Having Tim O’Brien play solo at the Sheridan Opera House is like having a favorite uncle over for supper. You know; the one with the goofy jokes, clad in well-loved corduroy pants and a smile as warm as cornbread right out of the oven. He’s the guy you let sit in your favorite chair in the living room for story and a song or two.
The venerable multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter is making his umpteenth appearance in Telluride this Wednesday, February 29 for a 6 p.m. “old farts” show in Telluride’s most intimate venue, the historic Sheridan Opera House.
The door to this valley is always open to O’Brien whose music – an artful blend of bluegrass, folk, swing, and Irish and Americana styles with just a touch of the blues – has been a central part of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival line-up for all save one of the festival’s 39 years. He has taken the Fred Shellman Stage in Town Park with innumerable combinations of stellar musicians and never fails to deliver a set full of warmth, insight, down-home stage patter and blazing musicianship. Whether it’s a fiddle tucked under his chin or a bouzouki wielded with aplomb, when O’Brien plays, feet tap, jaws drop, grins widen.
The coziness of the Opera House lends itself perfectly to an O’Brien solo set. It’s a great winter when he pops by for these much-loved, living room sets. He’s batting 1,000 for sell-outs, as the early start time favors the after-work crowd who need to be up and at it again the next day.
O’Brien’s appeal largely lies in the intimacy of his songs and the laid-back energy he exudes both on stage and in person. His songs range from quiet introspections on lost love to wry observations of our vexing species. He delivers train songs, mythical folk excursions, ruminations on marriage and aging, and the pratfalls of a few whiskeys too many, all with heartfelt authenticity and a humble, “been there, too” warmth. That’s where he connects deeply with his audience. No rock star airs with this fellow. He’ll pull up a chair and sit right down with you.
Local musicians and bluegrass aficionados Steve and Ann Kennedy can attest to O’Brien’s neighborliness. Hosts of frequent picking circles in their living room, they found themselves greeting O’Brien one evening just as they were setting up to play.
“Tim’s warm living room feel is no act,” Steve said. “He’s played in my living room and he’s just as relaxed and personable in person as he is on stage. After doing his gig in Telluride, he came over and picked for two hours with us hacks and amateurs. After doing all the Tim O’ and Hot Rize songs we knew, we started on an old standard “Nellie Kane.” After we finished, he said, ‘Thanks for doing my song.’ What do you know, he’s even written all the standards, too!”
Ann had broken her elbow earlier that winter but still managed to hold her own on banjo in the presence of one of her musical heroes.
“Every time he called for banjo in a lead or a lick, my heart hit my stomach, but it was incredible to play with and in his presence,” she remembered. Broken wing and all, she was able to greet him as she would an old friend. “I gave the man a good, decent hug both on arrival and departure.”
Speaking of friends, Wednesday’s O’Brien performance will feature Telluride Music’s Dave Lamb with his sons, Jessie and Nason. The Lamb’s, who consider O’Brien family, have music in the blood and they are gifted instrumentalists. This promises to be an evening of exceptional music.
Tickets for Wednesday’s show are available by visiting sheridanoperahouse.com. Don’t hesitate.
For a preview or just cause he’s so good, watch this video of O’Brien in performance: