When violinist Joshua Bell was four, his parents noticed that he had fashioned a sort of musical instrument by stretching rubber bands around the handles of a chest of drawers. And since he showed this interest in music, his folks got him a small violin and signed him up for lessons. Now Bell is regarded as one of the great violinists of our time, performing with major orchestras worldwide. In addition, he teaches at Indiana University and was recently named Music Director of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. His latest recording is French Impressions (Sony Masterworks) — a collaboration with pianist Jeremy Denk. At the piano for today's performance: Sam Haywood.
During her childhood in Aledo, Illinois, Suzy Bogguss loved music. She joined the church choir, played the piano and drums, and bought her first 12-string with the money she earned from babysitting. She moved to Nashville in the mid-'80s and paid the bills by singing demos by day and performing three nights a week at a local rib joint. More than a dozen albums and many awards later, Suzy has won acclaim in both country and contemporary music circles. Her latest CD is American Folk Songbook (Loyal Dutchess Records).
Sam Bush was just 11 when he got his first mandolin. By the time he was 17, he had won the title of National Junior Fiddle Champion for three years running. And he had made his recording debut, Poor Richard's Almanac. Founder of groundbreaking bands like New Grass Revival and Strength in Numbers, he has also been the go-to sideman for Lyle Lovett, the Flecktones and dozens of others. For five years, he led Emmylou Harris' Grammy-winning Nash Ramblers. The most recent of his many solo albums is Circles Around Me (Sugar Hill Records).
Joe Ely left West Texas as a teenager and "followed Woody Guthrie west and the blues guys down south; was on the West Coast during all the big hippie days." After living in Europe for a while, he returned to Texas. "I always knew the best musicians were in Lubbock," he says. His many recordings include 2011's Satisfied At Last (Rack 'Em Records) and this year's Odessa Tapes (New West Records) with the Flatlanders (Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock).
Emmylou Harris and the Red Dirt Boys
When Emmylou Harris was a kid, she wrote a letter to Pete Seeger, concerned that if she was living a sheltered life at her parents' house and hadn't suffered enough, she couldn't be a folksinger. Pete wrote back, saying: "Don't worry. Life will catch up with you. You'll suffer. Don't go hop a freight." It worked out. With dozens of acclaimed recordings and countless awards, including 12 Grammys, Emmylou maintains a widespread and loyal following, whether she's singing folk, country, pop, or traditional tunes. This year, she celebrates 20 years as a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Her latest CD is Hard Bargain (Nonesuch Records). The Red Dirt Boys are: Chris Donohue (bass) and Phil Madeira (guitar, keyboards).
Growing up in rural Maine, Heather Masse sang hymns and folk songs around home with her family. Now based in New York, this New England Conservatory of Music alum is a one-third of the Juno Award-winning Canadian trio The Wailin' Jennys. Her solo album, Bird Song, was released in 2009 on Red House Records. Lock My Heart, a recording with piano legend Dick Hyman, comes out in February on the Red House label.
Chuck Mead and His Grassy Knoll Boys
After leading several popular 1980s cult bands in and around his hometown of Lawrence, Kansas, Chuck Mead landed in Nashville where he co-founded the famed quintet BR549. Since then, he has formed several other groups, including Chuck Mead and His Grassy Knoll Boys. He also served as music director for the Broadway hit Million Dollar Quartet. His latest CD — and second solo album — is Back at the Quonset Hut (Ramseur Records). The Grassy Knoll Boys are Carco Clave, Mark Miller, and Martin Lynds, with special guests Buddy Spicher and Harold Bradley.
Songwriter, vocalist Aoife O'Donovan grew up in a musical family in Newton, Massachusetts. In her teens, she took an interest in the American folk tradition, and she spent her summers in Ireland, studying music and dance. After graduating from the New England Conservatory of Music, she formed the progressive bluegrass band Crooked Still. Plans are in the works for a solo album in 2013.
When Brad Paisley was about eight, his grandfather gave him a guitar and a piece of advice: "Anything that's going wrong in your life, you can pick this guitar up and it'll go away." Seems grandpa was right. At 12, Paisley wrote his first song. He was invited to perform it at a Rotary Club meeting, and that's when a radio program director asked Brad to appear on WWVA's Jamboree USA. Brad was a hit, and he hasn't stopped wowing music moguls and fans alike. He is a three-time Grammy winner, inductee into the Grand Ole Opry, and the Country Music Association's 2010 Entertainer of the Year. His latest recording, This Is Country Music, was released last year on the Sony Nashville label.
