MUSIC BOX: Brother Mule reunites at Dornan’s

By on November 25, 2014
Brother Mule will play Dec. 2 and 3 at Dornan’s, with guest guitarist Mike Dowling on the second night. BEN WINSHIP

Brother Mule will play Dec. 2 and 3 at Dornan’s, with guest guitarist Mike Dowling on the second night. BEN WINSHIP

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – Renaissance man Ben Winship has performed nearly every year on Dornan’s stage since 1988, when his mainstream bluegrass group Loose Ties began playing annual Christmas shows at the intimate venue in Moose. He even built one of the original stages, and Loose Ties recorded a live album at Dornan’s in 1992. This time around, he will reunite with his longtime trio Brother Mule on Dec. 2 and 3 for the band’s first local shows in more than three years. Grammy-winning, Dubois-based resonator guitarist Mike Dowling will join as a special guest on the second night.

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, 85-seat room. The 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, the mandolin, which is 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 also was the name of their 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, it’s Winship’s crooning, Wicklund’s fiery playing and Thorin pushing the boundaries of upright bass as an extreme sport that all have appeal.

Besides being split by geography, members of the trio have 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 the 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 by engineering several recordings at his Henhouse recording studio in Victor, and has just returned from a tour in Germany and Switzerland with Growling Old Men that put the duo on 11 stages in 12 days. He will be bridging longtime friendships with the addition of Dowling for the Dec. 3 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. on Tuesday and Wednesday, Dec. 2 and 3, at Dornan’s in Moose, and 3 to 6 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 5, at The Trap Bar at Grand Targhee Resort (free). Advance tickets for the Dornan’s shows cost $15 and are available at Dornan’s, Valley Bookstore and The Liquor Store. 733-2415, Dornans.com. 

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About Aaron Davis

Aaron Davis is a decade-long writer of Music Box, a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, member of Screen Door Porch and Boondocks, founder/host of Songwriter’s Alley, and co-founder of The WYOmericana Caravan.

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