge last week in New York and Massachusetts. It was a folk pilgrimage of sorts, starting at the venerable Passim in Cambridge. That club was originally called Club 47 and featured some of the earliest performances of folks like Baez and Dylan. Two nights later we played Café Lena in Saratoga Springs, where Dylan and his girl Suze Rotolo hung out. Then we hit the Clearwater Festival in Croton on Hudson. An extension of Pete Seeger’s work with the Clearwater sloop to publicize and help save a formerly dirty river, the festival is an amazing gathering in a beautiful spot - sail boats just off the stage, sunshine overhead, and music in the air coming from several stages. Todd got his copy of “The Incomplete Folk Singer” signed by Pete Seeger, but the watershed moment for Todd and me was when the 97-year-old Pete stepped on stage with Arlo and 14 other members of the Guthrie family to end Saturday’s concert.

(This pilgrimage really started for me in February when I visited Mike Seeger’s widow Alexia, bought one of his banjos and his mandola, and then two days later when I spent an afternoon with Doc Watson at his home in Deep Gap NC.)

Bill Monroe (I’m name dropping, I know) would at times dismiss some music, saying, “It ain’t no part of nothing.” While grammar teachers would note that with the double negative, such music must then be part of something, I think I’m starting to understand Monroe’s point. It is indeed good to be part of something, and my pilgrimage underlines that I am lucky to walk in and help continue the long path of traditional music. Doc and Bill and Earl and Woody and Levon may be gone but they are certainly not forgotten.

Blog | Doc Watson

The Beatles and the Folk Revival both had my attention in the early mid '60's and my friends were playing Sears catalogue guitars, and I learned a lick or two before getting my own little red Stella acoustic for $30. That was when I was 12, so around 1966, I was going through my new songbooks – Joan Baez, the Beatles, and one of the songs of another prominent voice: Roger Miller. I heard some Flatt and Scruggs on TV and then by ‘68 I’d gotten a glimpse and a simultaneous earful of this guy Doc Watson.

His sound and his brilliance were intoxicating. With my new musical direction, Doc soon replaced baseball star Roberto Clemente as my hero. I sought him out at the local department store record section, and found the Strictly Instrumental LP with Flatt and Scruggs, and learned a little of John Hardy and Spanish Two Step. My parents knew of my obsession and woke me early one morning because he was about to appear on network TV’s Today show. A year or so later I got to see him live at the Ohio University Folk Festival in Athens Ohio. I remember the night well. My friend Pete Bachman and I were so excited. We were at the very back of the sports arena where he was playing, and we waited through a rock band called McKendree Spring. They had an electric violin player, and that was cool, but we were waiting for the real thing. When Doc finally started we were too excited to stay in our seats and we made out way down closer to the stage. It was Doc and his son Merle and they were still not using guitar pickups and it sounded so right and we just ate it up.

I guess the think with Doc was he grabbed you first with that guitar playing. It was obvious to me that this was the way to play the thing. I was too naïve to realize how hard it would be, impossible now that I think about it, to do it like Doc, to sound that way. So you’re under that spell, and if you’re like me, you’re into all kinds of music and especially hot guitar stuff, and here he is just nailing it. It’s bluegrass based, but then he also does the fingerpicking thing, teaching folks like me about Merle Travis’ music. And he sings the folky hits like Tom Paxton’s “Last Thing On My Mind”, but also sneaks in old ballads like “Little Sadie” and “Omie Wise.” He gives you clues in his MC work so you remember names like Travis and Gid Tanner and Mississippi John Hurt. So under Doc’s shining aura you get this overview of the greater American music repertoire and beyond a bit. Celtic music, for instance, is right behind his bluegrass renditions of fiddle tunes. So back then in 1966 Doc set me up to go on this musical feeding frenzy and growth spurt. Other stuff came to my attention and I’d focus on that – Bob Wills and Django for instance – but I kept going back to Doc and his music.

That has never changed. I’m still going back to Doc and a select few others who have been my musical tour guides.

