TONY TRISCHKA AND BRUCE MOLSKY
Two FreshGrass veterans come together for an enchanting duo set – Bruce Molsky, who brought Molsky’s Mountain Drifters in 2018, is “one of America’s premier fiddle talents” (Mother Jones) and a Grammy-nominated songwriter with a deep history of bluegrass and roots explorations. He teams up with banjo legend Tony Trischka, who performed here with Michael Daves back in 2014. The pair have a record coming out in 2019, and will be a presence at the festival all weekend: in addition to this duo set, they will each be leading workshops and judging the FreshGrass Awards (fiddle and banjo, respectively).
“The great banjo liberationist”
– Tom Ashbrook, NPR
“Molsky is easily one of the nation’s most talented fiddlers…he transports you…geographically, historically, and most of all emotionally”
– Mother Jones
Tony Trischka (United States Artists Friends Fellow-2012) is considered to be the consummate banjo artist and perhaps the most influential banjo player in the roots music world. For more than 45 years, his stylings have inspired a whole generation of bluegrass and acoustic musicians with the many voices he has brought to the instrument.
A native of Syracuse, New York, Trischka’s interest in banjo was sparked by the Kingston Trio’s “Charlie and the MTA” in 1963. Two years later, he joined the Down City Ramblers, where he remained through 1971. That year, Trischka made his recording debut on 15 Bluegrass Instrumentals with the band Country Cooking; at the same time, he was also a member of America’s premier sports-rock band Country Granola. In 1973, he began a three-year stint with Breakfast Special. Between 1974 and 1975, he recorded two solo albums, Bluegrass Light and Heartlands. After one more solo album in 1976, Banjoland, he went on to become musical leader for the Broadway show The Robber Bridegroom. Trischka toured with the show in 1978, the year he also played with the Monroe Doctrine.
In 1978, he toured Japan and recorded with Peter Rowan and Richard Greene. In the early 1980s, he began recording with his new group Skyline, which released its first album in 1983. Subsequent albums included Robot Plane Flies over Arkansas (solo, 1983), Stranded in the Moonlight (with Skyline, 1984) and Hill Country (solo, 1985). In 1984, he performed in his first feature film, Foxfire with Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy and John Denver. Three years later, he worked on the pre-recorded music for the off-Broadway production of Driving Miss Daisy that featured Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman. Trischka produced the Belgian group Gold Rush’s No More Angels in 1988. The following year, Skyline recorded its final album, Fire of Grace. He also recorded the theme song for Books on the Air, a popular National Public Radio Show, and continued his affiliation with the network by appearing on Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion, Mountain Stage, From Our Front Porch, and other radio shows. Trischka continued his recording career with 1993’s World Turning, 1995’s Glory Shone Around: A Christmas Collection and 1999’s Bend. New Deal followed in 2003.
Double Banjo Bluegrass Spectacular, featuring appearances by Steve Martin, Earl Scruggs, Bela Fleck, Tony Rice and many other luminaries, came out four years later. For this recording he went back to Bluegrass and reinvigorated the double banjo tradition. In October 2007, Tony was given an IBMA (International Bluegrass Music Association) award for Banjo Player of the Year 2007. Double Banjo Bluegrass Spectacular received IBMA awards for Recorded Event of the Year, Instrumental Album of the Year and a Grammy Nomination.
With his fearless musical curiosity as the guiding force, Tony Trischka’s critically acclaimed release, Territory roams widely through the banjo’s creative terrain. Nine selections partner Tony with fellow banjoists Pete Seeger, Mike Seeger, Bill Evans, Bill Keith and Bruce Molsky. Twelve all-Trischka solo tracks explore a panorama of tunings, banjo sounds, and traditions; tapping the creative potential of America’s signature musical instrument.
Tony is not only considered amongst the most innovative of banjo players, he is one of its most respected and sought after instructors creating fifteen instructional books as well as a series of DVDs. In 2009, he launched the groundbreaking Tony Trischka School of Banjo, an advanced, interactive, online instructional site that is the banjo home for students from around the world.
2011 saw “Give Me the Banjo” aired on PBS stations nationwide with Tony as the Musical Director and Co-Producer of the documentary. It was subsequently released on DVD. He produced Steve Martin’s Grammy nominated Rare Bird Alert (Rounder), which features performances by Paul McCartney, the Dixie Chicks and the Steep Canyon Rangers.
