Bruce's May 2015 Newsletter - Playing Guitars with Mark Knophler
My new student was Susan Hellauer, who I soon found out was a phenomenal singer. She generously gave me a few exercises to help me with my own singing. And then I was bowled over to discover she was a member of Anonymous 4, one of the most highly respected medieval singing quartets in the world.
Fast forward about eight years, a couple of house moves and a whole lot of music later, and Susan got in touch again. This time it was to ask me to collaborate in a project with Anonymous 4 commemorating the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War (2015). To quote the great fiddler Marcus Martin, “I'm no historian,” but it sounded fascinating. And when I met the project leader Marsha Genensky, I realized this was going to be a deep exploration of music so close to old time mountain music, but also profoundly different.
Anonymous 4 are not strangers to American folk music. Their Gloryland CD (2006) and touring enlisted Darol Anger, Mike Marshall and Scott Nygaard in a journey through some beautiful arrangements of familiar songs like Wayfaring Stranger, Wagoners Lad and Green Pastures.
Marsha, a folklorist herself, was ready to dive into some very deep research into music that was “in the air” around the time of the Civil War. Not partisan North vs. South music, which has certainly been the subject of plenty of projects, but more popular songs and tunes that could give some context and feeling of what it might have been like just to live through such brutally exciting and painful times.
She and I worked together for the better part of a year, narrowing down the focus and the repertoire. It was an exciting afternoon when we finally all met in person for the first time and realized that this was going to be a really unique and fun collaboration. The breadth of material made for lots of instrument choices. And even more exciting was getting to sing with such great voices!
Recording in the beautiful resonant space at Drew University and working with Robina Young (producer) and Brad Michel (engineer) was total immersion. Marsha and I sat for hours at the hotel each night deconstructing what we'd done that day and figuring out how to move forward the next, and how to make this a unified and meaningful body of work. It was hard to disengage emotionally when playing and singing some of these songs. I recorded Brother Green as a solo piece and had a hard time holding it together. The others sat in the control room listening over the speakers and when I was done and came in there myself, the tissues were out. No way to avoid it, these songs are intense.
1865 Songs of Hope and Home from the American Civil War (Harmonia Mundi) is the result, and has just been released this week! It's available here on my website store. I couldn't be more thrilled with this; we found common ground none of us would have expected, really reaching deeply into each others musical worlds to make it happen. We'll be touring around the US through 2015, including a tiny desk concert on NPR and A Prairie Home Companion in April, and a can't wait to play and sing with them again.
And the rest: It's looking to be a great and busy year. Peghead Nation is off to a great start, and I'm happy to be part of that posse of great roots music teachers on line. Please have a look, go to my Blog Page there, and let us know what you'd like to see.
In addition to touring with Anonymous 4, I'll be doing concerts and festivals here and abroad. Jumpsteady Boys will be playing at some festivals this summer. Enrollment for summer camps is taking place now too.
I hope to see you out there. Wishing everyone a great 2015!
p.s. Don't forget to LIKE my Facebook page *|FACEBOOK:LIKE|* -- let me know where you would like to see me play!
The Joys Of Staying A Beginner December 2014
Guitar was the first instrument I tried my hand at, around age 10. I wanted to be Doc Watson, Mississippi John Hurt. I wanted to be Jimi Hendrix and Leslie West, and even Mahavishnu John McLaughlin (until I came to my senses.) I’ve hammered away at the guitar on and off for all this time. Some things about it make sense, others are still a challenge. But all I’ve ever wanted to do was play.
My guitar flat picking technique has always been clunky (charming?), or, to be merciful, not too well developed. So I just took a video lesson from Scott Nygaard on the new Peghead Nation website. The easiest lesson, step one, just to see. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, right? Yeah, no, wrong. Scott’s relaxed presentation and the great closeup camera work made a few things clear that hadn't ever been clear before. I’m hooked.
Now that I’ve joined Peghead Nation as a fiddle instructor, that experience of learning the guitar is becoming an object lesson. I think that in order to be a good teacher, you have to be a good student. I’m trying to learn to be both, and so excited to have that opportunity with Peghead Nation!
