Jay Meehan: String theory
Park Record columnist
Two things were clear. The stage at the Eccles Center was vibrating and the 2016 Sundance Film Festival was about to wrap.
It appeared from the seats down front that T Bone Burnett had gone just about as far as comfort allowed with a particular point in his explanation as to the physical and emotional bonds between humans and music. He found himself actually teetering on the cusp of Quantum Mechanics before he thought better of it.
The microphone being passed back and forth between Taj Mahal, Jack White and Burnett had stopped at T Bone in order for him to embellish further upon the thread the other two were stitching into a fabric that was the premiere of the HBO historical music documentary “American Epic.”
Without getting too deep into the more-advanced elements of “string theory,” Burnett had his hands closing in on one another with fingers aquiver. He wasn’t doing all that bad, actually, as he attempted to explain how theoretical physicists, beginning back in the ‘70s, had postulated a reality whereby “everything” was composed of vibrating strings.
The behavior of these “strings” and the frequency with which they vibrated were all that kept us from falling through the floor and through space and time, as it were. That’s sort of where T Bone left it and, with my own comfort zone giving me that look, I’ll take his lead.
Burnett’s point that as inhabitants of a universe wherein the building blocks of all “matter” are vibrating strings, then, naturally, humankind would tend to organize some of them under the umbrella of “pleasure” and, once they massaged a specific aesthetic, call it “music.”
And that, dear readers, is what we find on our plate today. Good vibrations maintaining integrity within and upon the aforementioned fabric. Virtuoso humanoids once again demonstrating grace under pressure in support of the general good. Rising to the occasion, as it were. Rubbin’ resin on their riggin’ and such.
Which brings us to “American Acoustic” and its final-gig-of-the-tour stop at Deer Valley’s Snow Park Amphitheater next Tuesday evening, Aug. 15. When it comes to exercising improvisational acoustic virtuosity the likes of which populate both the “Punch Brothers” and “I’m With Her” ensembles, this is nothing short of string-theory overkill.
And that’s just two parts of this awesome aural triptych. I haven’t even mentioned jazz guitarist Julian Lage, who has also been doing his part since the beginning of the tour to forestall any mechanical malfunctions within the good-vibration network that keeps all involved from falling through the rabbit hole of space-time.
Prior to getting carried away with the sheer instrumental brilliance of this bunch, let me call at least a bit of attention to the ease with which they interact. Over the years Park City has gotten somewhat used to experiencing the onstage humor of more than one act with Chris Thiele at the helm.
The American Acoustic tour has not just provided time away from his Bach Trio antics with Yo Yo Ma and Edgar Meyer but also his now regular gig as host of Public Radio’s “Prairie Home Companion,” which has his second season ready to launch.
He also keeps dipping his toe into the culturally cool waters of Nickel Creek, that over-the-top adolescent trio that back in the day had bluegrass fans running to their collective thesaurus in search of more emphatic synonyms for being talented beyond their years. “Precociousness” no longer seemed to pack enough, should I say, “punch.”
Anyway, with fellow Nickel-Creeker Sara Watkins along on the tour as part of “I’m With Her,” he’s been able to satisfy a segment of that musical “jones” most every night. And speaking of I’m With Her, how ’bout having Sarah Jarosz and Aoife O’Donovan as part of the mix? Have I got your attention?
So lest you think the evening-in-question will be nothing more than a quorum of top-flight pickers-and-grinners being paraded out onstage for your cultural erudition, keep in mind the tour’s previously mentioned interactive component.
The show, including the space usually reserved for an opening act, will feature everyone on the bus, no matter their affiliation, taking turns improvising with each other. Maybe I should rephrase that. Ah, no worries. And don’t forget “Pickles.” It’ll be a banjo-rich evening.
As convoluted as these sentences have been, I’m sure their vibration has been such that they fit right in with T Bone Burnett’s quivering-fingers take on string theory. And that works for me.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social and political scenes for more than 40 years.