Brian Wicklund

brian-wicklundBrian was born on a hot day in June in the ancient city of Kyoto, Japan.  To the Japanese nurses, he was shockingly large, bald and white.  It may have been the early influence of Japan carrying over to his life in Minnesota that got him enrolled in Suzuki violin lessons as a seven year old.  He did pretty well as a violin student but probably wasn’t exceptional.  At the age of nine, his formal instruction ended when his teacher left town.

When Brian was a third grader, his mother went back to college to finish her undergraduate degree.  Writing a paper on country music for an anthropology class, she brought home a Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs record called “Foggy Mountain Banjo.”  The drive of the banjo, the ferocious speed of the tunes and the fiery fiddling of Paul Warren instantly changed Brian’s life forever.  He was smitten.  His father was too, and bought himself a banjo and Scruggs’ instructional book.

As an eleven and twelve year old, Brian started meeting bluegrass and folk musicians in Minnesota.  He learned his music and technique from records and by cornering older players with a tape recorder and soliciting impromptu lessons.  Many a patient fiddler endured Brian’s grilling.

Over the next few years, Brian started winning fiddle contests.  His dad switched to bass.  A regular jam session turned into a band called “River Basin Bluegrass.”  Playing in a band was definitely a perk for Brian as his dad drove and could get him into bars to perform.

With the few other kids in Minnesota who where interested in bluegrass, Brian formed a band called “Bluegrass Connection.”  They won first place at the Minnesota State Fair talent contest in 1980, which awarded them a contract to perform the next year.  Apparently the heady success was too much for the band and they broke up. Brian continued to perform with various bluegrass bands through high school.

In college Brian traveled back to Japan to study the language and culture.  While there, he formed a band with the Osaka area’s finest bluegrass players.  Named after the commuter train between Osaka and Kyoto, they were called the “Keihan Railroad Boys.” Brian graduated college with a degree in East Asian Studies and Elementary Education and minors in Hacky Sack and Beer Drinking.

As it would happen, fate came a-knocking with a telephone call from the bandleader of “Stoney Lonesome.”  The band was going through personal changes and they were in need of a fiddler.  Much to the initial disappointment of his parents, Brian forwent the career path of a second grade teacher and instead joined the band in 1987. In the next seven years, the band toured nationally and internationally (including a trip back to Japan in 1990).  They released seven recordings and played on Prairie Home Companion radio show.

Between 1995 and 2004 Brian played with an array of nationally and internationally tour bands. He was a member of the Ethnic Dance Theater, Judith Edelman Band, Kathy Kallick Band, Lorie Line’s Pop Chamber Orchestra, and the Chris Stuart Band. He has been busy as a studio musician and producer laying down fiddle and mandolin tracks on hundreds of projects. His own critically acclaimed recording project “Arrival” was released in 1998. In 1999 he received the Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowship Grant.

In 2005 Brian and good friends Ben Winship and Eric Thorin formed the acoustic power trio Brother Mule.  Their debut release “Big Twang” won them an Indie Music Award for best Americana CD of 2005. He also performs in Minnesota with a band he fronts called Brian Wicklund and FiddlePals.

Brian is also the author of the best selling books, American Fiddle Method Volume 1 and 2 books and DVDs published by Mel Bay.  Spin-offs from the initial books for fiddle include viola, cello and piano accompaniment books.  He is currently expanding his offerings with the FiddlePal Explore Series focusing on Canadian Fiddle Styles and Texas and Contest Fiddle Styles. He plans to release a mandolin and bluegrass fiddle book in the near future.  Brian is also a co-founder of the online bluegrass instructional website Bluegrass College.  He teaches dozens of fiddle workshops and camps each year.

He and his wife and their three kids live in a town of 600 on the Minnesota side of the St. Croix River.  Founded by Swedish immigrants in the mid-1800s, the town’s landmarks such as the general store, bar and diner were inspirations for Garrison Keiller’s Lake Wobegon. Brian is also a runner and competitive Nordic skier.

Brian has been performing for over thirty years.  Playing music is spiritual for him. “I love playing for people.  I always have.  Those moments when all the stars align and the audience and the musicians are really listening, creative energy flows unimpeded through my body like electricity through a wire and becomes sound.  I feel like a conduit for the creator.  Time spent dealing with emails, telephone calls, noisy crowds, bad sound systems, lost luggage and seedy hotels is  absolutely worth it for moments like those.”

Brian says of his diverse musical experiences, “I’ve been a side-man in a lot of groups. I think it’s been a good thing.  I’ve played a variety of music with so many musicians from all over the country.  New music challenges me and I always learn so much from my band mates about music and life.”

Of late, Brian has been excited about performing his own music.  “It’s taken a long time for me to figure out what it is that I do.  I see my colleagues perform and it’s easy to see that so-and-so is a bluegrass fiddler or a Canadian fiddler or a swing fiddler. But my musical interests have always been diverse so I’ve had difficulty labeling myself.  But I have grown to realize that a fiddling “jack-of-all-trades” is a musical identity in itself.”

In 2005 Brian joined forces with good friends Ben Winship and Eric Thorin to form acoustic power trio Brother Mule.   “It is so fun playing with these guys.” says Brian.  “The only downside is that we live so darn far away.”  Ben lives in Idaho, Eric in Colorado and Brian in Minnesota. When do they practice?  “We send ideas via email and sometimes play for each other’s answering machines.  Otherwise, we show up a day before a tour and try to remember how our tunes go and teach each other a few new ones.”

Brother Mule in concert is a musical conversation between three of America’s most gifted acoustic musicians. The bandmates share the spotlight in a three-ringed circus of extraordinary talent and variety. Brian Wicklund ignites the stage with his fiery fiddling, Ben Winship plays tasty mandolin as he croons one of his finely crafted songs, while Eric Thorin pushes the boundaries of bass playing as an extreme sport.

Their debut recording, Big Twang which was re-named Brother Mule, earned them the Indie Music Award’s Best Americana CD of 2005. It’s a showcase of original and traditional vocals and instrumentals spanning genres of swing, old time, Celtic, old country and acoustic funk.