AN APPALACHIAN SUMMER FESTIVAL
Music - Dance - Theatre - Visual Arts - Film
Bruce Hornsby has built one of the most diverse, collaborative and adventurous careers in contemporary music. Drawing from a vast wellspring of American musical traditions, the singer/pianist/composer/bandleader has created a large and accomplished body of work and employed a vast array of stylistic approaches. Throughout this period, Hornsby has maintained the integrity, virtuosity and artistic curiosity that have been hallmarks of his work from the start.
Bruce Hornsby’s work displays a creative iconoclasm that’s been a constant in the artist’s two-and-a-half decade recording career. His commercial stock soared early on, when “The Way It Is”–the title track of his 1986 debut album–became one of the most popular songs on American radio. Despite his early mainstream successes, Hornsby has pursued a more personal, idiosyncratic musical path, focusing on projects that sparked his creative interest, including collaborations with the Grateful Dead, Spike Lee, Ricky Skaggs, Don Henley, Ornette Coleman, Bob Dylan, Bela Fleck, Bonnie Raitt, Pat Metheny, and Robbie Robertson. Performing with his longtime band, the Noisemakers, Hornsby will offer a glimpse of a restless spirit who continues to push forward into exciting new musical terrain.
A decade after Bruce Hornsby established his global name as the creator of pop hits that defined “the sound of grace on the radio,” as a Rolling Stone reviewer once wrote, the Virginia-born pianist, composer, and singer-songwriter found himself compelled by two ostensibly separate areas of music. “One passion of mine was old-time American roots forms -– hymns, blues, country, bluegrass, old folk, shaped-note religious songs, on and on,” Hornsby says.
That tracked with an artist who from the beginning of his career played accordion and fronted a band featuring fiddles, banjos and dulcimers. The other area -- modern classical music – did not. Yet the cranky dissonance and expressive chromatics of twentieth-century twelve-tone inventors like the Austrian composers Arnold Schoenberg and Anton Webern, as well as the work of an American modernist like Elliott Carter or a Hungarian like György Ligeti or a French mystic like Olivier Messiaen, ultimately fed Hornsby’s sense of raw challenge.
Bruce Hornsby Solo Concerts, an emotional musical merger of American history and European daring, is a two-disc demonstration of all this and more in which the various elements of Hornsby’s songwriting and instrumental styles align in highly personal ways. The album’s twenty-one tracks are culled from Hornsby solo concerts performed in the U.S. during 2013 and 2012; together, they fuse a wide variety of what Hornsby considers different “information” from musical languages often thought to be opposed: U.S. roots music, folk-pop, film composing, and modern classical. Much of the work on the album involves what Hornsby calls an “unholy alliance” of comforting Americana and daunting composition. The result, however, sounds effortlessly like one tremendously ambitious, and equally capable, piece.
“I think I’ve found a middle ground,” Hornsby says. “I think it’s very easy be straight down the middle, to write and play the very straight, simple music. I think it’s also easy to be completely out there, very obtuse and obscure, saying oh, they don’t understand. For me, the difficult thing is to find a middle ground where you’re reaching and broadening your language but still connecting with someone perhaps used to hearing – for an entire lifetime – only those seven white notes and those simple chords.”
The pop world, Hornsby knows, obsesses over virtuosity less than style or chart positions or sales figures. But his sane view is: Why shouldn’t it be part of the mix? “There’s often a bias in the rock or pop world against virtuosity. I understand that mindset: expression over virtuosity. But my feeling is, why not both? This is not clinical, what I do. This is really emotional. It’s what I call the pursuit of the unattainable.”
The Noisemakers are bassist J.V. Collier, a twenty-year veteran of the band, as well as keyboardist/organist John JT Thomas and drummer Sonny Emory, who have played with Hornsby twenty-four and twelve years respectively. Summer 2014 marked the arrival of two new Noisemakers --fiddle/mandolin player Ross Holmes and guitarist Gibb Droll -- as well as the departures of longtime members Bobby Read and Doug Derryberry. Holmes currently fiddles for Mumford and Sons, has played with hosts of Nashville titans as diverse as Ricky Skaggs and the Dixie Chicks, and has performed with symphonies in the United States and Europe. Droll has played guitar on various projects involving Keller Williams, Kevin Kinney, and Brandi Carlisle; he is also a composer, and painter.