In the summer of 2012, Tony continued to broaden the reach and influence of the banjo as performer and Band Leader for the Shakespeare in the Park, NYC performances of “As You Like It”, placing the banjo in even newer ground.
In December of 2012, Tony was awarded the United States Artists Friends Fellow in recognition of the excellence of his work.
On Tony’s latest album Great Big World (Rounder Records – released February, 2014) his instrumental expertise and boundless imagination are as sharp as ever. One of the most ambitious and accomplished of his career, the album is a deeply compelling showcase for his expansive instrumental talents, far-ranging musical interests and distinctive songwriting skills, as well as his sterling taste in collaborators. With contributions from his band Territory, Steve Martin, Michael Daves, Noam Pikelny, Ramblin’ Jack Eliot and many other special guests the 13-track set finds Trischka embracing all manner of possibilities, while keeping one foot firmly planted in the traditional bluegrass roots that first inspired him to make music.
Tony continues to maintain a national and international touring schedule with his band of extraordinary musicians.
Bruce Molsky – He’s a self-described “street kid” from the Bronx who bailed on college and big city life for a cold-water cabin in Virginia in the 1970s. His mission? To soak up the passion that was dramatically upending his parent’s life plan for him – authentic Appalachian mountain music – at the feet of its legendary pioneers, old masters who are now long gone.
Today, Bruce Molsky is one of the most revered “multi-hyphenated career” ambassadors for America’s old-time mountain music. For decades, he’s been a globetrotting performer and educator, a recording artist with an expansive discography including seven solo albums, well over a dozen collaborations and two Grammy-nominations. He’s also the classic “musician’s musician” – a man who’s received high praise from diverse fans and collaborators like Linda Ronstadt, Mark Knopfler, Celtic giants Donal Lunny and Andy Irvine, jazzer Bill Frisell and dobro master Jerry Douglas, a true country gentleman by way of the Big Apple aptly dubbed “the Rembrandt of Appalachian fiddlers” by virtuoso violinist and sometimes bandmate Darol Anger.
Molsky digs deep to transport audiences to another time and place, with his authentic feel for and the unearthing of almost-forgotten rarities from the Southern Appalachian songbook. His foils are not only his well-regarded fiddle work, but banjo, guitar and his distinctly resonant vocals. From tiny folk taverns in the British Isles to huge festival stages to his ongoing workshops at the renowned Berklee College of Music, Molsky seduces audiences with a combination of rhythmic and melodic virtuosity and relaxed conversational wit – a uniquely humanistic, downhome approach that can make Carnegie Hall feel like a front porch or parlor jam session.
As 2016 unfolds, the ever-busy Molsky continues to pioneer new ground on several fronts. Summer will bring the debut disc by Molsky’s Mountain Drifters, the first band the legendary fiddler has fronted. In Bruce’s words, this release will “point to the future of traditional, rural music” powered by the far-ranging musical palates of his two youthful bandmates. Banjo virtuoso Allison de Groot of “The Goodbye Girls” and “Oh My Darling” met Molsky at one of his workshops at Berklee, where his interest was piqued when “she played Lester Young solos on claw hammer banjo.” The band’s third member, guitarist Stash Wyslouch, is one of bluegrass music’s true genre benders, a high-energy performer who cut his teeth in punk and metal bands before immersing himself in roots music with “The Deadly Gentlemen.”
The new “Can’t Stay Here This a-Way” is a unique CD/DVD collection recorded in Los Angeles for Dave Bragger’s Tiki Parlour series. Not a recording session in the traditional sense, Bruce just showed up, sat on a couch while the camera and recording device rolled – capturing all the spontaneity as he casually reeled off and provided insightful comments on traditional favorites and some new offerings. Also on the slate is, “Rauland Rambles” from Molsky and his Norwegian collaborators, Arto Järvelä and Anon Egeland. This distinctive recording, which fuses traditional American roots with Scandinavian folk, comes from an impromptu session set after Bruce performed at this year’s Rauland International Winter Festival in Norway.
In addition to his many live performances as a solo and with Molsky’s Mountain Drifters, Bruce will be kept away from his home in Beacon, New York, by his work as a Visiting Scholar at the old American Roots Music Program at the Boston’s Berklee College of Music, and through fiddling workshops and summer music camps he conducts for devotees here and abroad.
So how does a street kid from the Bronx with plans for a career in architecture and a passion for Jimi Hendrix become a pre-eminent performer and preservationist for a homespun musical idiom forged a world away?
