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Bryan Bowers to bring autoharp virtuosity to Fiddlers Crossing, May 5

Fiddlers Crossing

 

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Bryan Bowers.

Anyone who was in elementary school in the mid-Twentieth Century will remember the autoharp. In those days, we all sang every day in our classrooms, and autoharp was the most ubiquitous instrument for accompaniment. Being picked to play it on any given day was an honor. We learned a basic strum and the three buttons to push for chords in a particular key.

Bryan Bowers, one of the foremost masters of the autoharp, has taken it far from the schoolroom. On Saturday, May 5, at 7 p.m., Bowers will bring his virtuosity to Fiddlers Crossing, along with his songs and stories of growing up in the Virginia countryside. He will be joined by two other extraordinary musicians: fiddler Anna Schaad-Montgomery, from Ridgecrest, and mandolinist and guitarist, Geoff Goodhue.

As a child, Bowers was mesmerized by the call-and-response singing of the field workers and gandy dancers (the railroad workers charged with keeping the track in good repair) who passed near his house. "I'd see the gandy dancers coming down the tracks, setting the rails and getting their ties straight," he said, "and I learned to sing those old songs." He learned that their singing was a way to help them work together.

One example he gives is, "Whup Boys, Can't you Line 'em?, Chack a Lack." As Bowers explains it, "'Whup Boys, can't you line 'em?' was the call the leader would sing. 'Chack a lack' was the bounce-back of the hammer after falling on the pin. I just thought that music was something that everyone did. It was years later that I realized what I'd been raised around."

Bowers attended Randolph Macon College in Ashland, Virginia, but found music to be more satisfying. This was during the late 1960s, and he had taken up the guitar. The music of the field and railroad workers of his childhood was still in his heart. As he says, "The roots of the music had gone real deep in me."

It wasn't long before Bowers encountered the autoharp. "I ran into a guy that played several instruments and could get the harp in good tune. He had a real sprightly style on it. It was the first time I'd heard someone play it in good tune and play it well. It opened my eyes and my ears. I went out and got one the next day."

Bowers spent time in Seattle as a street busker, but once he had polished his technique, he headed back east. "The Dillards heard me in DC when I went to the Cellar Door," he recalls. "I introduced myself and played the `Battle Hymn of The Republic' to show them how the harp worked. The Dillards took me to a bluegrass festival in Virginia. When they got a second encore, they put me out there saying, `Here's a guy you ought to hear.'"

Bower has been inducted into Frets Magazine's First Gallery of the Greats. This distinction put him alongside luminaries, such as Chet Atkins, David Grisman, Stephane Grappelli, Itzhak Perlman, Tony Rice, Rob Wasserman and Mark O'Connor. In 1993, Bryan was the first living member inducted into the Autoharp Hall of Fame, standing with Maybelle Carter, Kilby Snow, and Sara Carter.

From his beginnings as a street singer, Bryan Bowers has become a major artist on the traditional music circuit. He has redefined the autoharp and is also well known as a singer-songwriter. Bryan has a dynamic outgoing personality and an uncanny ability to enchant a crowd in practically any situation. For more than five decades, Bowers has been to the autoharp what Earl Scruggs was to the five-string banjo. As a review in the Chicago Sun-Times stated, "When he picks up the instrument, the entire room changes...a very magical world, a music never heard before."

Bryan Bowers will soon bring that magical world to Fiddlers Crossing.

For more information and to hear samples of Bryan Bowers, go to http://www.fiddlerscrossing.com.

Tickets may be purchased next door at Mountain Music, Tehachapi Treasure Trove, Tehachapi Furniture in Old Town, Lucky's Barbershop, online at Fiddlerscrossing.com or with a credit card by calling (661) 823-9994. Tickets to the concert are $20. The concert begins at 7 p.m. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

On the Horizon: Guy Davis, Gary Stockdale, The Quitters, SEA, and Amber Cross.

 
 

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