I am a musician, teacher, and producer based in Chicago, Illinois. My latest endeavor is On Big Shoulders, a grant-funded Chicago-themed Americana album for which I am the executive producer. I assembled twelve Chicago musicians to play ten songs with links to Chicago, from an old Delmore Brothers song to a Wilco cover to a brand new Robbie Fulks song that Robbie wrote specifically for us. Check out the album and its sweet merch right here.
I teach fiddle, banjo, and guitar classes and private lessons for kids and adults at the Old Town School of Folk Music. The Old Town School is a Chicagoland legend, a cultural hub where communities of arts lovers and students of those arts converge for numerous social, educational, and performance activities. Come visit the School; it's a very welcoming place!
I was introduced to old-time music by my father, Tim Brown, who encouraged me from an early age to learn to play the fiddle. My family went to banjo gatherings, old-time music festivals, and hosted old-time music jams and various folk music concerts in our home and in nearby venues. I studied classical violin with Linda Litwin and Richard Amoroso, and began to play the fiddle formally under the tutelage of Palmer Loux. In my teens, I attended several immersive residential summer camps devoted to old-time music (see The Swannanoa Gathering and Ashokan below), where I met and began to study with an array of extraordinary old-time musicians including Brad Leftwich, Bruce Molsky, Rafe Stefanini, Paul Brown, and Ginny Hawker and Tracy Schwarz.
I learned a lot by playing in the band for the percussive dance ensemble Rhythm in Shoes under the musical direction of Rick Good, and later doing the same for Footworks Percussive Dance Ensemble under the musical direction of Mark Schatz. I have been lucky enough to perform at some great venues and festivals such as The Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage, Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival, Wheatland Music Festival, and the Philadelphia Folk Festival, as well as at coffee houses, listening rooms, and house concerts across the United States. I have made guest appearances with The Special Consensus, Tim O'Brien, The John Hartford Stringband, Uncle Earl, Dirk Powell & Riley Baugus, and Della Mae, and have performed around Chicago with Big Sadie, Robbie Fulks, Justin Roberts, Jessica Ziegler, Greg Reish, Dennis Cahill, Gia Margaret, Grant Ziolkowski, and various musicians from the Volo Bogtrotters. One of the shortest but most rewarding musical experiences I've had was sitting in with Mike Snider's band on the Grand Ole Opry for the first time in April 2015. I subsequently got to join him there again in July 2016.
I have released four albums on my father's 5-String Productions label, including My Native Home, which includes collaborations with Tim O’Brien, Ben Krakauer, Brittany Haas, and Mark Schatz. On that recording, I play and sing mostly traditional material, including some rarely heard ballads from my home state of Pennsylvania. I was also delighted to be featured on the Compass Records tribute album, Dear Jean: Artists Celebrate Jean Ritchie, which was released on September 2, 2014.
In August 2015, I traveled to Nashville to record an instrumental album of old-time fiddle & guitar duets with guitarist Greg Reish. Engineered and co-produced by Dave Sinko, Speed of the Plow comprises square dance tunes, rags, blues, and melodies reinterpreted from the solo fiddle repertory. Sources and inspirations include Virginia fiddler Emmett Lundy, Oklahoma’s Uncle Dick Hutchison, West Virginia-born Ed Haley (whom John Hartford championed), North Carolina’s Benton Flippen, and many more. The album was released on October 9, 2015, and can be purchased from CD Baby, Amazon, iTunes, or streamed on Spotify and countless other services. Greg and I played album release concerts at the Old Town School of Folk Music, Swallow Hill Music, Club Passim, Music City Roots, and several other venues around the country.
From early 2016 through the end of 2018, I was a member of the Chicago-based quartet Big Sadie. Centered around the gorgeous harmony singing of Elise Bergman & Collin Moore, the band is equally at home on a festival stage, in an auditorium hall, accompanying a dance, busking on a sidewalk, passing tunes around a circle, or in an intimate rock club. Big Sadie has opened for acts ranging from country-music legend Marty Stuart to pop and indie-rock outfit Wild Belle. We recorded our debut album in December of 2016. That album was released on May 19, 2017 with a hometown release concert and party in Chicago at The Hideout.
As a teacher, I have been on staff at The Colorado Suzuki Institute, Fiddle Camp at the Old Town School of Folk Music (which I co-lead), Rocky Mountain Fiddle Camp, Strings by the Sea, Old-Time Week at The Swannanoa Gathering, and Southern Week at Ashokan (the ending of which in 1982 inspired camp co-director Jay Ungar to compose "Ashokan Farewell"). I have also taught workshops at Berklee College of Music, the Old Town School of Folk Music, Morehead State University, The School For Strings, Music for Youth, and the Music Institute of Chicago.
I'm the executive producer of On Big Shoulders and I've produced all of my own recordings as well as Kevin Neidig's solo album Only Me, Annalivia's Barrier Falls (the band has subsequently transformed into Low Lily), and I assisted in producing Jane Rothfield's In the Moment. As a producer, I relish the opportunity to help artists find the best light in which to present their work. Drop me a line if you would like to discuss working together!