Dillon and Tyminski Play Bluegrass

Two traditional performers share their love of bluegrass music in Derry and Belfast this coming weekend

My wife and I have always thought that the forced feeding of our children on the music of our youth was a good thing – that dieting on troubadours such as Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Neil Young, with slices of Thin Lizzy, Pink Floyd, Genesis and a bit of Motown on the side, would stand them in good stead as they developed through their teenage years towards adulthood.

We knew that at some point they would come to understand what our strategy had been and continue the evangelization work that we had begun. How rewarding it was, then, to enjoy the experience of discovery in reverse when years later they introduced us to modern American bluegrass through the music of Alison Krauss and Union Station, who featured in the soundtrack of the hugely successful Coen Brothers film O Brother, Where Art Thou?.

Long before the band got to its rendition of 'I Am A Man of Constant Sorrow', which was performed by the Soggy Bottom Boys with George Clooney’s Everett character miming to Dan Tyminski‘s vocals, I was hooked on bluegrass.

No sound like theirs had struck such a chord, so to speak, since I first heard Dueling Banjos back in the 1970s. Union Station’s powerful and pulsating blend of banjo, guitar, mandolin, fiddle, bass and any other instrument at their disposal,  alongside delicate harmonized voices, made me regret what I had been missing in the intervening years.

Whatever the accuracy of John Boorman’s portrayal of the hillbillies of Georgia in the iconic movie Deliverance, bluegrass is not the total preserve of those backwoods people – anyone who regards it as such and thus treats it with distain should re-consider. Better still, go and see Tyminski, one of the pillars of Union Station, when he joins Cara Dillon on stage at the Belfast Waterfront Hall and Derry~Londonderry’s Millennium Forum on Oct 11 and 12 respectively.

'I have always been attracted to bluegrass music because of its roots in Irish traditional music,' says Dillon, who will be performing with her own band and then leaving the stage to Tyminski.  'You have much the same instruments with chomping fiddles, guitars and banjos. The songs have so much in common, too.

'And while bluegrass sounds down to earth, it is very intricate and complicated music. Really top performers like Alison Krauss and Union Station have this ability to draw in audiences to huge venues and make them seem like a session in the kitchen or on the front porch.'

Tyminski’s permanent association with Union Station was sealed in 1994 and came via the Lonesome River Band, where his instrumental and vocal abilities, honed through the 1980s with a variety of bluegrass bands, finally gained the recognition it so richly deserved.

'I was born and raised in Vermont , the most north easterly state, where bluegrass is not a very popular music,' recalls Tyminski. 'My parents were big fans, as were my brother and I. Every weekend we’d go somewhere in search of music, driving anything up to three or four hours, if necessary.'

Four decades later, this guitar and mandolin playing wizard with a cupboard full of Grammy awards and nominations admits to slight nerves ahead of his forthcoming visit to Northern Irish shores.

'I never had a bad experience on any of my previous times in Ireland and that was a deciding factor when it came to doing a solo performance. Nevertheless it’s going to feel a bit outside my comfort zone,' adds Tyminski, who has already enjoyed critical acclaim with his solo albums Carry Me Across the Mountain and Wheels.

However, the Tennessee resident need have no worries on that score, with the multi-talented Dillon there to smooth the way for him. 'We’ve been friends since first meeting in Scotland a few years ago,’ says Dillon. 'When the chance to have a special guest on these concerts presented itself, Dan was the one I wanted.

'Like most other people, I only knew of him through the 'Man of Constant Sorrow' song from the movie. I got to learn more about him when we were on stage every night during the Transatlantic Sessions tour. He is an amazing musician and it’s brilliant to be sharing the stage with him again in Belfast and Derry.'

Apart from being the voice of George Clooney in a previous life, Tyminski’s unique vocal style more recently found its way onto the best selling ‘Hey Brother’ dance track released on Swedish DJ Avicii‘s 2013 album, True.

'It might not have happened but for the intervention of my daughter,' Tyminski laughs. 'I was asked to sing on this track and almost passed on it until she told me who he was. I recorded the vocals here in Nashville and that was it until I heard the mixed version. Needless to say, it’s earned me a lot of street credit with my daughter and her friends.'

Given the huge following that both Dillon and Krauss enjoy in both their native countries, Tyminski agrees with some of the comparisons that have been made between the two international performers. 'I can see how that would happen. They both have enormous musical talent and personality, and are funny with it. Sure, I can see that.'

Recently, Krauss and Union Station have been back in the studio working on a new collection of songs, although for his Belfast and Derry concerts Tyminski will, in his own words, be ‘travelling light ‘. That means no room for either his mandolin or, indeed, his golf clubs (his handicap shifts between one and five).

'I took up golf when I was an adult. I had already sealed up music as what I would do for the rest of my life, so there never was a time when I had to choose between the two,' explains Tyminski, who has huge admiration for the talents of world number one, Northern Ireland's own Rory McIlroy.  'On tour with Union Station I used to carry a set of clubs in the bus, but now I prefer to concentrate on being properly prepared for show day.'

Cara Dillon and Dan Tyminski perform at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast on October 11 and Millennium Forum, Derry~Londonderry on October 12.