This is Kirk Sutphin. He plays the fiddle. Damn well in fact.
I first met him at the National Folk Festival in Bangor ME a few years back and. He and I played what I still recall as my most cherished session of fiddle music until the wee hours of the final night there. I had never met anyone who played with such simple straight forward drive and energy. I don't play much Old Time music since the Bad Livers folded, so it was quite a treat.
It was my great fortune to run into him yet again at the National, but this time in Richmond VA. This years line up was a fine a selection of top flight traditional music spanning from the great Savoy Family of Eunice Louisiana, all the way to the frenetic Bulgarian Wedding Band of Ivo Pappasov and Yuri Yunokov and just about every where in between, including Yupik Eskimo dancers and Cowboy Poets. I was there as a member of Frank Londons Klezmer All Stars in a very rare USappearancee and just to make it interesting the Festival asked us to back up singer/folklorist/single handed Yiddish revivalist Henry Sapoznik. Whats not to like?
The gigs were uniformly amazing, but far more satisfying were the late night sessions tucked into every conceivable corner of the Radisson Hotel all the artists were being housed at. These picking parties are legendary, and this year did not disappoint. In the course a single evening we played Jewish frelaichs with the locals, played salsa tuba with the plena band from Puerto Rico and backed up the amazing fiddler Spencer Thorton of the White Top Mountain band in a particularly spirited and moving session that included hillbillies and Jews in a whole new and wonderful context. (Spencer is suffering mightily from emphysemama, and every stroke of his bow was matched with a desperate gasp for air. Even so, he stayed in for the fun as long as he could take it, playing with sureity and strength of spirit that belied his physical frailties. We hit it off in a big way, and I dearly look forward to seeing him in good health again real soon.) That all said, I did NOT get in any tunes with Kirk that night and I feared I might not at all.
After our final appearance at the festival, which will be a whole other story, we high tailed off to Buzz and Neds Real BBQ on 1119 N. Boulevard for what the locals tend to call the best in town. Buzz is MOT (last name Grossman in fact) and said we were welcome to come play for our supper. The locals were in fact not lying and the beef ribs could have been the best I ever ate, with sides you dont normally run into (pickled cucumber and onion salad made from scratch anyone?) We played then ate and then played again, a set just as inspired and wonderful as any I have played with Frank London. Simply put, hes Great High Sultan of Chaos, able to create great beauty and art out of whatever and whoever he finds. Amazing time and fun stuff, but still no picking with Kirk.
Imagine my happiness to walk into the lobby of the hotel to see a circle of chairs set out with Kirk in the corner, fiddle and banjo close at hand. Next to him is guitar maker and picker Wayne Henderson and evidently theyd been playing quite a bit before we got there. Henry sits down tight next to Kirk, who hands him a fine old snake head Gibson banjo. Waynes hands have been hurting from a weekend of picking so he lets me play his guitar, which is a little like having Stradivari hand you one of his fiddles. I can honestly report that it was among the best guitars I have ever played. I slide in tight next to Henry, already sitting knee to knee with Kirk, when Kirk says "Why not one of them Poole numbers?" Why not indeed?
Did I mention Kirk was a damn fine fiddler? No really, he's much more than that. In his own humble way he just sits there and plays absolutely the simplest and most plainly beautiful fiddle I have yet encountered. And he makes it seem so easy, so easy that the subtle nuances of his playing could be lost on the casual observer. He has a new CD called "Grandpas' favorites" which as I'm sure you figured out by now I strongly recommend that you rush out and buy. It's a great cross section of his native repertoire, played and recorded well.
If I am very luck this year I find my name inscribed in the Book of Life, I will consider it as a sign from the Almighty that I will eventually get to play with Hank and Kirk again.