In 1974 I went out on my own as a musician after trying college for a year. I went to Jackson Hole, Wyoming and got a gig in a pizza joint accommodations in a back room as a perk. I played Doc Watson and Norman Blake and Hank Williams and Bob Wills. When people found out I was from West Virginia, they said, oh yeah, you know about country and bluegrass music and they took me more seriously. I just played it because I liked it along with everything else, but it became a calling card – being from West Virginia and playing country stuff. From Wyoming I hitched to California, arriving in Berkeley the day Patty Hearst was kidnapped. Scuffling around Berkeley, I found a used Doc Watson Family LP for sale and bought it, amazed that you could buy a Doc record used. From there I hitched to Boulder Colorado and made a visit to the Denver Folklore Center. They had all the Doc recordings for sale there, and I thought, “Berkeley is cool, but Colorado is cooler.” I ended up moving to Boulder that fall, and the Folklore Center was the place where people met and formed up into musical units. Hot Rize played gigs together before we had a name, as we all worked there in one way or another, teaching lessons, selling or repairing guitars. I just saw a poster from our very first formal concert, February 4th, 1978. It was Doc Watson at Colorado Women’s College. At the bottom of the poster is copy that reeds “and introducing Hot Rize.”

Over the years, I’d hunt for old songs as well as write some new ones. When I thought I’d found a good old folk song that nobody else was doing, I’d learn it and maybe sing it on stage and even record it, after which I’d find out that both Doc Watson and Jerry Garcia had already done so.

Doc welcomed me at Merlefest each year, and one year I asked him to sit in on my set. I was selfish and had the rest of the band sit out, and we played two guitars and I tried unsuccessfully to be Merle for a few minutes. He even sat in with Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers once, wearing sunglasses and cutting up like I never seen him do.

Last February, I was near his home doing a concert, and got the nerve to call him. After some confusion about who I was and all, I was invited to his home. An hour later, as I arrived in a snow storm and turned the car off, I could hear his guitar and voice. The song was “While Roving On A Winter’s Night.” I looked through the door and saw him sitting there with his wife’s small bodied Gallagher guitar. It was flawless and beautiful and I waited until he finished to knock on the door.

Doc’s gone now and it’s a sad thing, but he’s inside so many of us and his influence is so great that he’s not very far away. We’re lucky for that. Thanks Doc.

Blog | Party of 7, Ireland, Bela, and IBMA

Since I checked in last, I played some shows and recorded with the family band called O’Brien Party of Seven. The group includes my sister Mollie O’Brien, her husband Rich Moore on guitar, daughters Brigit and Lucy Moore on vocals and piano, and my sons Jack and Joel O’Brien on vocals, bass, and percussion.

Our recording should come out early next year. It’s tentatively titled “Reincarnation” and features all the members singing the wonderful, quirky songs of Roger Miller. I hope we can do a CD launch tour in the spring.

A recent trip to Ireland brought me back to my ancestral County Cavan for the All Ireland Fleadh. I had a killer band including husband and wife team John McCusker and Heidi Talbot from Scotland, Arty McGlynn from Ireland, and Mike McGoldrick and John Joe Kelly from UK. We did several gigs around the country as well, all very well attended, and then Arty and I left for Tønder fest in Denmark for some shows with Dirk Powell.

I spent some time with Steve Martin in his not so humble cabin home on a hill in North Carolina a few weeks ago. We ate some food and picked for his wife and in-laws. Then we met again the next day at the Mountain Song Festival in Brevard North Carolina, where I performed with Bryan Sutton, and sat in on Steve’s show. It’s a great event in benefit for the Boys and Girls Club there. I stayed an extra day and sat in with 18 South and as well as the Steep Canyon Rangers.

Next was a long drive to the north shore of Lake Superior at Grand Marais Minnesota, where I met old friends Jon Veznor, Kathy Mattea, the Mountain Stage crew, and many more at the 10th annual Unplugged Festival at North House Folk School. A bunch of us took a short hike up Cascade creek the day before things kicked for me with a mandolin and fiddle workshop, a couple Mountain Stage Tapings, and a songwriters concert featuring my old friend and blues guitar specialista Mary Flower, Irish singer Cathie Ryan, John Gorka, Cheryl Wheeler, Michael Johnson, and more! It’s a beautiful spot, and the North House Folk School is worth a visit. You can learn to build a boat, throw a pot, or play a fiddle there. Mary and I played a show at the Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis on our way home. I enjoyed seeing several musician friends at that show as well – Bob Douglas, Peter Ostroushko, Tim Hennessy, Cal Hand, and the powerful Judy Larson.

Now I’m home preparing for the IBMA awards, and a Hot Rize tour through the southeast. We’re rolling on a bus from Georgia to Virginia, so check the tour page and make plans to see us on our 10 day run. I’ve got a playlist of new songs to try with the fellers as we roll down the highway in a tour bus.

Last night at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, I saw and heard the debut of Bela Fleck’s new concerto for banjo and symphony orchestra. Banjo and fiddle go great together, and so do banjo and violins, cellos, and the rest. It was spectacle and a wonderful night of music. I sent him an email today saying, when you get done with your performance tonight, why not put your feet up and try not to be so brilliant for a few days!

