Twice a year, National Public Radio’s “Mountain Stage with Larry Groce” comes to Bristol, the “birthplace of country music,” to record its syndicated live performances by music’s finest veterans and newcomers. On Sunday, Oct. 20, Mountain Stage will be performed for the first time on a Johnson City stage, at ETSU’s Martha Street Culp Auditorium. Show time is 7 p.m.
To celebrate the 85th anniversary of the 1928-29 Johnson City Sessions — which overlapped with the Bristol sessions — the two-hour live concert is being sponsored by the Birthplace of Country Music and ETSU.
Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott, known for their solo work and songwriting as well as for stints in high-profile bands, are uniting again for the live performance with “Mountain Stage,” which will also feature Texas singer-songwriter Sarah Jarosz, Juno Award-winning Old Man Luedecke, Rounder Records’ recording artists The Deadly Gentlemen and the ETSU Old Time Pride Band.
Produced by West Virginia Public Broadcasting, “Mountain Stage” broadcasts on hundreds of NPR stations worldwide.
“If you have never been to a ‘Mountain Stage’ concert, they’re a lot of fun,” says Mary B. Martin School of the Arts Director Anita DeAngelis. “You experience a lot of artists at once.
“Working with an organization with the history of ‘Mountain Stage’ takes Mary B. Martin School of the Arts to a little bit different level. In the future, we hope to schedule additional radio programs for our performance series.”
While O’Brien and Scott, on their “Memories and Moments” tour, are the concert headliners, ETSU’s Old Time Pride Band also will be on the program, performing tunes from those 1928 recording sessions.
“This is one of the highest profile concert in the [Bluegrass, Old Time and Country Music] program’s history,” says Old Time Pride Band Director and professor Roy Andrade. “It’s an honor to share this music with a large audience and show people that just because music is 80 or 90 years old doesn’t mean it’s not valid today.
“All this year, we have been working up material exclusively from the Johnson City Sessions — 100 tracks, many of which haven’t been heard since the 1920s. For us who love and play the old time music, and for me as a teacher, it’s really an amazing thing to have this music unearthed. We couldn’t be happier.”
Andrade has shared the stage many times with West Virginia native O’Brien, who co-founded the band Hot Rize, and is looking forward to seeing him again.
“Tim and Darrell are two of the premier acoustic artists performing today,” Andrade says. “Tim has the rare ability to embody multiple genres in a convincing way. So does Darrell Scott. Both of them are top-notch players, A-list players, A-list singers and A-list writers.
“Tim and Darrell are both musician’s musicians and great performers. With those guys as the headliners, it’s going to be a lighthearted celebration of what happened right here. It’s very exciting.”
O’Brien’s recent pre-festival visit was an apt forerunner of the multi-layered “Mountain Stage” show.
“Tim O’Brien’s solo concert in Jonesborough before the International Storytelling Festival was one of the most gratifying musical experiences I have had in a long time,” says Mary B. Martin School Assistant Director Heidi Ehle. “A totally unaffected performer on stage, he is at once completely polished and totally relaxed. Truly the most amazingly precise flat picker I have ever heard on the guitar, he also played banjo, mandolin and fiddle on the concert, and all incredibly well. His songs are beautifully crafted and heartfelt. He plays fluently and expertly, but never just to show off, and his delivery is direct and uncontrived.”
From London, Ky., Scott is one of country music’s most successful songwriters, whose hits have been recorded by Garth Brooks, the Dixie Chicks, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. O’Brien and Scott have collaborated on two studio albums, “Real Time” in 2000 and the recent “Memories & Moments,” with which they are presently touring the U.S.
Mandolin, banjo and guitar player and songwriter Sarah Jarosz has also played with O’Brien, who told NPR that the 22-year-old performer is one of a new generation of skilled bluegrass musicians pushing the genre forward and outward. NPR calls Jarosz, who signed with Sugar Hill Records at age 16, a “bluegrass prodigy,” and the New York Times hailed her as “one of acoustic music’s finest talents.”
“I come from a background where everything is organic and it’s not complex, and it’s just folk songs,” Jarosz told NPR. “That’s how I grew up: trying to preserve that aspect of it while still trying to push it.”
Also pushing the boundaries of bluegrass are The Deadly Gentlemen, a Boston-based quintet that calls its music “playfully irreverent, vibrantly rootsy songcraft.” The young band has released three albums, most recently “Roll Me, Tumble Me” on Rounder Records.
Also on Sunday’s program is Nova Scotia bluegrass-country musician and banjo picker Old Man Luedecke, known for his storytelling in song.
“I am a prisoner for my appreciation for language,” Luedecke says on his website. “Language that moves me is language that is unusual. I feel like it’s an important thing I can contribute to songwriting.”
O’Brien produced Luedecke’s most recent album, “Tender Is The Night,” his fifth CD, which “is the relatively glossy, varnished sound of a man unafraid of playing music that hasn’t been largely heard in 60 or 70 years in its original incarnation, and being relatively faithful and authentic to it,” said PopMatters editor Zachary Houle.
Tickets for the Mountain Stage concert are $30 in advance, $35 at the door and $25 for all students (college students with ID).
The Johnson City episode of “Mountain Stage” should air on WETS-FM, the local NPR affiliate, in December.
Other Johnson City Sessions anniversary events will precede the Sunday evening concert, including a Johnson City Session Box Set Release Party at The Down Home, 300 W. Main St., at 7 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 19, with family members of the Sessions musicians and 1920s-era music by the ETSU Pride Band, the Corklickers, Hello Stranger and the Bowman Family Band. Tickets, available online only at www.BirthplaceofCountryMusic.org, are $20.
For information about or tickets to Mountain Stage, call (423) 439-TKTS (8587) or visit www.etsu.edu/martin. “Like” ETSU Mary B. Martin School of the Arts on Facebook and follow it on Twitter at TheArtsAtETSU.