Matt Brown

Musician, Teacher & Producer

Chess Records artist performs with On Big Shoulders

At the On Big Shoulders album release concert on Sunday, December 2, 2018, the band was joined by blues legend & Chess records artist Barbara Carr, who came up from St. Louis to celebrate with us (we covered her hit “Shake Your Head” on our album). It was our first time meeting Barbara, who was so kind to us and so enthusiastic about sharing the stage with us. Here’s to many more songs together!

On Big Shoulders release

Today marks the release on Allograph Records of On Big Shoulders, a Chicago-themed album I concocted in March 2016, recorded in July 2017, and am now proud to see enter the world on CD, vinyl, and via various streaming platforms. Co-produced with GRAMMY-nominee Liam Davis, On Big Shoulders features 12 Chicago musicians playing 10 songs linked in one way or another to Chicago. We’re having an album release concert for the record on Sunday, December 2 at the Old Town School of Folk Music. This might be the only time that most of the musicians on the album will all be in the same place, and it will definitely be the first public performance of any of the material.

Matt Brown on the podcast "Get Up in the Cool"

Check out the latest episode of Get Up in the Cool, on which I was the guest. It was a bunch of fun to play fiddle & banjo duets with host Cameron DeWitt, and talk about decoding old-time music and the Old Town School of Folk Music. Cameron also was one of the first people for whom I played On Big Shoulders, an Americana album I concocted featuring Chicago music played by Chicago musicians. The Kickstarter campaign to fund the manufacturing of On Big Shoulders runs through March 31, 2018 and can be found here.

Julian Lage & Chris Eldridge at the Old Town School of Folk Music

I had a wonderful experience opening for Julian Lage & Chris Eldridge at the Old Town School of Folk Music this past Sunday. I've been a fan of their music for years, and I delighted in getting to visit with them before the show, jam on "Forked Deer" in the lobby with Critter, and then soak in all their incredible music during their set. I was joined on my portion of the program by my Big Sadie bandmate Elise Bergman, who sang beautifully. One of the songs we performed was the ballad included below, which Elise learned from the singing of Daron Douglas. Click here for Phil Solomonson's enthusiastic review of the concert.

Recommended American Roots shows in Chicago

As a music-loving resident of The Windy City, I notice that it is nearly a part-time job keeping up with all of the terrific artists that play in and around Chicago. And my students and friends are often unaware of some of the shows I've found my way to, so I've created a Facebook group solely devoted to rectifying this. If you'd like to see a semi-regular feed of my top picks for old-time, bluegrass, and Americana concerts to attend in Chicagoland, click through here and request to join the group.

Punch Brothers

Last night's Punch Brothers concert at Thalia Hall, which was preceded by Gabriel Kahane's masterful opening set, was the best performance I have ever attended. Never before have I heard a band of virtuosi play so selflessly and joyfully. Their banter and the sportive moments of their solos elicited laughter from an enthralled crowd whose loving unison sing-alongs were so adept that Chris Thile stepped away from the single mic for his adoring fans. That was one for the ages, and it was of course mixed by Dave Sinko. [For those who attended the Friday show, Saturday was even better, thanks in large part to a less pixilated audience]

"Bonaparte's Retreat" added to the National Recording Registry

Exciting news in the old-time fiddle world: Kentucky fiddler William Hamilton Stepp's legendary rendition of "Bonaparte's Retreat" was added to the Library of Congress National Recording Registry yesterday! The press release is here. Stepp's life is chronicled in remarkable detail by Stephen Wade in his seminal book, The Beautiful Music All Around Us. The book's publisher, University of Illinois Press, had this to say about Stepp''s inclusion in the Registry.

