When I signed up for family weekend at Claire’s college, I didn’t go expecting to have my bluegrass itch scratched. Yes, Claremont has a wonderful Folk Music Center in the heart of the village*, but I generally have time for one quick stop to play an instrument or two between all the sessions lined up for the parents.
So imagine my surprise when I was reading the events for family weekend, and there — on Friday night — was an evening of “Bluegrass and Old-Time Music” with fiddler Richard Greene.
Wow! Richard Greene is a fiddle god – one of those west coast players who paid his bluegrass dues in Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys in the 1960s, yet expanded the genre with the help of David Grisman, Clarence White, and so many others. I’ve been listening to his music since the early 1970s, yet had never seen him live.
So with Candice and Ella, one of Claire’s good friends at school who is — who knew — a bluegrass fan (her already high stock with me just soared!) we found our way to Bridges Music Hall for a night of fiddle, mandolin, banjo, and guitar music. (As an aside, the venue once again proves my point that the most beautiful building on many a college campus is the old chapel.)
Greene was playing with traditional musician Tom Sauber and Pomona professor Joti Rockwell in what felt like a living room concert for 600 people. The laid back nature of the setting didn’t diminish the fine musicianship throughout the evening. Sauber and Rockwell were first class players who carried the vocal duties, provided the rhythm setting, and added tasteful solo touches throughout. Greene was as amazing as advertised, down to the final flourishes as he wrapped up beautiful traditional tunes such as Bill Monroe’s The Kentucky Waltz.
Highlights for me included Greene’s solo musings on Northern White Clouds, the Monroe Brothers’ version of Nine Pound Hammer, and the fine Kessinger Brothers’ encore Wednesday Night Waltz. Greene’s exploration of the old hymn Amazing Grace – retitled Amazing Graces – was a wonderful ending to the show. He said, “It’s my best song” – and he may have been right. I’ve included a video below so you can be the judge.
Nothing like an unexpected treat to close out a day.
More to come…
*The Folk Music Center in Claremont was founded by the parents of musician Ben Harper. He speaks of it fondly in many interviews.