(this piece was published by Planet JH Weekly)
Renaissance man Ben Winship has performed nearly every year on the Dornan’s stage since 1988, an era in which his mainstream bluegrass group Loose Ties began playing annual Christmas shows at the intimate Moose venue. He even built one of the original stages, and Loose Ties recorded a live album at Dornan’s in 1992. This time around, he’ll reunite with his longtime trio Brother Mule for their first local shows in over three years, along with Grammy winning Dubois-based resonator guitarist Mike Dowling as a special guest for night two.
The years have passed but not much has changed with respect to the vibe at Dornan’s, according to Winship. In fact, that’s why he continues to perform in the intimate, eighty-five seat room. The listening venue is touted for its respectful audience, allowing for musicians to play acoustic instruments into microphones, rather than plugging them in—an essential component to making certain woody tones sound authentic. This is especially the case for Winship’s primary instrument, mandolin, which is notoriously considered one of the hardest instruments to amplify with quality.
Brother Mule also includes Canadian fiddler Brian Wicklund and Colorado-based Eric Thorin on upright bass. The trio originally formed the group in 2004 as Big Twang, which was also the name of their self-titled album that earned Brother Mule the Indie Music Award’s Best Americana CD of 2005. Between the three, there’s a lot of high caliber musicality spilling out. Namely, its Winship’s crooning, Wicklund’s fiery playing and Thorin pushing the boundaries of upright bass as an extreme sport that appeals. Besides being split by geography, the trio has been consumed by other projects, babies, travel, and teaching.
“It’s kind of crazy for those guys to come so far for so few gigs as they’ve both been super busy—Brian with his fiddle teaching empire and another band he plays in, The Barley Jacks—and Eric, he’s been touring a lot and recording with Jeff Austin Band,” Winship said. “But I miss playing with them, so it’s just a selfish move on my part.”
Winship, meanwhile, has been occupied engineering several recordings at his Henhouse recording studio in Victor, and just returned from a tour in Germany and Switzerland with Growling Old Men that put the duo on eleven stages in twelve days. He will be bridging longtime friendships with the addition of Dowling for Wednesday’s show.
“Mike and I have done some collaborating at Dornan’s and other places, and Mike has played with Eric, but the four of us have never played together before,” Winship said. “I’ve always wanted to play with Brian and Mike together because they have a similar vocabulary with respect to music. I’m looking forward to seeing how that plays out.”
All veteran, top-notch pros, these masterminds also have a knack for digging up less familiar songs by obscure and even popular artists. From classic folk, bluegrass and old-time music, to gospel, blues, ragtime and show tunes, there’s not much under the Americana umbrella that’s not fair game. Get your tickets early. Brother Mule, 8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday (Dec. 2-3) at Dornan’s in Moose, and 3 to 6 p.m. Friday Dec. 5 at The Trap Bar at Grand Targhee Resort (free). Dornan’s show is $15/advance, available at Dornan’s, Valley Bookstore and The Liquor Store. 733-2415, Dornans.com.