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The Cumberland Trail Suite is a gala concert to be held Friday at the Tivoli Theatre that benefits the Friends of the Cumberland, a nonprofit created to support the development of the Cumberland Trail State Scenic Trail and its related natural areas and park lands.
The concert could be called a Bonnaroo of Appalachian folk music and features a gallery of stars old and new, of both local, regional and national renown in a single evening of virtuosic performances that can match or rival any other music emanating from a very busy weekend in Chattanooga.
Hosting and performing are Rhiannon Giddens and Tim O’Brien, two very talented musicians and electric performers.
Giddens didn’t know what to expect when she traveled to the first Black Banjo Gathering at Appalachian State University in 2005. In a day, she met the musicians who changed her life: Joe Thompson, an African-American fiddler born in 1918; a street musician named Dom Flemons; and the soaring and raucous style of the Carolina Chocolate Drops roared out. Giddens grew up with the folk-style sound of Sweet Honey in the Rock, Disney classics and some Segovia in the house. Love of singing led her to the distinguished Oberlin Conservancy for classical training, and hard work cast her in leading roles in their operas.
Giddens was also taken in by sounds that were less formal, like Celtic fiddling and old-time music. When she discovered the banjo’s African identity, she searched for a means to explore all the history and music that surrounded its mysteries. Her songwriting and arrangements have been lauded for their complicated, entangled, genre references, all at once down home, modern, hip and showy. Her band just might change the future of acoustic music.
O’Brien does it all, with musical gifts that leave his audiences in awe. He can fill an auditorium standing singly beside an assemblage of instruments, but he’s often paired with other master musicians, the best of their time. His virtuosity has humble beginnings in West Virginia. He absorbed his parent’s Perry Como records and Lawrence Welk, but abandoned them for Dylan. He plugged away at the “Peter Gunn” theme on a box guitar and by 1978, he was a charter member of Hot Rize, launching a 12-year career as a fiddler, singer and mandolinist in the internationally acclaimed bluegrass band.
O’Brien’s music remains an assemblage of very original compositions, tones techniques, and melodies from lost times and new minds. He’s twice been honored by the International Bluegrass Music Association as Male Vocalist of the Year, and has a Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Album, Fiddler’s Green. His abundant voice captures everyone’s attention, and is heard on the soundtrack of the film “Cold Mountain.” Partnerships on stage or record with Tony Rice, Jerry Douglas, Steve Martin, Bela Fleck, Mark Knopfler, and The Chieftans have created extraordinary new music, and his own compositions have been recorded by The Dixie Chicks, Garth Brooks, Kathy Mattea and Nickel Creek.
Cumberland Trail Suite Appalachian Music Festival
7:30 p.m. • Friday, March 22 • Tivoli Theatre, • 709 Broad St. • (423) 642-8497 • chattanoogaonstage.com