Banjo god Tony Trischka has been a regular visitor to the stages of the Towne Crier Café (in its various geographical manifestations) since the 1970s, when he was in a band called Breakfast Special. Over the ensuing decades he has cemented a reputation as one of the leading lights of newgrass and jazzgrass, a pioneer of the chromatic style of banjo-playing. If for nothing else, you probably know him as that guy who taught Béla Fleck how to play.
In 2015 Trischka released a highly regarded album of Christmas-related traditional tunes, recorded up at Levon Helm’s place in Woodstock, titled Of a Winter’s Night. He’s currently doing a holiday tour focusing on that material, with local stops planned at the Towne Crier and the Ashokan Center. Joining him will be another stellar name in the acoustic music firmament: multi-instrumentalist, ethnomusicologist and shape-note singer Tim Eriksen, who claims to be “the only musician to have shared the stage with both Kurt Cobain and Doc Watson.”
Among myriad other accomplishments, including founding the punk/folk band Cordelia’s Dad, Eriksen is known for having been hired by T Bone Burnett to teach the musicians for the film Cold Mountain to sing the eerie pentatonic scales of the Sacred Harp tradition. Still practiced in remote pockets of Appalachia, it’s a style of performance that evolved out of the use by circuit-riding ministers in the 19th century of a hymnal for illiterates that taught tunes using “shape notes.” Harmonically, shape-note singing has its roots in primitive folk carols and part-songs of the British Isles, and hearing it is guaranteed to capture your interest.
Eriksen has also spent time deeply immersed in Balkan music, which has its own scales that sound weird to the Western ear. So, a playlist that draws on all the overlapping areas where his and Trischka’s explorations have wandered in search of alternative seasonal entertainment is bound to prove a treat.
You can hear Tony Trischka, Tim Eriksen and fiddler/vocalist Phoebe Hunt at 8:30 p.m. on Friday, December 14 at the Towne Crier, now located at 379 Main Street in Beacon. Tickets cost $20 in advance, $25 at the door; to reserve, call (845) 855-1300 or visit www.townecrier.com or https://bit.ly/2RlRiM2. Your second opportunity comes at 7 p.m. on Sunday, December 16 at the Ashokan Center, located at 477 Beaverkill Road, off Route 28A in Olivebridge. Tickets cost $25 in advance, $30 at the door, $15 for youth (25 and under), and can be ordered by calling (845) 657-8333 or visiting https://ashokancenter.org or https://bit.ly/2TvbGoP.