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SuperGrass to Feature The Loar Mandolin Ensemble

By Craig Wilson & Hal Johnson, Festival Co-Directors
September 11, 2005 - 4:45 pm

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SuperGrass - Bakersfield, California

SuperGrass - Bakersfield, California

Big stuff is coming to Bakersfield, California. "LoarFest West" will kick off the SuperGrass Festival on February 2, 2006. The focus of this first-day event is the contribution the mandolin made famous by Lloyd Allayre Loar. Loar's contribution to stringed musical instruments ranks in the high order of the musical genius of Antonius Stradivarius. His approach to the science of acoustics (to which his patents bear witness), and the acoustical properties of the instruments he created, bear no equal. Roger Siminoff reported that when he un-crated one of Loar's personal instruments 50 years after he packed it for storage, it was still in perfect concert pitch -- every note! Incredible.

Loar was employed by Gibson in 1919 essentially as a design consultant. His more obvious contributions to Gibson were the design and development of the "Master Model" instruments, including the F-5 "Master Model" mandolin, made famous by the father of bluegrass, Bill Monroe.

Only a couple hundred of these instruments survive today, produced in the "Loar years" from December 1922 through December, 1924. Right after Loar left Gibson, the mandolins were shunted to the back of the catalog. Subsequently, the Gibson F-5 has gone through many ups and downs since the Loar years, but more recently is enjoying a re-emergence in quality, tone and playability which has driven them back to premium status. The Gibson Company is a major sponsor of LoarFest West and has been an invaluable supporter.

Recognized players of the Loar mandolin will demonstrate some of the characteristics of these great instruments that keep them coming back to their "special axe." Different styles of music will be demonstrated using these remarkable instruments. To accomplish this feat, the Loar Ensemble has emerged. We have a dazzling line-up of top notch mandolinists who have agreed to create the Loar Ensemble. They are (in alphabetical order): Mike Compton, Mike Marshall, John Reischman, Tom Rozum, and Tony Williamson.

Mike Compton knows more about Monroe style mandolin than the Father of Bluegrass himself according to John Hartford. Mike was born in Jimmie Rodger's hometown of Meridian Mississippi. Mike was exposed to old-time music at an early age and received his first mandolin at the age of 15. He moved to Nashville in 1977 and worked for the next three and a half years with North Carolina legendary banjoist Hubert Davis and the Season Travelers. In 1985 he joined the Nashville Bluegrass Band, and during Compton's initial stint in the group, 1985-1988, he appeared on the four albums that first brought the band to prominence. Mike recently received Grammy Award acknowledgement for playing the mandolin on two award winning projects, "Oh Brother Where Art Thou?", Album of the Year and Best Compilation Soundtrack Album, and "Down From the Mountain", Best Traditional Folk Album.

Mike Marshall is one of the world's most accomplished and versatile acoustic musicians, a master of mandolin, guitar and violin whose playing is as imaginative and adventurous as it is technically thrilling. Able to swing gracefully from jazz to classical to bluegrass to Latin styles, he puts his stamp on everything he plays with an unusually potent blend intellect and emotion, a combination of musical skill and instinct rare in the world of American vernacular instrumentalists. Mike will be organizing the music for the ensemble as well as being accountable for the string inventory.

John Reischman is one of the top-ranked contemporary mandolin players, revered for his exquisite taste, tone, and ability to play genres ranging from bluegrass to jazz to hot swing to Latin and beyond. He toured and recorded for many years with California's eclectic Good Ol' Persons and helped define the groundbreaking "new acoustic" instrumental scene as a member of the Tony Rice Unit in the early '80s. He maintains a busy schedule of performing and recording in a typically wide range of musical configurations. John appeared on the 1996 Grammy Award winner for best bluegrass album, True Life Blues: The Music of Bill Monroe. He also played on Kate MacKenzie's 1997 Grammy Award nominated bluegrass album, The Age of Innocence, and Susan Crowe's Juno-nominated album This Far From Home.

Tom Rozum started playing in a series of swing and bluegrass bands in Arizona and Southern California before moving north in 1984 and eventually joining the band that toured in support of Laurie Lewis's first solo album, Restless Rambling Heart. Renowned for his crisp, lyrical mandolin playing (he is also a talented guitarist and fiddle player) and his warm, plaintive vocals, Tom has graced every album Laurie Lewis has recorded since then as well as releases by Kathy Kallick, Si Kahn, Charles Sawtelle, Peter McLaughlin, Marc Simos and others. Tom has also won a legion of fans of the duo's live performances with his irrepressible wit and laconic onstage persona. Tom is a master on the F-5 Master model.

Tony Williamson has performed in many different musical genres and ensembles, including Bluegrass acts like the Bluegrass Alliance in 1976 and 1977 (a band whose alumni also includes Vince Gill, Dan Crary, Sam Bush and Tony Rice). Also during this time, Williamson performed classical mandolin with Duke University Symphony Orchestra, jazz mandolin with "Champagne Charlie", and as studio musician appeared on record with many different artists and musical styles including John Hartford, Mike Cross, Bobby Hicks, Ricky Skaggs, Bill Clifton, Mike Seeger, Vassar Clements, Jerry Douglas, Jimmy Murphy, John Duffy and Tom Gray. Tony plays any style, any way you want it, but always impeccably tasteful and engaging. Ask him about playing with Pavarotti.

Well, there you have it. The dog-gonest line-up of mandolin players you'll ever see. And they all will be playing some of the finest Loar mandolins in captivity. The Loar Ensemble will be conducting a workshop from 4:00 -5:30 Thursday afternoon (February 2) and will be the closing act at the Thursday evening concert (9:00 pm).

This amazing feat is followed by three days (February 3-5, 2006) of spectacular bluegrass performances by the likes of Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Blue Highway, Nashville Bluegrass Band, Marty Raybon, Cherryholmes Family, Lost & Found, The Wilders, Sawtooth Mountain Boys, Richard Green w/ Bros. Barton and Due West. Man oh man... a musical extravaganza not to be missed.

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