Peghead Nation is a wonderful portal into the nuts and bolts and sheer joy of roots music. They’re also offering generous holiday discounts for gift subscriptions. So if you’re a player or know a player who wants a fresh new angle and some great instruction, visit us at www.pegheadnation.com.
2015 is looking up to be interesting and musically far-reaching. On the front burner is the release of 1865 Songs of Hope and Home from the American Civil War, a collaboration with the wonderful Anonymous 4 featuring Civil War era tunes and songs, coming in mid-January on Harmonia Mundi Records. Look for it, and then look for us on A Prairie Home Companion in April. I’ll be back in the UK for some solo touring in May. And continuing to work with some of the most wonderful and gifted musicians at Berklee College of Music’s American Roots Music Program.
Summer seems a long ways off, but the music camps are booking up now. Please check it all out at my website. . .
In the meantime, wishing everyone the happiest of holiday seasons and peace in 2015, and thanks for staying in touch!
No Depression Review: If It Ain't Here When I Get Back
"Of course this as an album from an absolute master. Of course the music here is just fabulous. Of course you'll find new tunes or new players by buying and listening to this album. Of course you won't regret your purchase. So pick up your copy already!"
The Herald (Scotland)
"Aly Bain, Ale Moller & Bruce Molsky, Pleasance Theatre, Edinburgh"
The Brooklyn Rail Interview
Here's my interview in the The Brooklyn Rail just out. Steve Ellis and David Ross asked some really insightful questions about why I've stayed so deep in the music I love and what it all means to me. I enjoyed the conversation, even the parts that were pretty scary to answer. I'm happy to see it out there!
Hey everyone! I have been busy, really busy. Which is why it's been 6 months since the last monthly report. Lots of exciting project, tour, and album news to share:
Shakespeare, Mountain Style:
The folks at Pickathon Festival had the brilliant notion this year to see how theater would dovetail into their already musically diverse weekend. They engaged a theater group to rework Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’ into, uh, sort of a musical. The presentation was comedy built on comedy, respectfully irreverent of everything. Music was provided by a different Pickathon artist each night, and our ‘Bruce Molsky Band’ was asked to do the honors on Saturday. The outcome was music by association, there was really no way to plan this at all. Out came old-time music but also a doo-wop rendition of one of WS’s only songs, and a beautiful new tune written by Tatiana, with an assist by Rushad. The whole thing was magic and a real highlight.
The Bruce Molsky Band, by the way, was Tatiana Hargreaves, Rushad Eggleston, and Jim Miller. Jim is well-know for being in Donna The Buffalo, but he and I played in Ben Steel and His Bare Hands, one of the first bands I ever played in. A new and very fun combination I hope will continue.
More on Pickathon's uniqueness, we played a set on the beautiful Woods Stage, which enveloped the band and audience in an architect-designed tree limb canopy. Just beautiful.
New solo album: I am finally, finally finishing up the recording of a new solo album this month. Title and street date are TBA, but it's going to me just me and all of my instruments. While honing in on tunes and songs (there's more songs on this album than any of my previous releases), I realized this is about honoring my musical heroes, from Wade Ward to Joseph Spence and everything and everyone in between. I think most of us who play ‘antique’ music feel like moving parts in some big time machine contraption that chugs along and will outlast us all. I love that. Stay tuned on Facebook and Twitter. As soon as there's a song ready to go, I'll be sharing a free download there and in the next newsletter.
Take time for beauty and take care, Bruce
Upcoming collaborations and tour dates:
- After years of acclaimed concerts and BBC/RTE TV shows in UK and Ireland, the Transatlantic Sessions finally makes it across the water! I'll be on the stage with Aly Bain, Jerry Douglas, Kathleen MacInnes, Dan Tyminski, Tim O’Brien, Karen Matheson and others at Chicago's Millennium Center on Wednesday, September 26.
- Old-time Quartet Jumpsteady Boys (me, Mike Compton, Joe Newberry, Rafe Stefanini) are performing at the Delaware Bluegrass Festival on September 1st.
