Monday, May 23, 2011

Tony Trischka at Bellows Falls Opera House - VT

Tony Trischka
Bellows Falls, Vermont is one of those old mill towns in central Vermont along the Connecticut River that's seen better days.  The river provided power and the railroad transportation well into the twentieth century, but the mills have closed and the railroad doesn't go here any more.  The town, however, has beautiful, old Victorian homes and a quaint downtown. Tucked into the downtown redevelopment area is the Bellows Falls Opera House, a restored theater being developed as a performing arts center and movie theater, provides a delightful space for concerts and shows.  Manager Howie Ires has ambitious plans to develop subscription performing arts center offering a range of artists. Last Thursday's performance by Tony Trischka & Territory drew an excellent crowd to hear one of the world's foremost banjo players play with his latest band. Local group Hot Mustard, a promising traditional bluegrass band opened for Trischka. 

Tony Trischka & Territory

Tony Trischka's warm personality and generous spirit showed through in every moment of the show, as he highlighted each member of his band while performing material from his three most recent CD's and talked about many of his career highlights. Only the night before he had opened for Steve Martin & The Steep Canyon Rangers before 1700 people in Portland, Maine and here he was in the small town of Bellows Falls. Born in Syracuse, New York in 1949, Tony was inspired to start playing the banjo in 1963 on hearing the Kingston Trio play Charlie on the MTA (Wikipedia), played with several progressive bands in the sixties and seventies, making his recording debut in 1971.  As a teacher, he is known as Bela Fleck's teacher.  Fleck joined him as one of the world's great innovators on the instrument.  His best selling and highly regarded Double Banjo Bluegrass Spectacular forged new ground, as well as introducing Steve Martin as a banjo composer and picker.  His latest CD, Territory, perhaps gets its new name by the new territory it explores.  With guest players like Pete Seeger, Mike Seeger, and Bill Keith, the CD, according to the liner notes exhibits "fearless musical curiosity" as it explores the potential of this often maligned instrument, which came to the America from Africa in our earliest days.  Trischka has long been in leader in exploring the limits of this cranky instrument as well as displaying its traditional repertoire and sounds.  In songs like his single string virtuoso piece and much more traditional bluegrass works like "Dark Hollow" he showed its and his virtuosity and versatility. 

Tony Trischka & Territory - The Crowe by Steve Martin

Brandon Rickman
As guest singer, guitarist with Territory, Brandon Rickman did a stellar job presenting music he's not generally associated with as well as a couple of songs he performs in his regular gig with The Lonesome River Band.  His Cold Rain and Snow cries out with the loneliness of a failing marriage while I Bought Her a Dog describes the process of a new, young husband being tamed by a wife eager for domestic bliss.  Brandon can be heard in his solo album Young Man, Old Soul in which he shows his versatility as a singer and as a song writer.  His excellent flat picking showed his breadth in a way not always possible with LRB despite the somewhat muddy sound delivered by the sound crew. 

Mike Barnett

Mike Barnett, while only twenty years ago, has been showing his chops in and around Boston as well as nationally for several years.  We first saw him at Strawbery Park the day before his high school graduation three years ago.  He cruises through the violin and fiddle reportory with apparent ease, providing a perfect foil for the sounds of the banjo with his mellow fiddling.

Skip Ward

Skip Ward on bass has toured with country stars, played jazz in New York clubs, and provided the kind of solid versatility that helps complete the Territory sound.  Skip's Facebook profile describes him this way, 
"Skip Ward is a classically-trained jazz musician with a penchant for rock n' roll. And fusion, blues and bluegrass. In fact, Skip can play in just about anything with a rhythm section, and has had experience in too many genres and styles to count. He plays four, five and six string electric and acoustic fretted and fretless basses, and has a special love for the upright." In his performance with Territory, he showed his strengths as a solid back-bone for the band as well as a strong and humorous soloist. 

Bring all these fine musicians together with the musical vision of Tony Trischka and you have a tour de force of musical inventiveness and outreach.  Trischka's music is frequently challenging and always accessible, a pretty neat trick. His personality, open and approachable, makes his music the same.  Here's an example from his recent CD Territory.  DeFord Bailey was the first black member of the Grand Old Opry, performing there from 1927 until 1941.  Several years ago, Tony heard his song Fox Chase and was inspired to pay tribute to it with his own version, sung below by Brandon Rickman.  It shows Trischka as both a historian and a person with a deep respect for his instrument's traditions as well as its possibilities. 

Tony Trischka & Territory - Fox Chase - Video

Skip Ward & Tony Trischka

Hot Mustard

Hot Mustard, opening for Tony Trischka on his four day swing through New England, has seemingly come from nowhere to increasing prominence on the New England bluegrass scene.  Having formed after Bruce Stockwell, long admired as a fine banjo picker and teacher, and Bill Jubett received a state arts grant to work on double banjo manterial, the band won the 2010 Jenny Brook band contest.  They began appearing at small venues in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Connecticut, and in 2011 will be appearing at eight New England festivalsTheir combination of traditional bluegrass along with inventive stylings and funky banjo duos make for a lively and enjoyable program.  The two couples clearly enjoy each other's company.  Bruce Stockwell, who teaches at Banjo Camp North each year, is a banjo master too little recognized on the national stage, even though he won the 2005 Merlefest banjo contest. April Hobart on guitar and lead vocals has a fine bluegrass voice and plays solid rhythm guitar.  Bill Jubett easily exchanges leads with Bruce in their banjo duos, plays fiddle on some numbers, and sings harmony with April, who will become his wife in a couple of months. Kelly Stockwell plays a driving bass with energy, inventiveness, and intelligence.  The combination is worth seeing and hearing. They hope to go into the studio to record this fall.

Bruce Stockwell

April Hobart

Bill Jubett

Kelly Stockwell
Below is a video of one of their more inventive pieces, in which they combine three early jazz numbers into what they call their jazz medley.  Other pieces of theirs can be found on my YouTube channel, and more will be featured on our FB Fan Page "Ted and Irene's Most Excellent Bluegrass Adventure

Hot Mustard - Jazz Medley - Video

For music lovers, bluegrass fans, and, most of all, banjo aficionados, the Tony Trischka mini-tour of New England last week was a remarkable event.  Look for both of these bands near you.  We want to thank The Bellows Falls Opera House for assisting us in attending this event.