On Stage: Tim O’Brien brings bluegrass to Sellersville

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By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

The Tim O’Brien Band

Tim O’Brien got interested in music at an early age and has stayed with it ever since.

Growing up in Wheeling, West Virginia in the 50s and 60s, O’Brien was drawn more to traditional music than the rock music that dominated the airwaves. His musical path led him to bluegrass, country and, eventually, contemporary bluegrass. Since then, he has become one of the major forces in contemporary bluegrass.

Starting with the band Hot Rize in 1973, O’Brien has released close to 50 albums in the genre, including seven with Hot Rize, four with Red Knuckles & the Trailblazers, two with NewGrange, one with The Earls of Leicester and more than 20 solo LPs. He also has been involved with more than 20 albums as a composer and 10 as a producer.

O’Brien has been a link between the traditional sounds of the hill country and the modern styles of bluegrass in the 1980s. He also works as a soloist, a duo partner with his sister Mollie, and with his band, the O’Boys. O’Brien’s songs have additionally been recorded by Kathy Mattea, the Seldom Scene, New Grass Revival, and the Johnson Mountain Boys.

O’Brien, a GRAMMY Award winner, just released his most recent album, “Tim O’Brien Band,” on March 15, 2019 and is currently playing shows in support of the new disc. On July 15, the Tim O’Brien Band will headline a show at  the Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com).

O’Brien grew up singing in church and in school, and after seeing Doc Watson on TV, became a lifelong devotee of old time and bluegrass music. A turning point came when O’Brien began listening to a weekly country music radio show, “Wheeling Jamboree.”

The Jamboree originated in Wheeling on WWVA, the first radio station in West Virginia. At the time, it was a 50,000-watt clear-channel station broadcasting at 1170 KHz on the AM dial. Numerous acts and stars passed through the annals of the “Wheeling Janmboree,” which is the second oldest country music broadcast in the United States after the Grand Ole Opry.

Discovering that the show was broadcast from a local theater, O’’Brien became a frequent audience member and saw performances by Jerry Lee Lewis, Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, and Roger Miller.

“WWVA was definitely a part of it,” said O’Brien, During a phone interview last week. “I got an earful of Doc Watson and dove into his music. I was also always a fan of Roger Miller. Then, my sister Mollie and I got into folk music through Peter, Paul & Mary.

O’Brien got his first guitar when he was 12 and was guided toward country music and bluegrass by Roger Bland, a banjo player and former member of Lester Flatt’s band.Bland taught O’Brien to play in the three-finger style of Earl Scruggs.

O’Brien first toured nationally with Colorado bluegrass band Hot Rize, who last year marked 40 years as a band. Kathy Mattea scored a country hit with his song “Walk The Way The Wind Blows” in 1986, and soon more artists like Nickel Creek and Garth Brooks covered his songs.

Over the years, O’Brien has collaborated with his sister Mollie O’Brien, songwriter Darrell Scott, and noted old-time musician Dirk Powell, as well as with Steve Earle, Mark Knopfler, Bill Frisell, and Steve Martin.

O’Brien now travels with his partner, Jan Fabricius, a mandolin player and singer. Looking for players adept at both Irish and bluegrass music, O’Brien out together a band featuring Mike Bub on bass, Shad Cobb on fiddle, Patrick Sauber on banjo and guitar, and Fabricius.

“Over the last 20 years, I’ve played a lot of solo gigs,” said O’Brien, who plays guitar, fiddle, mandolin, banjo, bouzouki and mandocello. “When Jan and I started going together, we started singing together and doing duo shows.

“Then, I decided I wanted to put a band together – and play acoustic guitar in a bluegrass band. Sometimes, I play mandolin a little and some violin. I’m mostly known for playing mandolin. With Hot Rize, I was always doing mandolin playing. I needed to change things up and keep it fresh.”

“Tim O’Brien Band” is a bluegrass record — a contemporary album that blends traditional bluegrass, O’Brien originals and tracks written by Fabricius, Shawn Camp, and The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach.

