Saturday, Jan. 7 brings a new year and a familiar voice: Bryan Bowers, known throughout the world as the best autoharp artist ever.
Lani Richardson of Charlotte’s Web for the Performing Arts recalls: “My earliest recollection of Bryan’s song was at the original Charlotte’s Web, when the stage was still on the first floor, when Bryan invited us all to join hands as we joined voices in a life-changing moment filled with harmonies of ‘May The Circle Be Unbroken.’ I was 5. Simply remembering this night still makes me feel whole, and the magic of the moment still gives me tingles.”
Charlotte’s Web is happy to welcome him back at 7:30 p.m., Jan. 7, at Emerson House, 420 N. Main St., Rockford.
Bowers’ background seemed to impel him toward performing. Born and raised in New Bohemia near Petersburg, Va., (of Civil War fame), as a child, he tagged along with field workers and gandy dancers and learned to sing old call-and-answer songs.
Bowers recalled: “The music I heard while working in the fields was mesmerizing. And I’d see the gandy dancers coming down the tracks, setting the rails and getting their ties straight. I just thought that music was something that everyone did. It was years later that I realized what I’d been raised around.”
After moving to Seattle in 1971, he played for coins as a street singer and in bars for the right to pass the hat. Later on, he headed east.
“The Dillards heard me in D.C. when I went to the Cellar Door,” said Bowers. “I introduced myself and played the ‘Battle Hymn of the Republic’ to show them how the harp worked. Sam Bush, Curtis Burch and Courtney Johnson of the New Grass Revival were there. I didn’t realize how presumptuous I was being. The Dillards took me to a bluegrass festival at Berryville, Va., and when they got an encore, they put me out there for their second encore, saying, ‘Here’s a guy you ought to hear.’ The bluegrass community has been real supportive.”
Bowers’ creativity and talent have won him induction into Frets magazine’s First Gallery of the Greats after five years of winning the stringed instrument, open category of the magazine’s readers poll. This distinction put Bowers alongside other luminaries, such as Chet Atkins, David Grisman, Stephan Grappelli, Itzhak Perlman, Tony Rice, Rob Wasserman and Mark O’Connor, recognized for their personal accomplishments.
In 1993, Bowers was inducted into the Autoharp Hall of Fame to stand only with Maybelle Carter, Kilby Snow, and Sara Carter.
From his rather unglamorous beginning as a street singer, Bowers has become a major artist on the traditional music circuit. He has redefined the autoharp and is also well known as a singer-songwriter. He has a dynamic, outgoing personality and an uncanny ability to enchant a crowd in almost any situation. He can be wild and zany on stage while playing a song like “Dixie”, and five minutes later, have the same audience singing “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” in quiet reverence and delight.
For nearly five decades, Bowers has been to the autoharp what Earl Scruggs was to the five-string banjo. He presents instrumental virtuosity combined with warmth, eloquence, expression and professionalism.
Tickets are $15 in advance, $18 at the door. Advance tickets are available at: Rockford Area Arts Council, 713 E. State, (815) 963-6765; both Postal Shoppe locations: Edgebrook Center, (815) 397-7301 and 2205 S. Perryville, (815) 484-0940 and JustGoods, 201 Seventh St., (815) 965-8903; Nikki’s Café, 604 Pleasant St., Beloit, Wis., (608) 207-3101; or by mail: send a check and SASE to P.O. Box 765, Rockford, IL 61105-0765. Please indicate artist or performance date on check. Credit card payment accepted only at www.charlotteswebofrockford.org via PayPal. There is a $1 ticket processing fee included. Print your receipt. Info: Call (815) 964-2238 or visit www.CharlottesWebofRockford.org.
From the Jan. 4-10, 2012, issue