Lastly, I want to urge music fans of all types to come to Charleston West Virginia for the induction of a seven new members of the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame on Saturday October 15th. Once again it’s a diverse and interesting class of inductees - long time Jimi Hendrix collaborator Billy Cox, the aforementioned Kathy Mattea, jazz great Butch Miles, and country diva Connie Smith will be there, and we’ll be inducting deceased greats Tommy Thompson of the Red Clay Ramblers, Walter “Jack” Rollins who wrote both “Here Comes Peter Cottontail” and “Frosty the Snowman”, and blues belter “Diamond Teeth” Mary McClain. This awards show features some one-of-a-kind performances and feel good presentations each year. I know Marty Stuart and I will back up Connie, which I’m excited about. I’ll be in the house band once again. For info go to www.wvmusichalloffame.com.

Blog | Interesting Glance Off The Big Time

Last night:

I get back from the grocery store, feed the cats, and put the perishables away, and take the first sip of a beer. I heat a frying pan and take a burger I’d thawed the day before from the fridge and put salt and pepper on both sides.

The phone rings and it’s my friend Ferg, who might call at any time of day just to say hi, or at other times, to suggest an outing. The later is the case.

“What are you doing?”

“Getting ready to fry a burger. You?”

“Do you want to go to U2?”

“What?”

“Me and Matt Sweeney and Cowboy and Cousin Bob are going to U2. Do you want to come?”

“Yeah.”

“Meet us at PM by 6.”

“Cool. Tell you what, order me a burger. I’ll be right over.”

“They’ll have food backstage.”

“OK, scratch that. I’ll be there in 20 minutes.”

I love this town. You never know what kind of random possibility will present itself. I had no idea the biggest four-piece rock band in the world was in town. But hand it to Ferg to come up with five backstage passes to their sold out show at Vanderbilt Stadium.

You have to know the characters in this little drama. Ferg is Dave Ferguson, a Nashville recording engineer, whose big client in recent years was the team of Rick Ruben and Johnny Cash. He’s a partner with John Prine in the Butcher Shoppe studio. Ferg learned how to push buttons and turn knobs from Cowboy Jack Clement, a veritable recording legend. Jack just turned 80 and is in the process of yet another transformation. At Sam Phillips’ Sun Studios in February of 1957, Jack was the guy that pushed the red button to capture Jerry Lee Lewis’s seminal “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin On”, unleashing a rock and roll monster and cementing a friendship with “the Killer” that lasts to this day. Jack wrote songs, performed, and produced recordings for Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, Charley Pride, John Hartford, and many more. He’s made and lost several fortunes, built three recording studios, and generally had his finger on the pulse of Nashville’s music scene since the mid 1960’s. His latest facility, Cowboy Arms and Recording Spa, on Belmont Boulevard near Woodmont, caught fire just seven days ago. The floor to the attic studio crashed into the ground floor, and a piece of iron is all that’s left of his Steinway grand piano. He was able to save his guitars, and the firemen thankfully covered a shelf stacked with hard drives with plastic, so hopefully his precious recordings have survived. It’s a tragedy, but Jack had good insurance and he plans to rebuild.

Ferg and Cowboy worked with Bono, Edge and company on “Rattle and Hum” at Sun Studios in 1987. Ferg released an email into U2’s organization last week after the fire, and sure enough he got a call yesterday, show day, and perhaps coincidently, his 49th birthday.

The rest of the cast for last night’s salvo includes Matt Sweeny, guitarist of choice for Rick Ruben’s productions. That’s him all over Adele’s smash release “21.” Yesterday also happened to be Matt’s 42nd birthday. He and Ferg are currently working with a Swedish pop singer named Anna Ternheim. I recorded some fiddle for them a month ago. The remaining character is Jack’s second cousin Bob, custom furniture builder and part time musician.

