Tony is one of a small group of acoustic musicians who play a limited concert schedule to comparatively small audiences. They are practitioners of what I call "living room music"—an approach to playing that's rooted in an era when music was played, unamplified, for the edification of a select few.
Tony lost his singing voice a few years ago to muscle tension dysphonia, a condition brought on by overuse and strain. It was a difficult thing to listen to him play "The Last Thing on My Mind" in a purely instrumental arrangement, remembering how beautifully he used to sing it. But it's also evident that the loss has deepened his love affair with the guitar. Rice sees himself as a kind of medium, through which the guitar's voice is channeled.
And the voice speaks in many languages: bluegrass, "spacegrass," old-timey, blues and jazz. A highlight of the concert was a stunning performance of George Gershwin's "Summertime," performed as a solo and then a duet with bassist Bryn Bright (who may well be the finest performer on that instrument since the late Scott LaFaro).
There is nothing scripted or studied about a Tony Rice performance. It's a spontaneous movement of the heart, a flurry of notes that seems to come from someplace altogether beyond time. And time is something that Tony Rice seems to control from the moment he steps on the stage. Measures and phrases are infinitely extensible, and melodies linger in the cool evening air, somehow just out of reach.
"I quit adhering to any kind of schedule years ago," Tony says. "I take it a day at a time."
That statement evidently applies to touring as well. Tony will be making only a handful of concert appearances this summer. If he lands somewhere near you, don't miss the chance to hear him. (His recordings, wonderful as they are, don't begin to do him justice; still, you can find some free .mp3s that give you some sense of the range of his work here.)
UPDATE: There's a nice review of the Mayville Bluegrass Festival—which at $15 for a two-day pass has to represent one of the greatest entertainment bargains around—in The Buffalo News. Festival founder Bill Ward better watch himself; he may wind up becoming a cult figure like Bill Graham or George Wein one of these days.
UPDATE: Guess I wasn't the only one who loved Tony's act. I discovered this comment at TonyRice.com:
Just caught the TRU performance at the Mayville Bluegrass Festival - great show. Looked like the guys (and gal - Ms. Bright) were having a great time, as was the audience. It was a little chilly, but that's early summer in Western NY for you. It looked like it took a few tunes to literally get warmed up! I hope Tony's comment regarding wanting to come back to Mayville next year comes to fruition.
Jamestown, NY - Sunday, June 19, 2005 at 22:28:35 (EDT)
Posted by Rodger on June 25, 2005 at 10:29 AM | Permalink
Thanks for a thoroughly delightful post, Rodger. As I mentioned in my post, I've seen Tony here in Bean Blossom and am planning on seeing him when he's here next month. Saw your post on Chris Hillman, whom I knew when I was doing studio work in Texas. Small world.
Posted by: greg | Jun 25, 2005 10:10:07 PM
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