- The Old-Time Kozmik Trio (me, Darol Anger, Rushad Eggleston) had a great Grey Fox this year and will appear at the Mass Moca's FreshGrass Bluegrass Festival in September, plus a slew of other places in 2013.
- I'll be performing at the Celtic Colours International Festival in October solo and alongside John Doyle, Irish guitar phenom and one of the two 2012's artist-in-residence, a title I was honored to hold in 2011.
- Aly Bain, Alë Moller and I will be headed on a trio tour of the UK this fall, which will culminate in a live album to be recorded at the Liverpool Symphony Hall.
Travelogues and Travelodges
About eight years ago I started out on a UK tour like I'd always done before. Landed at Heathrow after a night of no sleep, dried out airplane air and bad movies. Picked up my 100+ pounds of gear at baggage claim and took the car rental bus to the wrong rental car agency. Another bus trip or two and I was driving into London during rush hour, with street maps (the ol' A-Z) in hand. I only got lost a couple times before arriving at my friend's place, and then crashed for quite a few hours. A helluva way to hit the ground.
A few days into the trip, I was driving past Dixon's (the UK equivalent of Best Buy I guess, or Circuit City at that time) and all of a sudden the wheel of the car TURNED BY ITSELF and shot me into the parking lot. An indescribable force hoisted me out of the car, shoved me through the door and dragged me by my left ear to the GPS, er, SatNav department. Then my 'gadget man' instinct took over and I bought my first ever navigating thingie. It was life-changing.
Eight years later it (she) still speaks to me in sultry upper class British tones ("at the roundabout, take the THIRD exit" and my personal favorite "TURN around when POSSIBLE"). She has also not learned any of the new roads or new traffic patterns since then, and constantly shouts "ROAD NOT DIGITISED" as I drive off into a blank brown screen.
I had promised myself to replace her for this trip, to give her an honored spot in the bag of expired small electronics in the back of the closet and finally move on to something more modern and socially acceptable, maybe with Keith Richards or Billy Bragg barking the directions, mate. But I haven't gotten around to it. Actually I just haven't got the heart - Violet (as Ale Möller calls her, they're acquainted), Violet has this uncanny ability to take me on ancient back roads that no other self-respecting satnav would dare. She gives no priority to motorways over cowpaths. My own personal free-thinking electronic troubadour.
Without Violet I wouldn't never have driven over the Kirkstone Pass into Bowness-on-Windemere last week, one of the most beautiful and hair-raising drives in memory. It happened again today leaving Findhorn in Moray country for Glasgow. Passing by places like Hill of Aitnoch, and all these 'burns' like Tomlachian, Leonach and Dochil. I had a major throat-clearing experience, and gleefully realized that romanticized fictionalized notions actually do exist sometimes. I have no idea what "old" England or Scotland might have been like, but I think I was just there. Came bombing into the Central Belt and Glasgow afterwards, just as Laurie Lewis' gorgeous "Wood Thrush's Song" came in over the iPod. Thanks, Laurie. It was a heavy moment on the M8.
Even after all this I might still give into modern technology (and more up-to-date maps) and go for a groovier gizmo, but not this trip. Violet's not done with me yet. We have another couple of mountain drives in the coming days, and I need her ideas and insights, even if it means leaving a little earlier in the day. Which will be "nay bother" after a night at this old Travelodge.
Take care and don't forget to look for beauty. It's out there, it really is.
May 3, 2011
Time Zones, Camps, College & Bloomberg Interview!
The jet lag zone is an interesting and fuzzy place to be. I once decided that the best way to avoid it was to not stay in any one place long enough to contract it. Not a very practical solution, but I thought of it while jet lagged - so it seemed sensible at the time.
Reason for this prologue is that I've been home from Australia for just a couple of days, and am completely, 14-hour-time-diff-jet-lagged. Making an important decision about anything would be a potential disaster right now, so have chosen the safe path instead, and having wonderful days at home with Audrey, decompressing, assembling Ikea furniture and making a new batch of homemade granola (recipe on request - it's *good*).