I meet Ferg and Matt at a bar on Belmont called PM, and then we drive to a hotel on West End where Jack’s staying. From there Cousin Bob drives the party to the show in Cowboy’s Cadillac. Crowds swarm as we near the stadium; we get stopped where a street is closed off. Bob pulls into PF Chang’s valet parking stop, hovering there a few minutes while Ferg and Matt go on foot to find out where to get the passes. As is often the case at large events, ATT networks are jammed, so without cell phone communications, it’s a miracle we are able to intuitively park close to the stadium, and then independently find Ferg and Matt just outside one of the stadium entrances. The whole time, Jack’s asking, “When does the show start?” and “Why are we going so early?” But he’s a youthful 80 years old, and well up to the walk around the stadium, into the gate, over the bleachers and through crowds to the backstage, and someplace called “the round room” where we’ll supposedly meet with the fellas in the band. Ferg’s charging ahead, but Jack keeps running into fans, and stops to talk. I stay in between Ferg and the lagging Jack and Bob, and we inch worm along. After a couple spirals around the outside, the circles tighten and we’re now walking hallways underneath the stadium, eventually entering a room with about 300 hangers on holding either Kirkland water bottles or Budweiser longnecks. Matt gets waylaid at this time and ends up at catering, but we settle for some crackers and nuts in the round room. After 20 minutes a nice blonde U2 operative in painted on pants greets us, and informs us that in another 20 minutes she’ll take us back to meet the guys. Jack finds a chair and watches the folks mill around. Next we’re escorted to yet another curtained enclosure, where we wait yet another 20 minutes eat more nuts, drink more water. Dierks Bentley and his lovely wife join us for a few minutes, then leave. Then all of a sudden here comes Bono and the Edge, dressed and ready for the stage. They’re both effusive and friendly and surprisingly calm given that they’re going to play for 50,000 people in a few minutes. They express their sympathy for Jack’s loss. When introduced to me and Sweeny, Bono says, “Oh, you’re Italian” which is the exactly the same thing Charley Pride said to me when Ferg introduced me to him a year or so ago. Soon the front half of U2 exits and we continue on the spiral path, along with Bill and Karyn Frist and others to platform A, just in front of the mixing console.

Waves spontaneously generate in the thousands around and above us, and the excitement is tangible. A drum tech steps on stage and the crowd goes wild. Then the band appears on the wrap around video screen above the stage, as they too spiral towards their performance. They take the stage and start to rockin, thank you very much. It’s loud and amazingly full for a four piece, and of course we know they travel with 100 semi trucks full of gear, so it should sound good. After four songs, Cowboy’s had enough. U2’s amazing, but it’s time to go, and we walk quickly to the corner where Bob picks us up in Cowboy’s Sedan de Ville.

After dropping Jack as his hotel, Cousin Bob heads back to the concert, and Ferg, Matt, and I drive to Broadway Brew house for a drink. But Sweeney forgot his ID, so we’re turned away. We try Madison House, a fancy speakeasy place on Division I’ve heard about, but after waiting 15 minutes to get in, we give up and go our separate ways. It’s not quite 10pm, and Ferg’s gotta get his house ready for a birthday pickin party tomorrow, and also has to pick up Anna at the airport in the morning. He drops me at PM, as my car’s parked near there. I sit at the bar with some of the staff there, order food, watch baseball highlights, and relate what just happened.

Just another Saturday night in Nashville, my hometown.

Blog | Chicken Sightings 2010

“Chicken & Egg” is the title on my new CD. A few weeks ago a friend discovered a visual artist named Tim O’Brien who has a painting named “Chicken and the Egg.” Very cool.

My summer issue of “Goldenseal” arrived last Tuesday. It’s a magazine dedicated to West Virginia folk life, and the cover picture is a rooster with “Chickens!” in large type above it.

Arriving backstage at Telluride, I noticed the dressing rooms were decorated with pictures of, you guessed it, chickens!

And while driving through Montrose on the way back from Telluride yesterday, we passed a Mexican takeout place called “Pollo Azado” (roast chicken in Spanish). Of course standing outside, beckoning to customers, was a guy dressed in a chicken suit. Of course it was June 21st, the longest day of the year, so there was more room than any other day for chicken sightings.

So maybe the chicken does come before the egg. Then again, I start most days out with a fried egg and almost never eat chicken in flesh form before or during breakfast. But are you seeing more chickens out there folks? There’s a recent trend where city folks are starting to keep chickens again. There are chickens in the new CD’s photography, mostly because they were there at my neighbor’s place, and willing models. Let me know what you’re seeing out there.

Telluride wrap up: Imelda Mae was killer. The Dublin girl sang her rockabilly heart out, and her band was smoking. I particularly liked her drummer who reminded me of old style TV show house band guys who can play anything. Other highlights included the David Rawlings Machine, Vasen, Carolina Chocolate Drops, and the Punch Brothers. Mumford and Sons and Brandi Carlisle were new to me and very good. So was Lyle Lovett of course. I got my first look at the amazing tabla drumming of Zakir Hussain. Wow! He often played a percussive and melodic twin to Bela Fleck’s banjo on Saturday night. On the house band set, I particularly enjoyed a new composition from Edgar Meyer. After four days in Telluride, I always have a dry throat and a tired body.

