The O’Connor Band’s very first performance took place at the legendary Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kansas in 2015. In 2017 – less than a year and a half later – they took home the GRAMMY Award for Best Bluegrass Album for their debut recording, Coming Home.
In a whirlwind 18 months, the band has also performed at the GRAMMY Awards Premiere Ceremony, received standing ovations at the Grand Ole Opry, reached the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s Top Bluegrass Albums chart, and partnered with powerhouse booking agency William Morris Endeavor Entertainment (WME). They have put together a show unlike any other, one that blends country and pop sensibilities with Americana rawness, bluegrass drive, and chamber music sophistication, one that has begun winning over audiences at festivals (AmericanaFest, GreyFox, IBMA, RockyGrass), clubs (Jazz Alley, Dakota Jazz Club), and the world’s premier theaters (Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Schermerhorn Symphony Center).
Their recently released sophomore album, O’Connor Band Live!, is a stunning showcase of their most exciting concert material to date. Recorded in Sellersville, Pennsylvania, in late 2016, the album captures the band on the heels of a packed summer festival schedule, during which they had honed their sound and risen to an even higher level of cohesion, power, and expressiveness than before.
“I never expect to like a show – I have been disappointed too many times,” says entertainment lawyer John Mason, who has represented the likes of Shakira and The Beach Boys and is currently working with the band. “However, when I first saw the O’Connor Band, I was stunned. This is the best band I have seen in decades, the best musicians. It was the most entertaining show and the most fun I have had in years.”
Producer Tony Brown, who has worked with the O'Connor Band on new repertoire, concurs with Mason. “I pride myself as a person with good musical taste,” he says. “The O’Connor Band is almost too good to describe. Excellent abilities in musicianship, stylistic vocals, and showmanship beyond compare.”
The O’Connor Band is the product of Mark O’Connor’s imagination – one that has served him well over the course of his four-decade professional career. A former child prodigy and national champion on the fiddle, guitar, and mandolin, Mark has won numerous GRAMMYs and CMA Awards, appeared on hundreds of commercial country albums, collaborated with the likes of Johnny Cash, Wynton Marsalis, Dolly Parton, and Yo-Yo Ma, and performed everything from original violin concertos to swing and jazz. But until recently, he had not worked on a project quite like this.
“It’s been one of the most surprising and rewarding experiences to perform with my family members on stage,” says Mark. “It’s really exciting to bend these American genres in new ways, combining accessibility with a real depth of musicianship and writing.”
In addition to Mark, the band features his son Forrest, (Harvard graduate and former Tennessee State Mandolin Champion), daughter-in-law Kate (frequent performer on the CMA Awards and CMA Country Christmas shows), and wife Maggie (graduate of the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University). The four of them play together as though they have been sharing the stage for many years – and in some ways, they have.
“We all grew up listening to my dad’s music,” says Forrest, “so in a sense, we’ve been preparing for this band for a majority of our lives.”
The band is rounded out by Joe Smart (national flatpick champion on guitar) and Geoff Saunders (bassist/banjoist extraordinaire and recent graduate of the University of Miami’s DMA program).
All six band members possess charisma that, when combined onstage, ensnares audiences from start to finish. All are masters of their instruments, all improvise as readily as they play parts in counterpoint, all can sing, and all move about the stage in a free but gripping choreography. Kate’s beautiful and powerful voice belies her age. Forrest’s songwriting is at once poetic and accessible. Maggie’s violin playing blends effortlessly with her husband’s, so much so that, at times, the two sound like one player. Joe rips solos on the acoustic guitar as though he were playing electric. Geoff arcos high as commandingly as he grooves low. And Mark, of course, does things on the fiddle that has Paganini turning in his grave.
If the band’s first year was a flash flood, their second will be a calculated, steady rise. They are touring throughout summer and fall 2017 in support of O’Connor Band Live!, performing an array of original songs, classics, and barnburners that require versatility and a depth of musical knowledge that most bands on the scene today – on any scene, for that matter – simply don’t have.
Americana/Roots | Country
2017 Grammy Award-Winning O’Connor Band With Mark O’Connor Signs With Premier Booking Agency William Morris (WME); Second Album "O’Connor Band Live!" To Be Released June 7
The Grammy Award-winning O’Connor Band, featuring seven-time CMA Award-winning fiddler/violinist Mark O’Connor, will release their first live album on June 7 via OMAC Records. This is the first record the band has released since their full-length debut, Coming Home, which won a Grammy Award for “Best Bluegrass Album” earlier this year.
The band features three of Mark’s family members – his wife Maggie (violin/vocals), son Forrest (mandolin/vocals), and daughter-in-law Kate (violin/vocals) – in addition to guitarist Joe Smart and bassist Geoff Saunders. Critics throughout the industry have praised the O’Connor Band’s virtuosity, compelling songwriting, intricate arrangements, and dynamic and charismatic live performances, and the band has quickly risen to become one of the foremost groups in the Americana/bluegrass scene.
