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Schimick enjoying playing with Larry Keel and Natural Bridge

Feb. 08, 2013 @ 06:59 AM

Larry Keel and his troupe of Appalachian roots musicians are no strangers to Huntington. They have brought their progressive bluegrass music to many venues here in the Tri-State through the years, including the Appalachian Uprising festival in Scottown, Ohio.

This Saturday, Larry Keel and Natural Bridge return to the V Club, 741 6th Ave., for a mid-winter throw down. Opening up the show will be the new roots music kids on the block, Hillbilly Carnival.

The show is ages 18 and up, and tickets are $10. Doors open at 8 p.m. Music begins at 10 p.m.
The members of Larry Keel and Natural Bridge include guitarist and vocalist Keel, bassist Jenny Keel, banjo player Will Lee and mandolin picker and fiddler Mark Schimick.

Schimick has been with Natural Bridge for many years now. Unlike Keel, however, Schimick did not grow up in the bluegrass tradition. But, while living in Illinois, a few trips down south to visit some relatives opened his eyes to the genre.

“My family is from Chicago,” said Schimick. “I grew up playing rock and roll and classical music and singing in choirs. But, my Mom had a sister who lived in southwest Virginia. When I’d visit my aunt and uncle down there, I’d mess around with the radio and I’d hear bluegrass music. I’m guessing now that it was Flatt and Scruggs and the Stanley Brothers by the way it sounded. I just remember the harmony singing being real keening (a mournful type of singing similar to the Irish lament for the dead), so I imagine that was the Stanleys. And, I heard Double A and Double E being pulled on a fiddle and I imagine that was Benny Martin playing behind Flatt and Scruggs. I remember it scaring the hell out of me, but in a good way. I remember going back home and trying to play banjo rolls on the piano.”

Eventually, right before his teenage years began, Schimick’s family moved south and that further sparked his interest in string music.

“When we moved to North Carolina when I was 12, it became my thing,” said Schimick. “I already knew what I was going to end up trying to do, which was trying to pick. But, it took about 10 years before I did it. Later on, I was in a rock and funk band in high school, I play drums and keyboards, and my guitar player would always get mad at me when I tried to pick up his instruments. I remember that he had a mandolin on his wall in his room and he left the room for a while, so I picked the mandolin up off the wall and he got mad and took it out of my hands. That made me mad to no end. And, that became the fire for me wanting to get a mandolin because someone told me I couldn’t do it.”

Schimick’s time with Larry Keel and Natural Bridge has been an interesting and rewarding ride. Keel is considered one of the most innovative guitarists in the business, plus the group often hosts jams in which other great artists join in. One of the musicians Schimick has performed with while a member of Natural Bridge is the living legend guitarist Tony Rice.

“Being onstage with Tony Rice is surreal, for sure,” said Schimick. “You can’t look over and study him too much. He’s the most dapper guy in bluegrass, with his Accutron watch on, he’s got that hair pulled back, and he’s got the old antique Clarence White guitar and you’re standing right next to it.

He’ll put it in your hands and let you play it. It is kind of freaky. I have always loved Tony Rice’s playing, but I personally tried to play more like Clarence. So, getting to play that guitar freaked me out a little it. Tony has this habit of not wanting you to play too tight. His biggest compliment to us was he liked us because we played ‘loose.’ Meaning, not loose as a band, but having an anything-goes nature to our solos and song choices, and not rehearsing it to the point where it is going to be stale. He would turn around on us with his rhythm, sometimes. If he felt like you were trying too hard, he’d turn the beat around on me or Larry or Jenny and mess with you a little bit to shake us up.”

While touring the country with Natural Bridge has been fun for Schimick, he has learned about more than music along the way.

“It’s been nice because when I think of Will and Larry, they are not just musical heroes to me,” said Schimick. “The way they conduct their lives, they are people to look up to. I’ve been very fortunate.”

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