Don’t you treasure those rare moments when you know that you’re witnessing something truly dazzling? I’m certain that’s part of the thrill for thousands of race fans who flock to Bristol this weekend to witness another spectacle at the world’s fastest half-mile.

I like racing too, but some of my most enjoyable moments have been in the company of talented musicians in the Tri-Cities and most often that occurs in the most unlikely places.

Last Friday, The Old Mill in Damascus presented The Tony Trischka Band and although this event was low on the radar, what I heard that night might have been one of the best overall performances this year.

My friend and former Yukon drummer, Eric Quesenberry, told me about this event and referred to Tony Trischka as a mentor for Grammy winner Bela Fleck. Honestly, I had never heard of Tony, but after I researched the Internet for weekend activities, I was impressed with what was published about this inspiring musician.

Rolling Stone and Billboard magazines referred to Tony as “One of the most inventive banjoists alive.” Bela Fleck even refers to him in the same paragraph with John Coltrane and Miles Davis and that was enough for me to make the trip to a little town 10 miles from Abingdon on US Highway 58.

The Old Mill is located behind the Dollar General store in down town Damascus, Va. This little town is a Mecca for nature hippies and is a crossroads for The Virginia Creeper Trail and Appalachian Trail and now they have something else to brag about too. The Old Mill is a bed and breakfast that recently opened with a full service restaurant that features indoor/outdoor dining, a bar and a new sound stage with live music on the weekends and it’s worth the trip!

It was a little after 8 p.m. when we parked along the river and we regretfully missed the band’s first set because we were eager to try the restaurant. We had heard lots of good things about their menu so we enjoyed a riverside table, an excellent wine list and a scrumptious dinner with excel lent service.

After dinner we joined Rolf Sturm at the bar. He’s the guitarist for The Tony Trischka band and he explained that the guys are all solo performers from the jazz scene in New York. They travel with Tony about three weekends out of the month in support of his current CD on Rounder Records called “New Deal.”

We followed the band to the stage and the quintet began its second set with the first song from their new CD called “Earl’s Breakdown.” Tony had just finished a session a few days ago with Earl Scruggs and this song was the perfect primer for the night as it merged bluegrass, jazz, funk and swing.

For a soloist, the perfect compliment is the applause you might receive after you perform an improvisational solo that captures the imagination of an audience. As the Trischka band performed their three-part unison melodies, they also suspended the room with mesmerizing solos that often ended with a crescendo of cheers. By the end of the first song the audience responded with an immediate outburst and set the tone for the rest of this night of musical rapture.

Bassist Bob Bowin writes many of the songs on this CD and had a warm funky tone complemented by quick scales and he seemed to dance along with the rhythms of drummer Scott Neumann. Scott looked like Russell Crowe and was understated com pared to the other instrumentalists, but his sense of time was the foundation for a river of style.

Steve Martin said that you couldn’t play a sad song on a banjo. That may be true because although Tony’s music is never sad, it’s often very spiritual, much like that of John Coltrane. Tony’s virtuosity is clearly obvious as he performs with a natural sound, but like Miles Davis, the sound of the group is most complemented by his choice of players.

Michael Amendolo is the saxophonist that plays alto, tenor, soprano and even flute with this eclectic band. His solos were comparable to Coltrane’s sounds as he attempted to perform be yond the capabilities of his instrument. Along with Rolf Sturm’s experimental guitar, they both colored the band’s sound with an appeal that could easily cross over to both bluegrass and jazz audiences.

Through the night, the band continued to perform memorable original songs like the oriental laced “Quasi Qoto.” Tony’s banjo and Mike’s flute surrounded the little room like a Chinese pagoda and in a few minutes they were all smiling, even laughing on stage as they each tried to exceed each other over an original interpretation of The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby.”

As we walked along the river to our car, the night sky was crystal clear in Damascus. The constellations were bright and the planets seemed to be in a perfect alignment for another night of splendor. Once again we thanked our lucky stars to be in the right place at the right time to catch a great performance, so keep your eyes on The Old Mill. There’s something special here and you owe it to yourself and your friends to watch their calendar for upcoming events as they feature stellar lineups throughout the year.

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    Relevant Links:

  • Tony Trischka Band
  • The Old Mill at Damascus

    This week’s buzz topics…

  • What’s your day job?

    This week’s best bets for live local music…

  • Friday – 10,000 Flames/Witherspoon at Kingsport Sports Club.
  • Saturday — Horace and Part Time Heroes at the Sophisticated Otter in Johnson City.

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    David Cate is new media director for the GoTriCities Network. E-mail him at dcate@gotricities.net.