I have some time off now until July 2nd when I’m playing the Grand Ole Opry. You can listen online at www.wsmonline.com.

Blog | Telluride Report: Chickens

“Chicken & Egg” is the title on my new CD. A few weeks ago a friend discovered a visual artist named Tim O’Brien who has a painting named “Chicken and the Egg.” Very cool. View the painting at www.drawger.com/tonka/?article_id=10230.

My summer issue of “Goldenseal” arrived last Tuesday. It’s a magazine dedicated to West Virginia folk life, and the cover picture is a rooster with “Chickens!” in large type above it.

Arriving backstage at Telluride, I noticed the dressing rooms were decorated with pictures of, you guessed it, chickens!

And while driving through Montrose on the way back from Telluride yesterday, we passed a Mexican takeout place called “Pollo Azado” (roast chicken in Spanish). Of course standing outside, beckoning to customers, was a guy dressed in a chicken suit. Of course it was June 21st, the longest day of the year, so there was more room than any other day for chicken sightings.

So maybe the chicken does come before the egg. Then again, I start most days out with a fried egg and almost never eat chicken in flesh form before or during breakfast. But are you seeing more chickens out there folks? There’s a recent trend where city folks are starting to keep chickens again. There are chickens in the new CD’s photography, mostly because they were there at my neighbor’s place, and willing models. Let me know what you’re seeing out there.

Telluride wrap up: Imelda Mae was killer. The Dublin girl sang her rockabilly heart out, and her band was smoking. I particularly liked her drummer who reminded me of old style TV show house band guys who can play anything. Other highlights included the David Rawlings Machine, Vasen, Carolina Chocolate Drops, and the Punch Brothers. Mumford and Sons and Brandi Carlisle were new to me and very good. So was Lyle Lovett of course. I got my first look at the amazing tabla drumming of Zakir Hussain. Wow! He often played a percussive and melodic twin to Bela Fleck’s banjo on Saturday night. On the house band set, I particularly enjoyed a new composition from Edgar Meyer. After four days in Telluride, I always have a dry throat and a tired body.

I have some time off now until July 2nd when I’m playing the Grand Ole Opry. You can listen online at www.wsmonline.com.

Blog | Telluride Bluegrass Festival 2010

Hot Rize played a 50th wedding anniversary party on Monday at Denver’s wonderful Mercury Café. Then we took a stab at recording the next day at out old stomping grounds Colorado Sound studios. We recorded a version of “Wichita Lineman”, an old time piece called “Diamond Joe” (recorded by Charlie Butler in 1937), a Nick Forster instrumental called “Runty”, and a Pete Wernick banjo tune called “Spring Break”.

I think this is actually my 33nd Telluride Bluegrass festival. Thursday morning, I introduced Sarah Jarosz and then sat in with her, singing “Tell Me True” and playing fiddle on Kate Wolf’s “Telluride” to kick off the festival. The crew put up some new semi-permanent towers for the speakers this year and while it was quite a project, it will make hanging the speaker stack much easier in coming years. Planet Bluegrass staff made some commemorative t-shirts for the occasion, proclaiming 2010 as the “Year of the Big Erection”. My band set was last that night, in high country cool temperatures from 10:30 to midnight. Sarah introduced me, and then she sat in, along with a band including Stuart Duncan, Bryan Sutton, Mike Bub, and John Gardner. Other guests included Rob McCoury on banjo, Jerry Douglas on dobro, and Dierks Bentley on vocal and guitar – we sang a duet version of “Señor (Tales Of Yankee Power)”, which is on his new bluegrassy CD “Up On The Ridge.” I played most of the new “Chicken & Egg” material, and the crowd was wonderful.

On Friday at noon, I took the gondola to the Mountain Village to rehearse a song with the Courtyard Hounds. They asked me to sing Jacob Dylan’s part on “See You In The Spring”. Rehearsal was better than the show later that afternoon, but it was fun to sit in with the Dixie Chick sisters and their new band. Hot Rize played right before them and we had fun. Elmo Otto, looking like a much older Sam Bush, sat in with Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers.

