Tim O’Brien concert at the Violin Shop

Tim KruzicThis post is a contribution from Tim Kruzic, banjo player with Blue Daze. Tim is a long time friend of Bluegrass Today who has been involved with IBMA on many levels over the past several years. Serving on various committees and participating in the Leadership Bluegrass program Tim is a valuable asset to the bluegrass industry.

One of my favorite things about IBMA is witnessing some of the unique picking sessions that occur because of the gathering of so many great musicians. At Owensboro or Louisville, it was a bit easier to walk the halls and discover some of this magic. In Nashville, one of the coolest events is the series of concerts sponsored by Fred Carpenter at The Violin Shop. Though the venue is a bit of a ride from the main IBMA event and has a separate admission charge, it is well worth the effort. Fred sponsors shows on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights. The venue only seats about 50 people and features an all acoustic setup. The concerts are recorded on video and subsequently released on DVD. Twenty five percent of the concert admission is put toward a scholarship fund for up and coming fiddle players to attend music camps; the remainder of the admission goes directly to the musicians.

Last night’s concert featured Tim O’Brien with an all star supporting band of Bryan Sutton on guitar, Stuart Duncan on fiddle, and Dennis Crouch on bass. Tim played a ninety minute set that featured some old Hot Rize favorites (Blue Night), more recent material from his solo career (Senor, Drunkard’s Hiccups [Jack Of Diamonds]), current material (Look Down That Lonesome Road, Cornbread Nation), and some great instrumentals featuring the band (Red Apple Rag, Lee Highway Blues). An added treat was twin fiddles by Tim and Stuart on several tunes. Tim continues to be on top of his game. His mandolin playing sounded quite crisp, and his vocals reaffirmed his mastery of phrasing and unique melodic interpretations. In addition to the great music, Tim’s characteristic understated sense of humor and dry wit provided continuity to the show. A particular highlight was his song using a familiar bluegrass melody with new lyrics from the computer age about love gone bad. I can’t recreate the lyrics here, but it’s really funny.

One of the interesting aspects of the evening was the musical versatility of Stuart Duncan. It’s no surprise given Stuart’s mastery of the fiddle, mandolin, and bass vocal as shown over the years with the Nashville Bluegrass Band. In this show, Stuart sang lead on the choruses for several songs (like Nick Forrester used to do with Tim in Hot Rize), tenor on several other songs, and a solo lead vocal on Train 45. He certainly did a credible job on the vocals. I was most surprised to hear Stuart play clawhammer banjo. I learned after the show that he got interested in clawhammer banjo a couple of years ago. Stuart was also really funny. His vocal accompaniment on some of the fiddle tunes was a riot, and he fired off some pretty good quips in between the songs (especially when a fiddle string broke when he picked up the fiddle after the clawhammer tune).

Bryan Sutton played his usual astounding guitar style. His rhythm was perfect for every song whether a ballad, a swing tune, or a bluegrass flavored song. For any of you reading this that think Bryan’s style is only "machine gun" notes as he did on the fast fiddle tunes with Ricky Skaggs, take another listen. Bryan is such a versatile guitar player that he complements every song in just the right way. And he added some nice baritone vocals on several trios.

Not to be overlooked is Dennis Crouch. The rhythm from this group was really snapping the way it should to suit each song, and Dennis’ bass was a big contributing factor. Dennis took one bass break (I can’t remember the name of the song) which was exceptional for its ability to create the melody.

Although the feel of IBMA in Nashville is different than Louisville, great music happens when great musicians are brought together. The locations may be unfamiliar and the methods of finding it may be different, but it’s there if you look for it. When I look back over my highlights of IBMA 2006, the Tim O’Brien concert will certainly be one of the highlights and fondly remembered.