The Herald-Dispatch, Hamlin, West Virginia January 2007

MUSIC: Nashville Bluegrass Band, King Wilkie to perform in January in Hamlin




HAMLIN, W.Va. -- Three musicians who helped to bring the music of the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou to life will be playing in Hamlin, W.Va., as a part of the award-winning Nashville Bluegrass Band.

The concert, also featuring King Wilkie, will take place at the Lincoln County High School auditorium. The show will be the third installment in the Lincoln County Friends of the Arts concert series.

The Nashville Bluegrass Band has been around for more than 20 years and has won the International Bluegrass Music Association's (IBMA) coveted Entertainer of the Year award twice. They have also won the IBMA Vocal Group of the Year award twice, as well as a couple of Grammy awards. The members of the band include Alan O'Bryant on banjo and vocals, Pat Enright on guitar and vocals, Andy Todd on bass, Mike Compton on mandolin and vocals, and Stuart Duncan on fiddle.

Duncan, Compton and Enright all contributed music for the movie "O Brother, Where Art Thou," as well as the subsequent soundtrack album that went on to sell more than 7 million copies. That CD gave bluegrass, old-time string and American roots music in general a huge boost in popularity, which continues today. The NBB as a whole also performed on the "O Brother"-themed Down From The Mountain tour that sold out venues all across the country.

All of the members of the band are known for their instrumental prowess. Duncan, for instance, has won the IBMA Fiddler of the Year award an astounding eight times. He is also a highly sought after session player.

Compton is an original member of the NBB, and is known as one of the premier Bill Monroe-style mandolin players in the music world. He is a sought-after instructor as well as session player. Compton is no stranger to West Virginia. He left the NBB for a while in the 1990s, and went on to play in the late John Hartford's band. Hartford was a big fan of the blind West Virginia fiddler, the late Ed Haley.

Haley was born in Logan County and eventually moved up to the Tri-State area to record and perform before dying in Ashland in 1951. Rounder Records has put many of Haley's recordings on CD, and Hartford played Haley's version of "Man Of Constant Sorrow" in the Down From The Mountain concert movie. To this day, Compton uses the old recordings of Haley and his wife Martha Ella, who played the mandolin, to help teach his students.

"I'm into Ed Haley now thanks to John," says Compton. "I started using Ed and Ella as part of my teaching because their early style of music, with Ella backing up Ed, is a real informative way for me to show how rhythm plays a part in melody, whether they be a master, beginner, or anything in-between. The way she breaks it down, it makes it really easy for them to understand what I am talking about. ... It is a step above rhythm, as it is more or less a rhythmic version of the melody, except with chords."

Compton also made an impromptu appearance at the Appalachian String Band Festival one year with Hartford, the annual old time music get-together at Camp Washington-Carver in Clifftop, W.Va. That year, Hartford managed to get the music purists a little riled up.

"It was the year that he brought his tour bus up there and had about half of the festival mad because he drove it up there," says Compton, laughing. "They were fussing about him burning so much fuel with his generator. They ended up giving him an extension cord so he could plug it in and not make any racket.

"The old timers were complaining, and part of it was the generator, but the other part of it was that the purists were aggravated that his transportation wasn't humble enough, I think. He told me, he says, 'I've had a bunch of rusted out and ragged old cars. Now I can come up here and be comfortable. The heck with them guys.' They thought he was flaunting it a little too much. Finally, he was more and more accepted because he was really championing the cause to get old time (music) more recognized."

The band will be joined by Rebel Records recording artists King Wilkie, which formed in 2002 in Charlottesville, Va. Two years later, they became the IBMA Emerging Artist of the Year. The band is a mix of the old and new, combining modern day sensibilities with a love for the forefathers of bluegrass music such as Bill Monroe.

In fact, the band named itself after Monroe's favorite horse. The members of the group include Jake Hopping, Abe Spear, John McDonald, Ted Pitney, Reid Burgess, and Nick Reeb. It is not often that you see a sextet of 20-something musicians performing in suit coats, but that is how they approach it. And, they are no strangers to the Tri-State area as the band has built up quite a local following with their yearly appearances at the Appalachian Uprising music festival held every June in Scottown, Ohio. The band spent the last half of 2006 recording a brand new album, which will be released later in the spring.

For the NBB, the performance that seems to mean the most to them is their yearly collaboration with the legendary Doc Watson at the Merlefest music festival in North Carolina. Every closing day of the festival, on Sunday morning, the band and the 82-year music great join together for an hour of wonderful old school mountain music.

"It's kind of turned into a tradition," says Compton. "We really enjoy doing that with Doc. I know I look forward to it every year. A lot of people would give their eye teeth to be able to get up there and do that with him. It's just a fun thing to do. It's rewarding. Like all of us, he's got to go sometime, and I'm happy to have the opportunity to get up there and play with him. It's a little bit intimidating, but Doc is a good guy and it is a real warm-feeling thing to do."

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