Blog | Mark Knopfler North American Tour Begins

The Mark Knopfler tour has begun. The band includes: Mark Knopfler - all kinds of guitars, and vocals on his own stellar songs. Guy Fletcher - keyboards, samples, guitars, and vocals. Guy is the music director, Marks right hand man on stage and in the studio. Danny Cummings - drums and vocals. Richard Bennett - all kinds of guitars, bouzoukis, caviquiño. Glenn Worf - basses Matt Rollings, piano, organ, accordion, and vocals Mike McGoldrick - flute, penny whistle, pipes, cittern Me - fiddle, mandolin, acoustic and electric guitar, bouzoukis, banjo, vocals.

We started with three weeks of rehearsal in London. It was funny staying in the same hotel room for that long. Amazingly, I only had curry about six times, three of them at the Standard Balti house on Brick Lane. Kit came for a visit the last week. On a ten day break between rehearsals and the tour start, I went home and mixed a new record. It's now mastered and the artwork is coming along. Its title is Chicken and Egg, and it features 11 of my new songs, and three covers.
March 13
My roadie is named Kevin Rowe. His great grandparents on his mom's side are East Indian, but moved to the Jamaica, where his dad's family descended from the slave culture. Then his parents moved to the England, so he has an East Indian look, African color. and a British Birmingham accent. He was working most recently with Ray Davies and he's as sweet as can be. Every member of the crew is wonderful and very attentive. I take one instrument off and Kevin hands me the next one, having tuned it and put the capo on the correct fret. Then he makes sure it's turned on. These guys learn the show just like we do. Kevin's also minding bassist Glenn Worf and flute and cittern player Mike McGoldrick. Mark has his own guy who does all his effects. Kerry Lewis is the monitor mixer, A Welshman. He has eight separate mixes for the band plus a few more, and each song is programmed specially, so if it's a quieter song, or a louder song, or whatever the variables could be, he adjusts the mix to your needs. It's getting better daily. The custom molded in ear-monitors act like earplugs, shutting out ambient noise (drums, electric guitars), so it's pretty well manageable. Dave Dixon on he front of house mix is doing the same with programming the mixes as we rehearse.

I'm playing Richard Bennett's '54 telecaster, through Mark's Fender Vibroverb, but today i needed a really shitty, dirty overdriven sound with extreme tremolo for a killer chilled out song called Coyote, so they brought out a little five watt Marshall. We turned it all the way up and i get this really sparse but crucial part. Just one more detail to handle. Many more to go, of course, but we've learned about eighteen songs.

Day off tomorrow. Road manager Pete McKay is trying to get us a private tour of the Tower of London, after it closes. There's some sort of elaborate key ceremony he says we should see, where they lock all the doors and turn them over to the night staff. (As long as they don't lock us in there&.) There's a solo Bach competition at the library a block away, from I think 10am to 6pm. I might check that out. I need to review the detail of the week. I have my fiddle and guitar in the room, plus a ukulele that my English friend Phil Davidson just made for me. There's a lot of little fiddle and flute lines to remember. I have a hard time remembering each piece, particularly a couple days later. We've been going back over most stuff each day, practicing groups of two or three songs and the transitions between them. Its not like we can start them over when the tour starts. Most of these guys have been in the band since 96, so Mike and I are new guys and the vets are sympathetic to our steep climb on the learning curve. Im learning intimately that less is more. I hope to slowly acquire a level of discipline that's rarely been required or exercised in my normal situation in the past thirty years as a pro.

Okay, I'm meeting Richard Bennett in the pub across the street.

April 10

The plane takes off like a rocket, sorta shooting up into the sky. There are three sections - Mark and Guy face each other on the right front side, there's an aisle in the center, with Danny and Richard on the opposite side. Middle section of four clustered around a dinette table with aisle to one side is myself and Glenn facing backwards, Mike and Matt facing forward. Paul Crockford, Tim Hook, and Pete McKay -manager and road managers - are in a sorta back room by the toilet. We were handed bottles of water and newspapers at our seats and then after takeoff here comes sushi. And more sushi in case you wanted it. And the stewardess took drink orders for the trip after the show. We get there and the drinks are poured and waiting. After takeoff, Chinese food.

The flight from Seattle to Vancouver provided stunning views of the San Juan Islands and Puget Sound, and occasional peeks at snow capped peaks to the east. That was my first flight on a private jet.

Another less amazing but still notable first was the electric mirror in my Seattle hotel bathroom. A remote control sat by the sink, so I pushed the on button, and CNN came on in the mirror. Somehow it's about a second and a half behind the TV in the room itself.

After the gigs these first few nights, we've adjourned to the hotel bar for band meetings. Recapping the show and what could be tighter, how it's pace could adjust with a slightly different set list, monitor problems, lighting, everything is up for analysis. Mark really cares about it getting it right so we can dig deeper into the groove and do the best we possibly can.

