Grammy Winner Tim O'Brien To Headline Cooper's Glen Music Festival
Among O’Brien’s many accolades, he is now a two-time Grammy winner—most recently for Jerry Douglas’s collaborative album Earls of Leicester (pronounced LESS-ter) , a tribute to bluegrass pioneers Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs.
“It’s great to be invited to the party. I mean, when you’re nominated you’ve already won, but… the last time I actually won one I realized, yeah, anyone who says it doesn’t matter if you win—they haven’t won yet,” says O’Brien.
“Cause it’s like a joy and the world is all right. And the colors are more vibrant and food tastes better and all that stuff. It’s a great feeling.”
REBECCA THIELE, WMUK: Last year after about 20 years apart, you got back together with Hot Rize and produced an album called When I’m Free. And you’re going back on tour with them again in March. Why did you make that decision to get back together with them?
TIM O'BRIEN: I think one of the things was Pete Wernick wanted to ensure that the band was remembered, just like this thing with Flatt and Scruggs—Jerry called it kind of putting a new coat of Flatt and Scruggs on the musical community. Hot Rize kind of was remembered but I think we needed to…we wanted for our own selves to get vital again and also show the bluegrass community that had never heard us before what it was about.
THIELE: You’ve also started a new project called Short Order Sessions. So talk about those a little bit.
O’BRIEN: Well Short Order Sessions is kind of a…it’s a singles label—not for single people to meet each other but for single tracks to be delivered and released. I have no chance of touring on my own really very much in the next year or so because of Hot Rize stuff, but I have a lot of music I’m making and I have some stuff in the can that’s kind of overdue to come out. So rather than set up a tour and all that kind of stuff, I’m kind of releasing stuff that’s just sitting there and I really like. And it doesn’t have any particular form, you know, it’s not necessarily aligned with any set of songs. It’s just kind of a way of keeping the stuff flowing without having to tour it.
We often play music around the house and have a little studio here. So I like to exploit that a little bit and get that informal stuff out to the public.
O'BRIEN: There’s a funny thing with the music business. The standard model is you make a little set of songs and you record it, then you go promote it on a tour and you do that again. And I’ve certainly done that over the years, but nowadays the download is much more viable than the physical CD and also the streaming is really the thing that’s supposedly that is going to take it all over. So and singles are more viable you know, the album is…with iTunes and all that stuff, people started just picking songs that they wanted to hear and just selecting them as opposed to a whole album.
I'm just trying to get with modern times and also I'm freed from the straight jacket of having 10 or 12 songs to sort of complement one another. I can sort of do what comes to mind.
So, you know, I’m just trying to get with modern times and also I’m freed from the straight jacket of having 10 or 12 songs to sort of complement one another. I can sort of do what comes to mind. Also, I have a lot of people come by the house, come by through town and visit. Maybe they stay here that are old friends and we often play music around the house and have a little studio here. So I like to exploit that a little bit and get that informal stuff out to the public.
THIELE: Your first Short Order is titled “Brush My Teeth In Coca-Cola” and that’s about a chemical spill in Charleston, West Virginia that contaminated the water of 300,000 residents, is that right?
O’BRIEN: Yeah that was a terrible catastrophe for the community there and it’s kind of a wakeup call—among many that we need to pay attention to this stuff and keep the environmental checks and balances working. And I had this song that I wrote and it was coming up on the anniversary of the spill. And I was thinking for a couple of years about this Short Order Sessions idea and I thought well this is a good way to launch it. And that track is benefiting an environmental group in West Virginia that’s trying to keep the awareness up and the watchdogs on call.
O'BRIEN: So it’s a good way to start the thing and I followed it up…it’s this Michael Hurley song, kind of a blue thing called “Ditty Boy Twang.” Oh yeah, “Get Up Offa That Thing” comes out. I’m doing the James Brown song “Get Up Offa That Thing” with banjo and guitar and bass recording a year or so ago with some friends. It’s all just kind of free form. I’ve pledged to put two songs a month out so this is the first month with two songs, so I got to keep them coming.
Bluegrass musician Tim O’Brien will perform at this year’s Cooper’s Glen Music Festival Saturday night at 10 p.m. If you go to the festival, make sure to drop by the WMUK table.