Addendum to that: . . . and feeling safer thanks to the great efforts of President Obama, his advisors and our Navy Seals. Awesome.
Australia was GREAT. We launched our new Jumpsteady Boys band (Compton, Newberry, Stefanini and myself) at the National Folk Festival in Canberra to very appreciative audiences, and it left us all wanting more. If you're into Facebook, check out my 'Musician Page' and you'll find links to videos and pics. The Aussies really know how to put on a festival, and the “Nash” is undoubtedly one of their best.
Camp season starts for me in a couple of weeks with Banjo Camp North in Charlton (near Worcester), MA May 13-15. Lots of instruction, jams, etc with great teachers in old-time and bluegrass. Don't forget your bracket wrench. More to come at Huntingdon Folk College (PA), Mark O'Connor Fiddle Camp (TN) in June. Later this summer it's Common Ground (MD) and Jay and Molly's Ashokan Southern Week (NY).
Speaking of Ashokan camps, 2011 will be a very special year there. After much planning, fundraising and tireless effort from Jay, Molly and others, Ashokan is being rebuilt on higher ground into new facilities. That should all be in place next year, and so this will be the last time on the old grounds that so many of us have made our one-week-home for decades. Should be a real celebration - if you've never been to Ashokan Southern Week, this would be a great time to make it.
Other exciting happenings:
A couple of weeks ago, Bloomberg News ran an article about yours truly! Some very nice words from the likes of Linda Ronstadt, Jerry Douglas and Mark O'Connor really made my day.
And last but definitely not least: I'm thrilled and honored to be joining the faculty at Berklee College in Boston for spring semester 2012. It's been a dream of mine to see more old-time and traditional music integrated into a formal college curriculum in the US and I can't wait to dig in with students and faculty there.
If you’ve been visiting my personal Facebook page, please visit my 'Musician Page'. That’s where much of the music-related goings-on will be moving to in coming weeks. Sign on and check in when you can!
Happy spring, and hope to see you soon.
Apr 05, 2011
Spring Road Trips & New Bands
I love to drive. Always thought I would have made a good family dog . . . wind in your face, a thousand smells. I think I even smile like a dog when I'm driving. No radio (usually) but just the sounds all around.
And that all starts again this week. First stop Jalopy, super-cool club in Red Hook, Brooklyn this Friday (Apr 8) for an evening beginning with old friends The Whistlin' Wolves and Michelle Yu. Driving on to Cambridge, Mass Saturday for music workshops and a concert at Club Passim. If you can't make it there, it will be streamed live on the internet, a new and wonderful addition to Passim's already rich repertoire, thanks to Forrest O'Connor's new Concert Window (check out www.concertwindow.com).
Road trip continues into Maine on Sunday with three shows for Phill McIntyre's NE Celtic Arts series. Then workshops in Yarmouth, shows in Boothbay Harbor and Martha's Vineyard, and finally falling back south to home in Washington, DC. I'm getting happy just thinking about it.
All my life I've been a bit of a car nut. I like fast. I like glasspack mufflers. But conscience set in for the last car purchase and now have gone hybrid. It felt a little like a manhood sell-out, but has turned out to be the end of the mourning period for my '67 Barracuda (I wrecked it in '74, so have been dressed in Imron black for quite a few years now). But fuel economy has become a very fine substitute for speed. My last road trip with the new wheels was 2400 miles on less than $175 worth of regular gas. Instead of watching the speedometer, now I watch the fuel economy gauge. Obsession comes in all forms. If you like the ideas of energy independence, and of junking up the environment just a little less, I highly recommend it.
And here's some big news: Jumpsteady Boys! Joe Newberry, Mike Compton, Rafe Stefanini and I will be traveling to Australia in a couple weeks to kick off our new band! That's the second band I've been in that started it's life in Australia. (Mozaik was the first). Looking forward to starting it all out at the National Folk Festival in Canberra.
Lots to do. I hope to see you out there somewhere.
Apr 05, 2011
Mark O'Connor Fiddle Camp
In 1990, Mark O'Connor invited me to teach old-time fiddle at his Tennessee Fiddle Camp. I've been back every year since, though now it's moved to new digs at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City. The camp offers deep immersion into a variety of styles, each taught by masters. Even being on the teaching side of things, it's opened my eyes to another level of the beauty and the almost limitless potential of the fiddle.
This year's camp will be no exception. The instructor list is stellar:
Buddy Spicher (Western Swing/Country)
Bobby Hicks (Bluegrass)
Judy Hyman (Appalachian Old-Time)
Byron Berline (Bluegrass)
Carrie Rodriquez (Country)
Bruce Molsky (Appalachian Old-Time)
Kelly Hall-Tompkins (Classical)
Federico Britos (Latin/Uraguan/Cuban)
Samantha Robichaud (Canadian)
Brad Phillips (O'Connor Tunes)
Gillian Gallagher (Viola)
Patrice Jackson (Cello)
Kyle Kegereis (Bass)
Hans Holzen (Back-up Guitar)
Pam Wiley - O'Connor Violin Method
Melissa Tong (O'Connor Method Teacher Training Book III)
If you're looking for a week of musical inspiration and intensity to remember for a long time, by all means
check it out! Mark O'Connor String Camp
Jan 09, 2011
Welcome to the new Tree Frog Music website!
Star web designer Paul Fox has succeeded in dragging me out of the 20th Century and into the cyber-present. (He dragged me into the late 2000s as well with the previous site design). Huge thanks to Audrey Molsky for coordinating everything, making sure we all did what we were supposed to (uh, actually I'm not quite done yet), and for lending her technical expertise and vision to the project.
The main thoughts behind the new site are to make things easy to find, to create a space where interesting things can live, and of course to make you want to visit. We've added links for Facebook, Twitter and YouTube where you'll often find me anyway. Once we're rolling, there will be music segments, videos, road photos and links to other people and places of interest.
In the end, of course, it's all about the music. I do hope you'll check in with my tour schedule and come to a show when you can. If you're interested in learning to play old-time fiddle or banjo, I offer workshops and participate in organized music camps and programs throughout the year. I also love working in the studio, and we have a wonderful, updated on-line store here featuring solo and collaborative projects, and instructional recordings.
Please push the big old 'Contact Bruce' button and let us know what you think. Like everything in life, this is a work in progress. We want to make it as good as it can be and appreciate your input. Thanks a lot for visiting, and we'll see you soon!
Apr 23, 2010
Bruce Molsky, Edinburgh Folk Club
It's tempting to describe Bruce Molsky as a human iPod, but while that would convey his ability to draw, at random, from a repertoire as large as it is impressively diverse, it fails to appreciate how all that music managed to get into his memory without the luxury of downloads.
Just how a city boy from the Bronx became so fluent in old-time Appalachian fiddling as to sound like a North Carolina native who's never set foot beyond Surry County would be a story worth telling in itself. Molsky, though, has assimilated much more of American â€“ and Scandinavian, and Balkan â€“ folklore in the process of developing into the 21st century equivalent of those Southern States roadhouse players who could make people dance to any one instrument.
If no-one was doing any steps here, that's no reflection on Molsky's musicianship. His opening pair of fiddle tunes had vigour, drive and wild Virginia flavour enough to make any joint jump and his Johnson City Rag, played on his newly restored guitar, probably had too much style and note-bending subtlety to be reduced to a mere vehicle for lost inhibitions.
Across a panorama of empathetically observed cowboy ballads, honestly delivered a cappella gospel songs, exuberant dance tunes magically transposed from Balkan brass band onto just six strings and â€“ you don't read this phrase very often â€“ soothing banjo rounds, Molsky cast his self-effacing spell.
I particularly enjoyed his celebration of Bahamian guitarist Joseph Spence, whose relaxed, calypso-imbued blues sounds like Big Bill Broonzy reclining in a hammock, but that was the apple pie in a gig that, as a whole, justified the notion of music as soul food.