Ben Sollee opens Friday at 37th annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival

Ben Sollee opens Friday at 37th annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival

[For Ben Sollee’s conversation with Susan click “Play”]

Ben_main You have seen Ben Sollee with his cello on the Telluride Bluegrass Festival’s Main Stage, performing with Abigail Washburn, and with Bela Fleck in the Sparrow Quartet. But this time when he steps onto the stage in Telluride’s Town Park Friday morning, 10 a.m., Ben Sollee will be all alone in the morning sun. And he will shine.

Ben Sollee looks like central casting for the son in the father/son Patek Philippe watch ads that appear, well, like clockwork in The New York Times Sunday magazine: a handsome preppy with a geek bent. But looks, as we know, can be deceiving. Ben Sollee was not to the manor born. His roots are in the blue grass of Kentucky, where his grandfather owned a farm. Not to put too fine on point on it, the tag line for those watch ads, however, does ring true: “Begin your own tradition.” That’s just what Ben is doing – with great success.

Eschewing traditional singer-songwriter boundaries, Ben Sollee’s music incorporates banjo, guitar, percussion, and unusual cello techniques to create a signature mix of folk, bluegrass, jazz, and R&B. Ben’s distinctive, percussive cello technique – he plays like a rock star, not like just another member of an orchestra – his soulful, rasping high tenor, his musicianship, his simple, engaging lyrics, and his contagious integrity and sincerity have won the hearts and minds of a growing list of critics and fans. In 2007, the rising young star was named among NPR’s “Top Ten Unknown Artists of the Year.”

Ben’s influences are disparate – Wilson Pickett, Ray Charles, Billie Holiday, Otis Redding and folk – as are his collaborations – Otis Taylor, Fleck and covering Sam Cooke in a homage to the blues. But beyond music, Ben Sollee lives by a set of ideals that includes doing regional tours on a bike and recording an album to raise awareness about mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia.

Our bet: post-Telluride Bluegrass, you will want to say you knew Ben when…

In addition to opening Friday morning, Ben Sollee performs Thursday at NightGrass and gives a workshop in Elks Park.

To learn more, click the “play” button and listen to Ben’s podcast.

photo courtesy of Ben Sollee’s website

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