Shortly after winning their first Grammy Award, the band was signed by premier booking agency William Morris Endeavor Entertainment (WME) at the behest of WME’s co-head, Greg Oswald, who dubbed the band “incomparable.” Nashville-based agents Matt Malcolm and Doug Neff will oversee bookings for the group.
“The O’Connor Band is almost too good to describe,” says producer Tony Brown (George Strait, Vince Gill, Reba McEntire), who has been working with the band in recent months. “They have excellent musicianship, stylistic vocals, and showmanship beyond compare. If we entered them in a battle of the bands, they would definitely win!”
“I was stunned,” concurs entertainment lawyer John Mason (Jackson 5, Smokey Robinson, Shakira, Olivia Newton-John). “This is the best band I have seen in decades.”
After debuting in fall 2015, it didn’t take long for the O’Connor Band to achieve a world-class level of artistry, tightness, and energy, which are featured in full force on their new live album.
“A 14-track live album, featuring the most exciting music from our concerts this year, was an absolute ‘must’ for us to release, because many fans have seen how special this group is on stage,” says Mark O’Connor. The “no-holds-barred, jam-band energy recording,” as he calls it, took place in a single engagement at the historical Sellersville Theater in Pennsylvania.
O’Connor believes the sparkle of the live album is a result of both the band’s unusually diverse set of talents as well as the history behind much of the repertoire performed.
“In our live shows, my son, Forrest, and I play dueling mandolins on a few of the tunes I used to perform with some of my old bands, including Strength in Numbers, The New Nashville Cats, and Appalachia Waltz [with Yo-Yo Ma],” he says. “Audiences are really getting a kick out of seeing and hearing that material again, especially as Forrest has become one of the top mandolin players in the country. Each member of this band grew up listening to and being inspired by my music from the 1980s, so it is very special to bring it back to the forefront with them.”
In addition to featuring originals by O’Connor and his family members, the album includes a pair of old-time songs O’Connor used to perform with Doc and Merle Watson. “These feature my wife Maggie singing and fiddling up a storm, and Geoff picks up the claw hammer banjo and plays it brilliantly.”
Last year, O’Connor was inspired by Joe Smart, the band’s primary guitarist, to pick up the six-string bluegrass guitar again. Both O’Connor and Smart are former national flat-pick guitar champions, and both showcase their champion chops on the album.
“I think it is special for old fans of my guitar playing to see me pick it up again after a 20-year hiatus,” says O’Connor. “Over the years, many folks have asked me when I would play guitar again – so here I am. Joe tells me that I was his guitar hero growing up, too, which is yet another musical backstory that plays out both on stage and on this recording.”
Additional highlights on the album include Mark’s emotional string quartet adaptation of Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” which features the band’s three fiddlers along with Saunders on arco bass; a rendition of the old spiritual, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” anchored by Mark and Maggie’s soulful, virtuosic fiddling and six-piece a cappella singing; Bob Wills’ signature classic, “Faded Love,” highlighted by gorgeous double-stop fiddle work and “Kate channeling Patsy Cline,” according to O’Connor; and a wild, up-tempo, “bluegrass rap” performance of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” – an arrangement that has earned the band multiple standing ovations at the Grand Ole Opry over the last year.
“The bottom line, for me,” says O’Connor, “is that my family has pushed me to play the fiddle better than I ever have, and that is evident both in the shows and on the album. It especially comes through in some of the more driving material, like ‘Gold Rush,’ ‘Ruby,’ and ‘Coming Home.’ The music is jamming, it is grooving, and it is scorching.”
The O’Connor Band is touring throughout 2017 to promote their new album at major concert halls around the country, including the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, and the University of Washington’s Meany Hall. They will also headline at several venerable nightclubs (Jazz Alley, City Winery, The Dakota) as well as a number of major summer festivals, among them the Pagosa Folk’n Bluegrass Festival, Bristol Rhythm and Roots Festival, L.L. Bean Summer Concert Series, Lowell Summer Music Series, Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival, and IBMA’s Wide Open Bluegrass.
The group looks forward to teaching at the O’Connor Method Camp in New York City from July 31-August 4, and they anticipate another packed schedule for their sixth annual An Appalachian Christmas tour this December. They are also contemplating another studio album featuring new material in the near future.
2017 Grammy Premiere Ceremony Performance by O’Connor Band: bit.ly/2ovycnB
2016 Music Video of O’Connor Band’s “Coming Home”: bit.ly/2bTTzxj
2016 Music Video of O’Connor Band’s “Always Do”: bit.ly/2q7OhFd
Read reviews by No Depression Magazine, Music Row Magazine, Music City Roots, PopMatters, Country Standard Time, and Elmore Magazine: bit.ly/2bCNoNy
|Suggested Retail Price:||12.99|
|Release Type:||Digital & Physical|
|Record Label:||OMAC Records|
|Release Title:||O'Connor Band Live!|