It's hard to put a label on Punch Brothers. These five virtuosic musicians have been pushing boundaries as performers, recording artists, composers, interpreters, technicians, and stylists, since they first came together in 2006. That's when they made the album How to Grow a Woman from the Ground, which earned them a Grammy nomination. Suffice it to say, Chris Eldridge (guitar), Paul Kowert (bass), Noam Pikelny (banjo), Chris Thile (mandolin), and Gabe Witcher (fiddle) are stirring things up with their extraordinary sound. Their new album is Who's Feeling Young Now? (Nonesuch Records).
Four-time Grammy winner Steve Wariner is an acclaimed singer, songwriter, producer, and instrumentalist who has dozens of albums to his credit. His early career was propelled by his musical hero, Chet Atkins, about whom he says: "Try to do what he does technically. Then try to do it with his touch, tone, and feeling, and you're reminded that you can't out-Chet Chet. He was something else." The latest CD from this Music City Walk of Famer is Guitar Laboratory (SelecTone Records).
Singer, songwriter, fiddle player Sara Watkins was only eight when she, her brother Sean, and Chris Thile started the genre-bending, Grammy-winning trio Nickel Creek. Two decades later — with Nickel Creek on indefinite hiatus — she struck out on her own. Her first solo album, Sara Watkins, was released in 2009. Her latest, Sun Midnight Sun (Nonesuch), came out earlier this year.
Garrison Keillor was born in Anoka, graduated from the University of Minnesota ('66), and lives in St. Paul. He is the author of numerous books, including Pilgrims: A Wobegon Romance, and Guy Noir and the Straight Skinny (Viking), and the editor of several anthologies of poetry, including Good Poems: American Places (Viking).
The Guy's All-Star Shoe Band
The Guy's All-Star Shoe Band is led by A Prairie Home Companion music director Richard Dworsky. Keyboard player, composer and improviser in any style, he also writes all the script themes and underscores. His latest CD is So Near and Dear to Me.
Chet Atkins called Pat Donohue (guitar) one of the greatest fingerpickers in the world today. And he writes songs too — recorded by Suzy Bogguss, Kenny Rogers, and others. Nobody's Fault and Vicksburg Blues (a collaboration with Butch Thompson) are the most recent of Pat's albums.
Gary Raynor (bass) has performed with the Count Basie band and Sammy Davis Jr., with whom he toured for several years. He was first call for dozens of touring Broadway shows, including the first presentation of The Lion King. Gary teaches at the McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul.
Peter Johnson (percussion) has played klezmer music with Doc Severinsen and jazz with Dave Brubeck. He was a drummer for The Manhattan Transfer and for Gene Pitney. He has toured the world, but he always comes back to home base: Saint Paul.
Sound effects man Fred Newman is an actor, writer, musician, and sound designer for film and TV. He is author of the book (and CD/CD-ROM) MouthSounds. Fred admits that, growing up, he was unceremoniously removed from several classrooms, "once by my bottom lip."
One minute he's mild-mannered Tim Russell; the next he's George Bush or Julia Child or Barack Obama. We've yet to stump this man of many voices. In other roles, Tim played the part of Al, the stage manager, in the Robert Altman film A Prairie Home Companion and a detective in the Coen brothers' A Serious Man.
On APHC, Sue Scott plays everything from ditzy teenagers to Guy Noir stunners to leathery crones who've smoked one pack of Camel straights too many. The Tucson, Arizona, native is well known for her extensive commercial and voice-over work on radio and television, as well as movie and stage roles.
Lovingly selected from the earliest archives of A Prairie Home Companion, this heirloom collection represents the music from earliest years of the now legendary show: 1974–1976. With songs and tunes from jazz pianist Butch Thompson, mandolin maestro Peter Ostroushko, Dakota Dave Hull and the first house band, The Powdermilk Biscuit Band (Adam Granger, Bob Douglas and Mary DuShane).