The Grammy Award-winning Mark O’Connor band was featured in the 2018 Southern Sound Series. This series is an annual event hosted by the Culture & Heritage Museums at McCelvey Center’s Lowry Family Theatre in York, South Carolina. The Mark O’Connor Band consists of 6 members, 4 of which are family members. Mark and his wife Maggie started the band after meeting 4 years ago.
Bluegrass is a staple in Appalachian and southern culture. Yet, it has also been able to transcend southern borders and is enjoyed around the world. Mark, originally from Seattle, a city well-known for its music scene, talks about his experience with Bluegrass as a child.
Mark says, “I grew up in Seattle. So my way of first learning about the music was recordings. It was way before the Internet and YouTube and all that stuff, right? So sometimes I would wait a month or two for my favorite Bluegrass album to come by mail. Fnally, when I was 12 years old, I was able to finally come to the south and participate in festivals and enter fiddle contests against these greats, and I really learned how to do it and became a master at it.”
When it comes to Bluegrass music, Mark says, “I think we all kind of grew up playing it, learning it, when we were kids. Also, we all kind of come from family-oriented musician bands and environments where there were a lot of jam sessions and playing in the house. So it was a very kind of traditional experience because you can’t really learn much bluegrass in school or in college, but that’s all kind of changing, partially because of the O’Connor method.”
The O’Connor method is a 10-book series, created with the intent of teaching musicians to become proficient and well-rounded. This book series, written by Mark, has been adapted into a week-long summer camp. This year, the camp will be held in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Maggie comments, “We are having our string camp at the Myers Park Baptist Church and I’m really excited that we’re moving it to Charlotte because we live here now. We had it in New York City for a couple of years and it was always a great success. People come from all over the world…Australia, Bahrain, Sri Lanka. It’s such a cool thing.” When asked about the importance of educating people about Bluegrass, Maggie says, “We just believe that this music is so important. America is the melting pot of the world. These American styles evolved, so that all of the world’s cultures really created this music…and we think that’s such a wonderful message, it’s an inclusive message, and on top of it, we love the music itself.”
Aside from hosting their string camp, the Mark O’Connor Band will be touring with Zac Brown band this summer, opening for the three-time Grammy-winning multiplatinum artists at PNC in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Mark says, “The interface with the Zac Brown Band this year is the band’s biggest, huge, amazing journey into a whole 'nother level. Zac had heard the band and loved what we were doing, and is now producing some tracks on the band, so we have two songs, so far, with Zac producing us, and then he invited us to be on the tour and open up the tour for him this summer.”
Mark O’Connor and Zac Brown’s relationship began when Zac Brown was just 12 years old and in the crowd at one of Mark O’Connor’s shows.
“I was playing in North Carolina years ago and evidently Zac Brown was 12 years old and sitting in the audience,” Mark says, “He loved the set, loved the music, and he wanted to participate in the music more, and he wanted to learn more and take music seriously. All these years later, I run into him after he’s already successful, and he told me the story. And so, I always think that every time we take the stage, or anybody for that matter, you never know who’s going to be in your audience. There could be somebody out there, a 12 year-old kid that someday will be filling out Fenway Park with music fans.”