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BGS 5+5: Brad Kolodner

Sep 15, 2021

BGS 5+5: Brad Kolodner

Artist: Brad Kolodner
Hometown: Baltimore, Maryland
Latest Album: Chimney Swifts
Personal nicknames: B-rad, Dadley, BK

Which artist has influenced you the most … and how?

My father Ken, hands down. As long as I can remember, my father’s music has been the soundtrack of my life. To be fair, I didn’t have much choice in the matter. The living room in our house was filled with the sounds of his hammered dulcimer and fiddle playing (along with the scores of students who banged away on their dulcimers and scratched out tunes on fiddle). I’d be lying if I said my sister and I always loved the ruckus. In all seriousness, the music must’ve been seeping in all those years. When I finally picked up the banjo as a teen, old-time music clicked and it felt right.

My father quickly became a musical mentor and eventually a bandmate and musical peer. His experience playing a multitude of traditional folk music styles through his years with his band Helicon has informed how I approach music with a creative, open mind while respecting the traditional roots of the music. His musicality and sense of dynamics are captivating. He really feels every note and it’s something I strive for in my playing. While piecing together material for my new solo album Chimney Swifts, it was a natural choice to include my father on the project as I wanted to highlight both the groovy and mellow sides of his playing. It’s always a joy to make music with him and I’ll treasure that feeling as long as I can.

What was the first moment that you knew you wanted to be a musician?

Singing “I’ve Been Everywhere” for the student talent show at the Meadowlark music camp in Maine back in 2007 was a catalyst for my love of being on stage sharing music. I had just wrapped up my very first week learning the basics of clawhammer banjo in a workshop with Richie Stearns, who ultimately became a banjo hero of mine. I could only play a very clumsy “bum-ditty” so I wasn’t quite ready to show off my newfound love of the banjo. However, I was eager to share the one song I had memorized in my life up to that point for the student talent show.

Years earlier, I spent weeks memorizing all the places in “I’ve Been Everywhere,” which caught my ear when I heard Johnny Cash’s version in a commercial. Suffice to say, I didn’t do too well in school for those few weeks. With my tail between my legs, I hopped up on stage and sang the song. As a relatively shy kid at that point in my life, I emerged from my shell after belting out each verse with the crowd roaring along the way. I can’t say I knew I wanted to be musician at that moment but it’s certainly the first time I tasted that high performers can get on stage in front of an electric audience. There’s actually a home video of that original performance.

What’s your favorite memory from being on stage?

I’ve been fortunate to have some incredible experiences performing with my father Ken at venues like the Kennedy Center, Winfield, and Clifftop and with Charm City Junction at Grey Fox, IBMA, and the Charm City Bluegrass Festival. However, there is one night that really jumps out: the opening concert at our inaugural Baltimore Old Time Music Festival in 2019. After moving back to my hometown in my early 20s around 2012, I made it my mission to reboot the local old-time music community. I cofounded our biweekly old-time jam with my dad, started the Baltimore Square Dance with some pals, and hosted a monthly house concert series with the long term goal of putting together an old-time music festival someday. Well, that dream became a reality in 2019 when I, with Baltimore Old Time Music Festival in partnership with the Creative Alliance, cofounded an arts organization here in town. I’ll always treasure the memory of standing on stage during the kickoff concert in a packed concert hall rocking out during the encore playing “Tennessee Mountain Fox Chase” with the biggest smile on my face. This year, we’re hoping to have our “2nd” Annual Baltimore Old Time Music Festival in mid-November.

Which elements of nature do you spend the most time with and how do those impact your work?

There’s really nothing more nourishing or magical than the time I’ve spent deep in the dense woods on top of a mountain in Clifftop, West Virginia, at the Appalachian String Band Festival. As an artist, I spend much of my time making music in the context of my work — playing a show, teaching lessons, leading a local jam, etc. While I’m deeply grateful for this lifestyle, I need those soul-nourishing experiences in which I play music simply to play music. Clifftop provides that space. It’s a gathering of thousands of old-time musicians who huddle under soggy EZ-ups ’til the wee hours playing fiddle tunes. The natural beauty of the setting adds to that magic.

There’s something about the shared experience trudging through the mud, square dancing in a dusty dirt road, and watching the sunrise with your buds grooving out on fiddles tunes that can’t be matched anywhere else. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten lost meandering through the woods with sounds of far-off old-time jams swirling around the forest. There’s a hike next to the campground that weaves through a rhododendron grove amidst rock formations atop a ridge before descending to a little mountain stream. It’s the quintessential West Virginia swimming hole and it’s a hike I look forward to every year. Most of all, I’ve made some dear pals at Clifftop who have become my closest musical collaborators including Alex Lacquement and Rachel Eddy who are featured on my latest album, Chimney Swifts. While the music is what draws me in, it’s the people who keep me coming back year after year.

Since food and music go so well together, what is your dream pairing of a meal and a musician?

Well, since you asked… Before I played music, I was (and still am, sadly) a diehard Baltimore Orioles fan. The earliest musical memory I have, besides listening to my father’s music, is seeing John Denver hop up on top of the Baltimore Orioles dugout during the seventh inning stretch to sing “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” back in 1997 just a couple weeks before he tragically passed away in a plane crash. After that performance, my parents gifted me some John Denver CDs and I listened to them more than anything else as a kid — really. I would fall asleep to his albums on repeat and my parents would have to come in and turn them off after I dozed off. So, it would be my dream to sit with John Denver at an Orioles ballgame on a warm summer night while eating a Boog’s BBQ sandwich and drinking a Natty Boh beer (a classic Baltimore combo). Oh, and an Orioles win would be nice, but I don’t want to ask for anything unrealistic…


Photo credit: Joanna Tillman

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BGS 5+5: Brad Kolodner
BGS 5+5: Brad Kolodner