Visit to WGN Radio on Halloween

I had a fun visit to "Nocturnal Journal with Dave Hoekstra" last night in downtown Chicago. It was Halloween (I dressed up as a professional folk musician), and I had the good fortune of attending the first set of The Dave Rawlings Machine concert at The Vic before heading down to the Loop to Tribune Tower, where WGN Radio is housed. Click here to listen to all 17 minutes, commercial-free, of my chat with Dave. You'll hear me play fiddle & banjo, and talk about my life so far as an old-time musician, my new album with Greg Reish, and our upcoming album release concert at the Old Town School of Folk Music.

Playing on the Grand Ole Opry with Mike Snider

The coolest thing happened tonight ~ Matt Combs got me and Greg Reish backstage passes to the Grand Ole Opry, a treat in and of itself.  Upon arriving, Matt introduced me to clawhammer banjoist Mike Snider, who was performing on the show with Matt and Brian Christianson on fiddles.  Mike asked if I had my fiddle with me.  After I got it and we tried a triple fiddle medley in the green room, he invited me to join them onstage.  Greg filmed this clip of me playing once through Mississippi Sawyer.  So much fun!!!

Dear Jean: Artists Celebrate Jean Ritchie

When I grow up I want to write just like Jean Ritchie. Seriously, I love every song she’s ever written. I love her simple yet beautiful melodies and the honest, heartfelt truth in them.
— Dolly Parton
As folk music continues to mourn the loss of its trailblazers, including Pete Seeger, who died earlier this year, Jean Ritchie doesn’t always get the respect and attention she deserves. Now in her early 90s and living in her native Kentucky, Ritchie is the subject of this two-CD tribute album honoring her work as a singer, songwriter, dulcimer player, and cultural preservationist. Kathy Mattea, Janis Ian, Oscar Brand, and Dale Ann Bradley are among the many musicians summoning the grace and simplicity of Ritchie’s songs. In one of his last recordings, Seeger does a spoken-word rendition of “I Celebrate Life,” and Judy Collins is heartbreakingly wistful on “One I Love.”
— The Boston Globe

On September 2, 2014, Compass Records will release Dear Jean: Artists Celebrate Jean Ritchie.  Writing for The Lonesome Road Review, Donald Teplyske called it a "uniformly outstanding tribute."  The album, produced by Mick Lane, Charlie Pilzer, and Dan Schatz, features many of my favorite folk artists, and I am humbled to have been included on it as well.  I play fiddle on two of the tracks: Dan Schatz's gorgeous rendition of Jean's original "Thousand Mile Blues" and my own solo fiddle arrangement of the traditional play-party song "Golden Ring Around the Susan Girl."  I had a wonderful time recording with two great engineers here in Chicago.  Jesse McQuarters at WFMT helped me with Dan's track and Dennis Cahill, a long-time musical hero and recent duet partner, recorded "Golden Ring" in his own studio.

This album gives us a wonderful opportunity to celebrate Jean Ritchie's life, legacy, and music while she is here to bask in our appreciation, and also to turn our attention to the causes for which she has advocated throughout her life.  Susie Glaze, whose rendition of Jean's "West Virginia Mine Disaster" is an album highlight, wrote a lovely article about the pre-release celebration concert in Berea, Kentucky that featured Jean herself singing from the front row.  John McCutcheon, Tim O'Brien, Suzy Bogguss, Kathy Mattea, Stuart Duncan, and Bryn Davies open the album with a stunning rendition of my favorite Jean Ritchie composition, "Black Waters."  The song is devastatingly relevant, a necessary reminder of the havoc we continue to wreak on our planet.  

Sad scenes of destruction on every hand - black waters, black waters run down through my land
— "Black Waters" by Jean Ritchie
The surface mining practice called “mountaintop removal” is exactly as it sounds - coal companies blast the tops off mountains and dump the rock and dirt into valleys, burying headwaters and poisoning streams for miles. The artists who have come together to make this CD support the End Mountain Top Removal Campaign of Appalachian Voices, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping give voice to the people of the region to pressure the White House, Congress, state lawmakers and other decision-makers to end mountaintop removal, now.
— from the liner notes

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