“I grew up in the Bronx in the 1960s, and was glued to AM pop radio,” says Molsky. “I started playing guitar when I was ten, when Dr. Billy Taylor and his Jazzmobile program visited my school. I already loved the Beatles, Motown, and Bob Dylan, but Dr. Taylor did something to me that day, he made ME want to play. And that was the day I went home and asked my mom for guitar lessons. And like a lot of kids at that time, I tried to be Jimi Hendrix and played in a string of pretty awful rock bands. But I also became very serious about finger style guitar, and that has stayed with me all along.”
“Traditional music came into my life when I was 12, when my sister bought me the first Doc Watson LP and I was blown away by ‘Black Mountain Rag,’” continues Molsky. “I came up at the tail end of the folk revival in New York, catching concerts by people like Bill Monroe, Ralph Stanley and Curly Ray Cline as they came through for the Newport Folk Fests. I picked up the fiddle at 17, six months after I had started playing banjo.”
Through his teenage years, Molsky honed his skills at nurturing folk gatherings in New York and the Northeast, including the annual Fiddlers’ Convention at South Street Seaport. Hoping to please his engineer father, Molsky began studying architect and engineering at Cornell. A blow to these designs was the folk scene at and around Cornell, which only served to deepen his interest in, and ultimate pilgrimage to, the roots of early rural music.
“I left Cornell after two years and decided to follow the music,” adds Molsky. “I eventually moved to Virginia and got a job working in a carpet mill. But my main focus was weekly road trips to the mountains of Virginia and West Virginia, to learn from old masters like Tommy Jarrell.”
“As a teenager I loved the idea of living in the country, the notion of a simpler life, the romance that’s what the music represented to me and had a lot to do with my moving south,” continues Molsky. “There are many regional styles of fiddling, but what I like is where the melodies are rhythm based, where the rhythm of bow is totally locked in with the melody,” he continues. “It’s a style that goes all the way from Virginia down to North Carolina, Georgia and Alabama.”
After his style-forging Southern pilgrimage, Molsky performed regularly in the U.S., but didn’t make the total chord-cut with 9-to-5 life until his 40th birthday.
“I had a good career as a mechanical engineer, playing music in the off-hours – playing festivals and giving fiddle and banjo workshops,” adds Molsky. “But when my father passed, I decided to see if I could make a go of it as a full-time musician. The plan was to take a year off and see how it went; that was in 1997. I never went back!”
Molsky’s recording career has been plentiful since his debut session banjoist with Bob Carlin in 1990, with nearly two dozen releases available via Rounder and Compass Records and his own Tree Frog Music. His discography includes seven solo albums, from his debut of fiddlers’ classics, “Warring Cats,” to his most recent, “If It Ain’t Here When I Get Back,” an “aural autobiography” paying tribute to the musicians who have shaped his musical life and his travels from Appalachia to Australia. There’s also the Grammy-nominated “Fiddlers 4,” with Darol Anger, Michael Doucet and cellist Rushad Eggleston, the debut of the world fusion ensemble Mozaik with Andy Irvine, and contributions to legendary guitarist Mark Knopfler’s “Tracker” and the Billboard chart-topping Anonymous 4 release, “1865 – Songs of Hope and Home from the American Civil War.”
Bruce’s live and recorded work has not only drawn raves from his fellow musicians but the media. No Depression calls Molsky “an absolute master,” while Mother Jones calls him “easily one of the nation’s most talented fiddlers… he transports you, geographically, historically and most of all emotionally. NPR says “his playing is mesmerizing, transporting and best experienced live,”
The life of a full-time musician and educator at Berklee and music camps far and wide keeps Bruce away from his Beacon home for half the year. Much of Bruce’s recent sojourning has been overseas, to the British Isles, Italy, Scandinavia and a far afield as Australia.
Molsky’s travels haven’t stopped him from taking on yet another passion project, an important organizational role in the American Folk Music Center in Beacon, New York. “Pete Seeger first moved to Beacon in 1949, and so a lot of folks consider our little city to be a sort of epicenter of American folk music,” he adds. “Getting this off the ground is important to me. All of us who are working for the center see it as a vehicle that will bring a deeper appreciation and interest in this music, today and for generations to come.”
“Performing and teaching traditional music is the biggest thing in my world,” concludes Molsky. “For me, being a musician isn’t a standalone thing; it informs everything I do in my life. It’s always been about being creative and being a part of something much bigger than myself, a link in the musical chain and part of the community of people who play it and love it.”