Tim O’Brien


Tim O’Brien Helps Gold Hill Inn Celebrate 50 Year Anniversary

:: Tim O’Brien ::
:: Gold Hill Inn :: June 7 ::
:: with Ophelia Swing Band :: June 9 ::

By Brian Turk

When Tim O’Brien left for Colorado in 1974, he wrote his mother a letter stating, “I’m heading west. I know 200 songs now, and I figure if I keep learning more I should be all right.” Nearly 40 years later, this man is more than “all right.” The Grammy Award winning multi-instrumentalist has recorded over 15 albums, broken into the top ten of Billboard’s Hot Country and Singles Chart, and was a founding member of the Colorado-based bluegrass powerhouse Hot Rize.

O’Brien most recently recorded an album with his family under the name Party of 7, which features his sister Mollie and a few of the sibling’s children. Music has always been a family affair for O’Brien and his family doesn’t just include his blood kin, but the people he has made music with for his entire career. He was a musician before he moved to Colorado, but his move west seemed to be the catalyst for his future success.

In a recent interview with The Marquee O’Brien explained that his family played a huge role in shaping his life as a musician. “Mollie and my older brother were very influential. He went away to college and came back with records by Odetta, early Bill Cosby, Ramsey Lewis, Lambert Hendricks and Ross, Peter, Paul and Mary and all this kind of stuff. So we were getting into jazz and blues and folk music through him, not just the British invasion stuff that was coming up at the time. Mollie was into it. She knew about Bob Dylan before I did; I just knew the songs ‘Blowing in the Wind’ and ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’ and stuff because Peter, Paul and Mary had done them. We both were big Beatles fans. She went more into Barbara Streisand and show tunes later on, and I got more into bluegrass and Doc Watson and that sort of thing,” he said.

While O’Brien might get the most recognition for his bluegrass chops, he is also a master of Celtic music. “When you listen to bluegrass music or country music, or even blues I’d say, it all kind of comes from the same elements, the same melting pot of America, which includes that Celtic thing. Bluegrass in particular; you’re listening to Celtic music when you hear Bill Monroe play a fiddle tune on his mandolin. He’s making the sound that came from the settlers. The drone on the fiddle sounds like the bagpipes and that kind of thing, so you’re playing Celtic music before you even realize it. So it’s all kind of in there, and already mixed. All American music is just the same elements mixed in different ways. It’s just different recipes with the same ingredients. Last Saturday and Sunday I was playing bluegrass over in North Carolina, where it comes from. I just got back from Ireland doing gigs, playing fiddle music there. The week before, I went to the last several days of Jazz Fest down in New Orleans to kind of get that part of the recipe, ’cause the African part of it is a big thing down there. I had a reunion with my old buddy Washboard Chaz, who is living down there. He’s the former Mayor of Gold Hill,” said O’Brien.

Gold Hill, and the Gold Hill Inn are both major characters in O’Brien’s story, and Colorado helped foster the sound that this man has perfected. “Colorado being such a beautiful spot with great weather, it kind of draws a certain type of people. The immigrants to Colorado over the years, and I was one of them when I moved there in 1974, go there for the mountains and the weather and the recreation, and it turns out that people like that tend to enjoy music. They kind of tend to be open minded and independent. The audiences in Colorado have always been strong. New groups will break in Colorado early on before they break anywhere else. It’s a great environment for music,” he explained.

At the end of May, O’Brien helped the Denver Folklore Center celebrate its 50th anniversary, and  this month his shows will be centered around the 50th anniversary of the Gold Hill Inn. “This whole trip is a milestone. It’s over 30 years ago that I moved there, so I guess I am part of that legacy in a way. Harry Tuft starting the Denver Folklore Center is a big thing. I might not have moved there if it weren’t for the Denver Folklore Center. My very first visit to Colorado I went to both places, Gold Hill Inn and The Denver Folklore Center,” O’Brien said.

While O’Brien will play a solo show at Gold Hill on June 7, on June 9 he will return to the Inn, hosting a reunion of his old group, the Ophelia Swing Band. “That was the band I got in early on in ’74 after I moved, and I made my first recordings with them and learned a lot. Soon after that, Hot Rize started. But before Hot Rize started, I used to play at the Denver Folklore Center Tuesday or Wednesday nights,” recalled O’Brien. “It was a weekly gig for a band that included Pete Wernick, Charles Sawtelle and Warren Kennison, and various bass players and fiddle players. I was one of the fiddle players, and Nick Forster was one of the bass players. We were all just kind of there. It was a good catalyst for a lot of good music. Harry Tuft should get a lot of credit for the Colorado music scene. When you look at what he’s done it’s just so remarkable, and it was done humbly. The Folklore Center became a meeting place, and every town needs that to get a music scene going. In Gold Hill, it was the Inn.”



:: Tim O’Brien ::

:: Gold Hill Inn :: June 7 ::

:: with Ophelia Swing Band :: June 9 ::


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• New Grass Revival

• John Hartford

• Doc Watson



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