The show could not have been any more relaxed.
Truth be told, bluegrass greats Tim O’Brien and Bryan Sutton were probably more than a little tired and burnt-out, as Sunday evening’s show at The Egg came on the heels of the International Bluegrass Music Association’s week-long World of Bluegrass celebration in Nashville.
(Mandolinist Sten Isachsen – who was also at the bash in Nashville with Jim Gaudet & the Railroad Boys – explained that IBMA isn’t an acronym for International Bluegrass Music Association; it stands for “I’ve Been Mostly Awake” in honor of the non-stop, week-long pickin’ ‘n’ partyin’ that takes place.)
In fact, at The Egg, mandolinist O’Brien twice flubbed the lyrics to the traditional “Cluck Old Hen,” a song he’s probably played hundreds of times. O’Brien simply shrugged, looked out at the audience, and deadpanned, “Let me know if the show is too slick for you.”
But just because the musicians were in casual mode, don’t think that they weren’t unleashing some hellbent musical fireworks throughout the night. From the opening romp of “Suzanna” (O’Brien sang, “Dancing all night with a bottle in my hand’) to the encore of the Carter Family classic, “The Storms are on the Ocean” (with opening act Russ Barenberg joining in for some additional fretboard bedazzlement), the duo was sharp. The music was delicious. And they made it all look so easy and effortless.
O’Brien had already performed twice in Nippertown this year – as the utility multi-instrumentalist with Mark Knopfler’s band at the Palace Theatre and leading his own Tim O’Brien Band at the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival.
But it was a real treat to watch him trading licks with guitar master Sutton at The Egg. They switched instruments frequently. O’Brien took up guitar (the zippy swing of “Gonna Try to Make Her Stay”), banjo (the keening Irish ballad “Ireland’s Green Shore”) and fiddle (the Appalachian drone of “Jack o’ Diamonds”). Sutton chimed in on banjo (the lovely “Sandy River Belle”) and mandolin (the spirited “The Yellow Barber”) and even stepped up to the microphone to handle the lead vocal chores on Brendan Croker’s “That’s Where I Belong” and Guy Clark’s “Anyhow I Love You.”
They regionalized the show, too, dropping in the Adirondack logging song, “My Girl’s Waiting for Me (River Driving).”
Guitar great Russ Barenberg opened the show with 40 minutes of sparkling acoustic guitar instrumentals – his “Where’s the Moose?” and Grammy nominated “Little Monk” were particular standouts – before joining O’Brien and Sutton for a trio of tunes at the end of the night. They included “I Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow,” a sentiment that seemed particularly close to the musicians’ hearts on this evening.
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Excerpt from Brian McElhiney’s review at The Daily Gazette: “The notes flew and the humor came freely in The Egg’s Swyer Theatre Sunday night, as top bluegrass pickers Tim O’Brien and Bryan Sutton teamed up for a night covering just about all the bases of acoustic music. This was honest-to-goodness back porch picking, completely raw – just in a fancier atmosphere.”
TIM O’BRIEN AND BRYAN SUTTON SET LIST
Walk Beside Me
My Girl’s Waiting for Me (River Driving)
Medley: Mister Fiddler/The Ace and Deuce of Piping/High Heeled Shoe
That’s Where I Belong
Ireland’s Green Shore/Cluck Old Hen
Church Street Blues
Jack o’ Diamonds
Pretty Fair Maid in the Garden
Train on the Island
Sandy River Belle
Anyhow I Love You
You Ate the Apple
Gonna Try to Make Her Stay
The High Road
The Yellow Barber (with Russ Barenberg)
I Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow (with Russ Barenberg)
The Storms Are on the Ocean (with Russ Barenberg)