Members of the Gibson Brothers bluegrass band perform May 17 at the Strand Theatre in Old Forge. From left are Clayton Campbell, Eric Gibson, Leigh Gibson, Mike Barber and guest mandolin player Jesse Cobb.
OLD FORGE -- The North Country's Gibson Brothers are maintaining world-class caliber performances this spring while promoting their newest album thanks to a succession of professional guests on the mandolin.
In mid-April, mandolin player Joe Walsh announced he was parting ways with Ellenburg Depot natives Eric and Leigh Gibson after being with the band for more than four years. It came at a challenging time, as the Gibson Brothers began the busy festival season on the road without Walsh. They also began touring with a new CD, “They Called It Music,” recently released by Compass Records. Then there’s the added pressure of being the 2012 IBMA Entertainers of the Year, an honor the brothers recognize but take in stride.
As their song “They Called It Music” topped Bluegrass Today’s weekly chart for airplay on May 17, the Gibson Brothers were taking the stage at the Strand Theatre in Old Forge with guest mandolin player Jesse Cobb, formerly of the Infamous Stringdusters, who gave a “blistering” performance, as Leigh described it. Cobb will be filling in on a few more dates, as will Sierra Hull, until the brothers choose Walsh’s replacement. Adam Steffey will also be playing mandolin with the Gibsons and was with them this week at Bluegrass & BBQ in Branson, Mo.
“We are using different award-winning mandolin players for the next month,” Leigh said in an email. “I wanted to make sure we had a quality performer with us while we decided who would take over the job without rushing to a decision. While you can never be certain someone will be the right answer for the long term, giving ourselves time to find the next player can only help make a better call.”
Using a variety of mandolin players takes the pressure off of finding a full-time player right away, according to Leigh, who expects to have a new member in place by July.
“But for now I’m having fun getting to know and work with some incredible pickers,” Leigh said.
The performance in Old Forge was a homecoming of sorts for the Gibson Brothers, who were playing to a crowd of longtime fans and paddlers. Old Forge is on the southern end of their home turf in New York’s Adirondack Park and hosted the annual Paddlefest this past weekend.
Both Clayton Campbell on the fiddle and Mike Barber on upright bass joined Eric and Leigh. Campbell has been with the Gibsons for nine years, and Barber for 20.
“Because of that, we allowed him this year to get married,” Leigh said of Barber, who also co-produces albums with the brothers. “So he’s going to do that this fall.”
Their set began with “Help My Brother,” title track to the 2011 IBMA Album of the Year. It was followed by a collection of songs from past albums, such as “Safe Passage,” “The Open Road,” “Farm of Yesterday,” “Dreams That End Like This,” “Just Lovin’ You,” “Red Letter Day,” and “Walkin’ West to Memphis.” It also featured music from their new album, including “The Darker the Night, the Better I See,” “Dying for Someone to Live For,” “Buy a Ring, Find a Preacher,” and the title track and the Gibson’s current No. 1 hit, “They Called It Music,” which Eric co-wrote with Joe Newberry.
“There aren’t really singles in bluegrass music. Deejays play whatever they like to play,” Leigh said during the concert, filling the time while Eric tuned his banjo. “This is the one they’re playing the most, so it’s kind of the song that’s charting for us. I can’t believe it; I’ve written things for the record, and they’re not really charting. But this one of Eric’s is. Maybe there’s still some payola out in the world Eric’s using up.”
Leigh told a story about the song’s beginning and how Newberry, of Raleigh, N.C., once spent some time picking with an elderly banjo player up in the hills.
“And he asked him, ‘This style of playing that you do, when you were playing it years ago, did they call it country music, did they call it bluegrass, folk, old time, what’d they call it?’ And the fellow said, ‘Son, they called it music,’” Leigh said. “Two months later, a lightning bolt finally clicked with Eric. It took him a while to figure it out. He said, ‘There’s a song in that.’ So he wrote it.”
Eric also wrote the album’s final track, “Songbird’s Song,” which was the result of a three-day insomnia attack when the Gibson Brothers traveled to Denmark in 2012.
“When we first got there, I was so tired,” Eric said on stage. “I said, ‘I’m just going to take a little nap.’ And he (Leigh) said, ‘Don’t do it.’ He said, ‘You’re going to mess yourself up. Don’t do it.’ And I said, ‘Don’t tell me what to do.’ And he was right. I slept about four hours or so.”
“He was walking the streets of Denmark,” Leigh added. “He knew where every hot dog stand was in Copenhagen.”
The Old Forge concert was co-sponsored by Saratoga Guitar, operated by longtime musical friend Matt McCabe, of Saratoga Springs. Their encore performance was “Holding Things Together,” a tribute to Merle Haggard and symbolic of how the Gibson Brothers are getting along without Joe Walsh during their 2013 tour.
For more information, visit the band online at www.gibsonbrothers.com.