The modern state of bluegrass and traditional music is alive and well with artists such as banjo master Noam Pikelny and the Grammy winning Stuart Duncan.
Pikelny, along with Duncan, will perform as a banjo/fiddle duo at the Franklin Theatre in Franklin, Tenn. on June 28.
In the middle of downtime between recording sessions for a new Punch Brothers record, Pikelny says the first run of shows was really thrilling for him.
“Stuart Duncan is a musician I’ve really looked up to and this is the first time I’ve played live with him. It was an experiment to see how we could put together a full night of fiddle and banjo. It provided a nice glimpse as to what the fiddle and banjo can do collectively. It was an open texture for them to shine through,” Pikelny added.
Pikelny grew up in Chicago and has lived in Nashville during previous years, but he now calls Los Angeles home.
“The banjo was cool to me, but not to everyone else growing up in the suburbs of Chicago,” Pikelny added about his early days and inspirations.
“I think roots music has always been thriving. There’s definitely a bit of a sea change these days. I see all of that as only a good thing. I remember when it used to be under the radar and wasn’t considered for mass consumption,” Pikelny said about the current state of roots music.
Pikelny, along with many others, are a good reason the scene has been thriving over the year. On the same note, he is viewed in high regard among various names in the industry such as Bela Fleck, who was an early influence, Steve Martin and others.
Steve Martin says “he’s a player of unlimited range and astonishing precision” while Gillian Welch and David Rawlings claim “Noam’s one of the only banjo players around who can incorporate modern ideas with the great old-time drive.”
“Its extremely gratifying. It’s great to hear back from your heroes and mentors. I consider myself extremely lucky,” Pikelny noted.
On his latest album, Noam Pikelny Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe, he takes on classic tunes which formed the textbook of bluegrass instrumentals. An influential album for many players, the album features Duncan along with Ronnie McCoury, Bryan Sutton and Mike Bub.
Both Pikelny and Duncan traditionally play with larger ensembles, so this setup is one that is unique in its own right.
“It’s vastly different, both of us are used to playing in larger bands. The main challenge is to be supportive at all times. There’s no opportunity to lay back and provide the rhythmic backbone. In both of our situations, we are the icing on the cake and we get to play a round inside the framework. It allows us to be fluid in our approach. There’s a liberating aspect where the music can be spontaneous and we can turn on a dime,” Pikelny added about the differences in playing as a duo versus a group.
As for the Franklin show, Pikelny says some of his favorite people live in the Nashville area, but also knows what its like to perform in a room of high-caliber musicians and friends, which is common for this area.
Tickets begin at $27 and can be purchased here. For more information on Noam Pikelny, visitnoampikelny.com