The International Storytelling Center has tapped Tim O’Brien, a world-class bluegrass, folk and old-time country musician, for a special concert to jump start the weekend of its signature event.
Scheduled for 7:30 p.m., Oct. 3, the Thursday-night concert is the second of two special events leading up to the 41st annual National Storytelling Festival. (The first, a concert with storytelling icon Donald Davis, is scheduled for Wednesday night.) Both events will take place on the festival grounds.
O’Brien will be joined by opening act Nora Jane Struthers & The Party Line, a Nashville-based acoustic Americana quintet with story-songs inspired by carnivals, sideshows, old-time ballads and American history.
Tickets are $20 for all ages, and reservations are highly recommended.
In addition to his reputation as a standout live act, O’Brien is known as a prominent songwriter. He has penned tunes for groups like the Dixie Chicks, Nickel Creek and Garth Brooks, and has collaborated with Steve Martin, the actor and banjo player.
While O’Brien is now a fixture on the Nashville music scene, his roots are in West Virginia, where he started playing guitar at the age of 12. Falling under the spell of local musicians and cultural heroes like Bob Dylan, O’Brien became a veritable one-man band during his teenage years. Before he hit 20 years old, he had learned to play the fiddle and the mandolin, among other instruments.
Around the same time, he was developing a keen appreciation for a story well-told. Dinner table tales were a fixture among family and friends.
“You’d hear the same story recounted, and it would grow and develop,” he recalls. “You would start to understand things about it that you hadn’t the first time. Maybe there’s more information this time, or more context. You get older and you’re more aware of what they’re talking about. The stories get honed.”
While long nights at the dinner table were eventually displaced by life on the road (the plight of a successful musician), O’Brien’s taste for stories has been satisfied by the characters he gets to call colleagues. He fondly recalls touring with an Irish fiddle player.
“Traveling around with him, you’d hear the same story over and over,” he says. “It’s really fascinating. The details, the dates, and people’s names would change, but there’s always the same gist. Sometimes the point of the story transcends a particular place or time. It’s about what happens.”
O’Brien peppers his own performances with stories from life on the road, tales about his family, and memories of lost friends like Doc Watson. During his performance in Jonesborough, he expects to play a range of songs from across his career on instruments that include the guitar, the mandolin, the fiddle and the banjo.
The concert, which will take place in the Library Tent in downtown Jonesborough, will christen the grounds of the National Storytelling Festival, which is set to begin the following morning.
“I’m really excited to be at the festival,” he says. “My only regret is that I can’t stick around.”
The 41st annual National Storytelling Festival is Oct. 4-6, with regular programming scheduled from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Sunday. There are several separate ticketed events throughout the weekend, including Ghost Stories and Midnight Cabaret concerts on Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m., respectively.
The concert is sponsored by CrestPoint Health. For information on the event or on the National Storytelling Festival, visit www.storytellingcenter.net or call (423) 913-1276.