Last night's set: Border Riever - I play a fiddle tuned up a half step to make Scottish sounds in C minor. What It Is - normal tuned fiddle, more Scot's licks in unison with Mark's electric guitar and Mike McGoldrick's whistle.

Sailing To Philadelphia - I sing the part of Charles Mason to Mark's Jeremiah Dixon, play Nugget bouzouki.

Cleaning My Gun - my part is Mark's recorded finger picked telecaster, against Richard Bennetts Burns electric 12 string, while Mark sings and plays fills on his electric.

Coyote - I switch from a fender Vibroverb to a little Marshall with radical tremolo (driven by that nasty back pickup), and play a sparse but essential arpeggio on the chorus, and whole note tremolo chords throughout.

Hill Farmer - back to the Fender and both pickups. Another third chair electric part played with pickup switch in middle position. I'm using Richard's 54 Tele because it's just a lot better sounding than mine.

I sit out Romeo and Juliet and Sultans Of Swing, get my banjo ready for: Marbletown - Ome banjo clawhammer style. Mark on small bodied Martin. There's a jam on most songs toward the end. On this one, Mark and I play off of one another, and then Mike joins in, we end up in a reel I don't know the name of, and then it somehow concludes.

Remembrance Day - techs bring out stools for Richard and me. He's on Strat and I'm on Mark's D-42, playing a twin finger picking rhythm part while Mark remembers and plays fills. Speedway To Nazareth - back to banjo on a Highland kinda song melody, with lyrics about NASCAR. Marks got a Les Paul, and Richard starts the song on an acoustic, but toward the end there's jam again, and he switches to his Les Paul and makes a dramatic power chord entrance. It's the roar of a high performance race care engine in musical form and Im this little plinky thing between their throbbing solid bodies& This makes Mark smile every time.

Telegraph Road - this one is a mini pop rock symphony about the progress of civilization. Mike and I play a double cittern and bouzouki part (I'm on the Giacomel) that sparkles under the vocal at times, other times we're tacit.

We go off stage, knowing we'll play encores. There are beers and wine glasses and margaritas, and a non-alcoholic drink for Matt Rollings. We get ready for the finish: Brothers In Arms - I play sparkly mando arpeggios, twinning Richard's finger picked part. Shangri-La - I'm back on the Giacomel, strumming an island groove, singing high baritone. We all come center stage and take bows and of course the crowd wants more. We confer and check the time, and then play:

Local Hero - Nugget mandolin chords.

Piper To The End - another Scottish fiddle and whistle part, on a song about Mark's late uncle, a piper in World War II.

As we leave the stage, we take our in ear monitors and receiver packs, put them in tubs with our names on them. Road manager Pete McKay hands us our jackets, having already taken our carryon bags to the cars. In about three minutes we're rolling toward the airport, and soon right to the door of the jet. On this flight I can leave my Swiss army knife in my pocket. When we land in Portland 40 minutes later, a customs agent comes on board and clears us through.

I need to thank Brad Inserra for his hospitality at his Swing Side Café on the night of our Seattle tech run through. The whole band plus road mangers went there on the 7th. Perfect oysters in ponzu sauce, bean salad, tripe stew, calamari in earthy sauce, and the mushroom and lobster risotto sealed the deal. A private mini concert by the Spoonshine duo ended it. Thanks also to Orville Johnson and John Orleman for the dim sum in Chinatown.

My interest piqued by Mark's song Sailing To Philadelphia I've started reading Thomas Pynchon's Mason and Dixon.

Blog | Hot Rize Colorado

Announcement in the Denver airport: "Will the person who left the book entitled "Using Both Side Of Your Brain" in the gate area please come retrieve it?"

Question from Rich Moore during my concert in the Salina Colorado one room schoolhouse: "Why is the wall clock stopped at 4:20?"

The two question all humans ask, according to an elderly woman in Elizabeth Gilbert's book "Eat Pray Love":  "How much do you love me?" and "Who's in charge?"

