Bill Evans, John Reischman, Kenny Smith & Friends bring ‘Bluegrass Explosion’ to northern Calififornia venues this week
Banjoist Bill Evans has a knack for bringing bluegrass headliners together for special tours. In recent years, he’s become well known to Northern California audiences as the mastermind behind the annual California Banjo Extravaganza. This week, Evans will show that he can think outside the banjo as he touches the spark to the “bluegrass explosion” that is Bill Evans, John Reischman, Kenny Smith & Friends with shows at The Freight & Salvage in Berkeley on Wednesday and The Palms Playhouse in Winters on Thursday.
Nate Lee and Max Schwartz will join Evans, Reischman and Smith for an evening of original tunes as well as bluegrass and old-time favorites. Both shows will start at 8 p.m.
Bill Evans’ talent for collaboration is remarkable – especially for a guy who plays an instrument many people regard as, shall we say, unsubtle. In addition to putting together the California Banjo Extravaganza in November, Evans has worked with David Grisman, Norman and Nancy Blake, Jody Stecher, Dry Branch Fire Squad, Claire Lynch and others.
Even when he records a theoretically solo CD such as the chart-topping “In Good Company,” Evans’ urge to make music in a social way bubbles up, as the list of special guests such as The Infamous Stringdusters and Tim O’Brien attests.
Occasionally Evans does perform solo, usually with his one-man show The Banjo in America in which he trades human collaborators for a bushel of antique and vintage banjos. His five-string fervor extended from the stage to the page when Evans authored “Bluegrass Banjo for Dummies,” and his appreciation for the depth and breadth of traditional and contemporary bluegrass music is put to good use in his role as Associate Director of the International Bluegrass Music Museum.
Evans will spotlight the original compositions included on his CDs “Bill Evans Plays Banjo” and “In Good Company” at this week’s shows.
When John Reischman plays, his fingers fly up and down his Lloyd Loar-made antique Gibson mandolin in a blur, creating streams of notes. And yet Reischman’s playing never feels rushed. He’s a master of tone, bringing sweetness to the virtuosic licks.
Reischman, who most recently played at the Freight and The Palms with his band John Reischman & The Jaybirds and as part of the backing band for the California Banjo Extravaganzas, got his start playing with the groundbreaking Tony Rice Unit in the 1970s – a group credited with kick-starting the “new acoustic music” branch of bluegrass music – followed by the Good Ol’ Persons in the 1980s.
This California-bred, Canada-dwelling musician has won a Grammy and been nominated for a Juno. His most recent solo release is “Walk Along John.”
Kenny Smith brings heart as well as technical prowess to his lead and rhythm guitar-playing.
He’s twice won Guitarist of the Year at the International Bluegrass Music Awards, and is widely regarded as one of the most influential flatpicking guitarists working in bluegrass.
Smith was a member of the popular Lonesome River Band, and is currently active in Kenny & Amanda Smith Band (winners of IBMA’s Emerging Artist of the Year award their first year as a duo) and Band of Ruhks with fellow Lonesome River Band alums.
Rounding out the “and Friends” part of the bill are Nate Lee and Max Schwartz. Nate Lee, who will contribute fiddle and mandolin to the mix, is an IBMA award-winning instrumentalist. He toured with Alan Munde Gazette for six years and currently tours with the Becky Buller Band.
Schwartz, a bassist and banjoist, was recently nominated for a Grammy with Laurie Lewis & The Right Hands, and has performed at the Grammy Awards as part of the Grammy Combos in 2015 and 2016.
Bill Evans, John Reischman, Kenny Smith & Friends’ schedule:
Wednesday, April 5: The Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse in Berkeley, Calif., freightandsalvage.org, ($25 advance/$29 door)
Thursday, April 6: The Palms Playhouse in Winters, Calif., palmsplayhouse.com, ($20 advance/$20 door)