Mandolin Mashup at Berklee

John McGannThis evening (2/12), the Berklee College of Music in Boston will host its 7th annual Mandolin Mashup. It was created by the late John McGann when he joined the faculty at Berklee in 2006, to highlight his most promising students.

The Mandolin Mashup tradition will continue beyond John’s passing in 2012, and tonight’s show is being given over to a concert in his memory. It will be held at the Berklee Performance Center at 8:00 p.m. (EST), and streamed free online at Concert Window.

Joe Walsh, mandolinist with The Gibson Brothers and a student of McGann’s who now teaches at Berklee, will serve as host for tonight’s Mashup, joined by both current and former Berklee mandolin students, along with a number of Boston’s more luminary artists.

Walsh shared a few memories of his mentor, and some details on tonight’s show.

Joe Walsh - photo by David Miller“John was such a ferociously talented musician, one who had mastered so many instruments (mandolin, guitar, octave mandolin, amongst others) and who could converse fluently in so many genres (bluegrass, jazz, swing, celtic, classical, gypsy jazz). It’s impossible to think of any one musician on earth quite like him. Way, way off in the farthest flung borders there may have been limits to his musical bag, but I never encountered them: he was simply able to play seemingly everything, in any style.

John and I started at Berklee at the same time, he as the first mandolin professor and me as his first student. He was the exceptionally obvious right man for the job: the mandolin virtuoso with layers upon layers of knowledge and the unrivaled ability to deliver musical lessons in memorable and entertaining quips. Even when the quip dealt with your failings as a musician, and what you needed to work on, you couldn’t help but laugh.

Though in our first couple of semesters we were frequently answering questions such as ‘is that a banjo?’ and ‘you can study that here?,’ before long the mandolin scene at Berklee really blew up. It grew quickly from just the two of us to a group that numbered as many as twenty at times, and included many of the best young mandolin players in the world (such as Sierra Hull, Dominick Leslie of the Deadly Gentlemen and Noam Pikelny’s band, Bryce Milano, Jake Jolliff of Joy Kills Sorrow, Eric Robertson of the Boston Boys). One way that John worked at and succeeded in growing the mandolin presence on campus at Berklee was an annual event he created to feature the best student mandolinists, a concert entitled Mandolin Mashup.

This year’s Mandolin Mashup 7 was scheduled by John before he passed on last spring, and we felt that this concert really needed to be a tribute to John. The list of musicians who’ll be stopping by to play a few notes in memory him speaks highly of how greatly he was loved and how sorely he is missed: Dominick Leslie, Eric Robertson, Matt Witler, Dan Bui, Bryce Milano, Jason Anick, Darol Anger, Matt Glaser, Courtney Hartman, Rob Thomas, Sarah Jarosz, Hiro Arita, Tony Trischka, Sam Grisman, Mike Barnett, amongst many others.”

Joe recommended a pair of videos which showcase John’s remarkable artistry. This first finds him performing at a Berklee faculty recital in March of 2011…


..and the second of him on a radio show at WCPN in Cleveland, May 2011 with Wayfaring Strangers.


A memorial fund has been established in John’s honor, primarily for the benefit of his family. His death was unexpected, leaving his wife and teenaged daughter both without a loving husband and father, but also a means of financial support.

Donations to the fund can be sent via check (made to John McGann Memorial Fund) to:

Brookline Bank
1808 Centre St
West Roxbury, MA 02132

It sounds like he will get a fine send off tonight in Boston.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.