One of bluegrass music’s legendary fiddlers, Byron Berline, entertained an eager HVBA crowd at Christ Church in Poughkeepsie on Saturday night. He made his Poughkeepsie debut by the grace of an old army connection with member Fred Robbins who, in his introduction, related the story of how while driving on an Army base he heard fiddle music and u-turned his car to create a lifelong friendship with one of the world’s greatest fiddlers.
Of the Oklahoma-style fiddling tradition, Berline has been sawing on the strings since age five and it shows. If playing two hour-long sets of traditional bluegrass music and fiddle tunes occasionally punctuated by a Western swing chestnut weren’t enough, Berline put the audience in the right frame of mind with his easy-going manner, stories about music legends like Bill Monroe, and the occasional joke.
Appropriately, the concert kicked off with a fiddle tune that was co-written by Byron and Bill Monroe, “Gold Rush,” which was the name of the ensemble of regional musicians chosen for the occasion to back him up. Straight Drive’s Jen Larsen fronted the band, played rhythm guitar, sang several songs, some duets with Berline and hit all the high notes on “I’ll Just Pretend” and “Kentucky Waltz,” one of my favorites. Keith Edwards, also of Straight Drive played bass and sang several songs, including “My Rose of All Kentucky,” which, was the first song he learned to sing. HVBA regular Jerry Oland, banjoist for Buddy Merriam & Back Roads, filled in on the five and was featured on “Bluegrass Breakdown” and “Wheel Hoss,” among others.
In many ways however, the the riff trading, overlaying harmonic synergy between Berline’s fiddle, and Mike Sassano’s mandolin provided the chemistry that made this concert most memorable. Berline introduced Mike (who also plays with Out to Lunch, Too Blue, and others) as “quite the mandolinist,” quite the understatement and belied by the rapport between the two. The notey “Old Dangerfield,” which Berline says was named after Monroe’s hound dogs, immediately comes to mind. Mike and Byron also ended “Cherokee Shuffle” with amazing twin lead harmonies.
While the show was in many ways a tip of the hat to Bill Monroe, Byron Berline & Gold Rush strayed from the mountains to the Oklahoma plains with Bob Wills favorites “Maiden’s Prayer,” “Faded Love,” and the bluesy “Oklahoma Stomp.” But it was the fiddle staples “Sally Goodin’,” “Listen to the Mockingbird,” “Uncle Pen,” “Orange Blossom Special,” where the fiddler shined the brightest.
Many people made this memorable night possible. Thanks to Fred Robbins for the Berline connection and Gold Rush for their stellar accompanyment. David Angell emceed the night. George Nasca took tickets at the door, Peter Conklin provided outstanding sound services. Nancy Angell baked goodies and Mike Foley promoted the show And thanks to Lynn & Steve Lipton for hosting Byron and the band and the preceeding fiddle workshop.
Note: You may view the photos here