If you go
› What: James Bryan and Fletcher Bright with Bill Evans and Norman and Nancy Blake.
› When: 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 12.
› Where: Barking Legs Theater, 1307 Dodds Ave.
› Admission: $20.
› Phone: 423-624-5347.
› Website: barkinglegs.org.
When he’s bowing a fiddle, James Bryan’s limbs have a graceful looseness that is as unhurried and relaxed as slow water.
The deceptive ease with which the Alabama native and old-time musician fingers the fret board is the byproduct of a lifetime of study. Now 62, Bryan has spent more than 50 years honing his craft and adding to his repertoire while traveling the Southern byways and back roads, both on his own and as a longtime partner of North Georgia legends Norman and Nancy Blake.
Even after all that time, he says, the fiddle still feels right.
“I like playing as much as ever, and I think it gets better as you get older, the more you know and the more tunes you can play. That’s nice,” Bryan says, his North Alabaman accent stretching out the last word of each sentence.
“It’s endless — the supply of fiddle tunes goes back hundreds of years. You’ll never get them all. Really, you’re just trying to learn to play one at first, and then they come easier the more you learn them.”
Although Bryan has built a life around a love of the instrument, his introduction to the fiddle at age 7 didn’t take, at first.
“I didn’t pick it up too easy,” he admits. “I sawed around on it for about a month and then gave up on it for a few years.”
When he tried again at age 11, however, Bryan quickly demonstrated a fiddling knack. Within a year, he was playing with his father on a local AM radio station in Boaz, Ala. Soon thereafter, he won his first fiddling competition and began studying under former Bluegrass Boy fiddler Kenny Baker.
In the late ’70s, Bryan joined forces with the Blakes, and the three toured until 1985 as the Rising Fawn String Ensemble. Despite leaving the road to spend more time with his family, Bryan has continued to play off and on with the Blakes.
“That is a long time for people to stay associated, I guess, but it’s always been pretty easy to get something going musically with them,” he says. “It helped me to learn a lot by playing with them.”
Friday, Feb. 12, Bryan and the Blakes will take the stage at Barking Legs Theater, where they’ll perform alongside another local fiddling legend, Fletcher Bright, and banjo player Bill Evans.
Despite decades of traveling in similar musical circles, Bryan says he and Bright — a co-founder of local bluegrass ensemble The Dismembered Tennesseans — have never officially played a show together. During months of prepping for this debut, Bryan says, they’ve discovered they know many of the same tunes, and the performance will offer a chance to demonstrate the overlap between their vast repertoires.
“We have a lot of things we can play. I think it’ll be fine,” he says. “It’s good to find someone who’s into the tunes like that — the sharing thing. I really like the tunes he plays, and he seems to like the ones I know. It works pretty well.”
Contact Casey Phillips at email@example.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at@PhillipsCTFP.