My Hot Rize band mate Pete Wernick used to talk about type one error verses type two error. Type one error is where you fail to consider all the options and parameters of a situation and then of course that situation gets the better of you. Type two error is where you exhaustively study all those options and parameters, and plan accordingly, only to be outsmarted by unforeseen, random factors. In my adult life I have danced a tightrope between the two types of error. Last week, I was to fly to Telluride, but the night before heard from my host there, Dave Lamb, that a big storm was brewing for that day and that I might do well to fly to Cortez instead. The airline that provided my service to Telluride normally reroutes into Cortez and it's a lot easier to land there, and being at lower elevation it's less plagued by weather problems. I looked into doing that but because of the nature of my booking, it was impossible to do much until I got to Denver. So I let it slide. As it turned out, Cortez airport closed that day with a foot of snow, while Telluride remained open with clear weather. Had I succeeded in rebooking to Cortez ahead of time, I would have committed type two error. Thanks to the rigidity of modern air travel, I avoided that. However, I may have committed type two error on my return flight a few days later. A storm was predicted for southwest Colorado, heavy snowfall and 70 mile per hour winds. My flight and my cousin Charlie's flight were both scheduled for early afternoon. In the early morning, there was no great rate of snowfall and no winds, but we couldn't predict how it would be by the time we were to leave. Meanwhile, we realized that my cousin could fly from Grand Junction to meet his connecting flight, and as the storm would not get there until much later than to Telluride, we made a judgment to rebook him from there. I was headed to a gig near Boulder, and wanted to get there, even if it meant driving. Dave ended up driving me from Grand Junction and I made the gig. I know it snowed 15 inches in Telluride, but I don't know if out flights went, so I don't know if I committed any errors that day.

All of which is to say, if you want to learn patience, and learn that no matter how hard you plan, you might still be in trouble, try traveling.

The gigs were nice, and I got two days on the ski mountain at Telluride. Dave and Karen Lamb were wonderful hosts.

Now I'm on the way to Glasgow, for another round of Celtic Connections. Post festival, a group of 20 will tour around as the Transatlantic Concert. Watch for us in Birmingham, Manchester, London, Belfast, and Gateshead, as well as on BBC Folk Awards whenever it airs.

I saw a wonderful concert at the Belcourt in Nashville on January 13th. Bill Frisell, Marc Ribot, Buddy Miller, Dennis Crouch, Jay Bellerose. Wow. Ribot sang "Dang Me"! I met Bill, who, like me, studied with Dale Bruning in Denver. Sweet man.

Also, I've been in the studio making a new record, or recording anyway. I know some of you will buy it. Cool. Mostly, I'm happy doing some new material. I had a nice crew in there. Stuart Duncan, Mike Bub, John Gardner, Bryan Sutton, and "LA Dennis" Crouch. Dave Ferguson engineered.

Now for a nice seven-hour flight to Glasgow.

Tim
 

Blog | Hardly Strictly 10/2009

Golden Gate Park's Speedway Meadows was packed with about 100K music fans during the peak hours of this year's Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival. Today's paper estimated that 750 thousand people would attend this year's ninth annual free event.

Yesterday on the west facing Banjo stage, I played a set with Mike Bub, Casey Driessen, Kenny Malone, Darrell Scott, and my sister Mollie O'Brien.

When she lit into a big fat high note on "Shut De Doe," the crowd responded as one with a spontaneous yell, folding the thrill back to us on stage. I also sat in with Steve Martin, who caught his hat in the air after it blew off during his set. Then as the sun disappeared in the west, in 35-degree weather, and wind gusts of 50 miles an hour, I played the final set of the day with Steve Earle's Bluegrass Dukes. Dennis Crouch wedged himself and the bass against the stage, as his instrument was the biggest sail on stage. Late in the set, I grabbed Steve's guitar for a few numbers and was blown back several feet. I was glad to be wearing a Fishing Music ball cap, and a polyester blend All Black's jersey. Still, about 40 minutes into the set, my fingers felt like stones, the only feeling the sting of the strings as they vibrated against the fingertips.

Today I'm playing in Darrell's band for the first set on the Banjo stage. Mid-point in Darrell's set, I looked to my right and saw Robert Plant sitting on the stage skirt, watching us play. I tried my best to ignore him, thinking he might go away. He did.

When it came time for my solo on Darrell's song "With A Memory Like Mine," I closed my eyes and thought of my long lost brother Trip, who died in Viet Nam back in 1968. I got lost in the music and when I finished and looked up, four Canadian geese were flying right over the stage against a clear blue sky. The sight took my breath away.

Several years ago this festival took place during "Fleet Week," a time when US Navy displays its big ships in San Francisco Bay. The Blue Angels flew over the festival grounds several times that year, to Ricky Skaggs' delight, and to Steve Earle's chagrin. I have to admit the geese in formation made less noise, and were a heap more meaningful to me. I decided the four were Trip, my mom, (both former Marines), and Charles Sawtelle, and Frank Edmonson, my departed Hot Rize cohorts.

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