“I’m always looking for songs and finding new things to do,” said O’Brien. “It’s just a matter of finding the right songs whether traditional, original or covers. Jan and I wrote one song together on the new album – a tune called, ‘The Other Woman.’ We also did a cover of ‘Pastures of Plenty,’ an old Woody Guthrie song.

“For our live shows, we’re playing quite a few songs from the new album and we’re doing a lot of digging into some really old stuff. We’re also working up our version of ‘Maggie’s Farm,’ an old Dylan song.”

Video link for Tim O’Brien — https://youtu.be/8jL3fycVjfk.

The show at Sellersville Theater, which has Katherine Rondeau as the opening act, will start at 7:30 p.m. Ticket prices range from $29.50-$45.

Other upcoming shows at the Sellersville Theater are The Quebe Sisters on July 16 and Robert Randolph & The Family Band with Laura Cheadle on July 17.

Hannah Krupa

On July 17, Hannah Krupa will be part of a triple-bill at Bourbon and Branch (705 North Second Street, Philadelphia, 215-238-0660, bourbonandbranchphilly.com) that also features Human Resources and Chris Wilcox.

Krupa is a singer/songwriter heading into her senior year at Drexel University who is already a music business veteran.

“I’ve been singing my whole life,” said Krupa, during a recent phone interview from her home on a horse farm near Bordentown, New Jersey. “I started singing in church when I was three. And, I sang on ‘Kids’ Corner’ on WXPN. When I was young, it was mostly soul – and I was learning jazz. I love singing soul, reggae and blues.”

According to Krupa, “I grew up on a horse farm in New Jersey—running through the woods, swimming, singing and dancing in the kitchen to Annie Lennox and Sade, as my mom made dinner—these are the images that create the memories of my childhood.

“And like so many singer/songwriters before me, my first memory of singing was in church. My grandfather was a Methodist minister and having that gospel influence at such an early age takes deep root.

“Alongside going to horse shows and the shore, I was continually being exposed to music, from WXPN 88.5 concerts to a singer/songwriter cruise when I was 10 years old, featuring Emmy Lou Harris and Brandi Carlile. Music has been THE constant in my life for as long as I can remember.”

Krupa was involved in academics, music and sports when she attended high school at Notre Dame High School in Mercer County. She even played varsity tennis for the Irish.

When Krupa was 13, she recorded and released a pair of songs. One track, “Blush,” was described as “a high energy, schoolgirl crush, tween pop anthem. The other, “I Fall Hard,” was billed as “an insightful look at taking a chance and falling love through the eyes of teen girls everywhere.”

Krupa has come a long way in the decade that followed.

“My desire for a career in music started when I was really young,” said Krupa. “My dad said – you have to finish school first. My first band was called Local Honey – a six-to-seven-piece band.”

Local Honey released three songs in 2017 – “Skyline Sunset,” “All There Is To Say,” and “Come On Over.”

“I learned a lot in the band, but it was time to go solo,” said Krupa.

And, through her studies at Drexel, it was time to see the world.

“I just got back from London this month,” said Krupa. “It started in Hong Kong two years ago with an internship for writing. I also spent time travelling to Kyoto and Tokyo.

“Then, I went to London in spring 2018. I met a lot of eclectic musicians there. I played at Ronnie Scott’s and got to record at the BBC’s Tylie Arts Studios. After London, I lived in Montpelier, France last summer.

“When I came back to this rea, I opened for Magic City Hippies at The Fillmore and I went to L.A. to open for James Bay at the Hotel Café in Hollywood. I stayed in L.A. until March and then went back to London.”

Now, Krupa is back on the East Coast writing and recording a new album – and developing her signature style of sultry soul. Her new single, “Play My Soul,” was released on April 26.

“I recorded ‘Play My Soul’ in December,” said Krupa. “I cut it in Fishtown at Big Mama’s Studio. A song called ‘Andalusian Mares’ will be my next single.”

The show at Bourbon and Branch, which also features Human Resources and Chris Wilcox, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10.

Another upcoming show at Bourbon and Branch will feature Miette Hope, NINA and Ariel Skye on July 16.

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