Tom Durkin
Special to The Union

A ‘conversation’ with Greg Brown

Maverick folksinger-songwriter Greg Brown is returning to the Miners Foundry for an intimate one-man concert May 16.

“It’s like he’s having a conversation with his audience,” said KVMR DJ Che Greenwood.

“I like that description,” Brown agreed in a telephone interview this week. “I never really know what I’m going to play on any given night. It depends on the mood and the audience.”

He added: “I try to mix it up with happy songs, sad songs. I do mix in some stories.”

A perennial favorite in Nevada County, Brown has been coming to Grass Valley/Nevada City since last century, often to sold-out shows.

“He’s got quite a following here,” said Steve Baker, program director of KVMR community radio. “We produced a number of shows with him in the ’90s.”

“Ticket sales are going great,” said Jesse Locks, publicist for Miners Foundry. “We always expect to sell out.”

Although he spent much of his career touring, nowadays Brown prefers to stay at home in Iowa City with his wife, singer-songwriter Iris DeMent. And when he really wants to get away from it all, he goes to the family farm in the forested hills of southeastern Iowa. “It’s out in the middle of nowhere,” he said.

These days, when he goes on the road, “I choose where and when I want to go.”

“He absolutely loves Nevada County,” Locks said. “He requests to perform here.”

“I’ve always enjoyed playing Nevada City,” Brown confirmed.

For one thing, KVMR’s Baker is an old friend. They met briefly while students at the University of Iowa, but their real connection goes back to 1989 when they worked on the cult film “Zadar! Cow from Hell.”

Produced by Duck’s Breath Mystery Theatre in Iowa, the film made it to the Sundance Film Festival before fading into oblivion. Nevertheless, “It was fun,” Brown recalled.

Although he has more than two dozen albums to his credit, Brown is perhaps best known as a songwriter. His songs have been covered by such artists as Willie Nelson, Carlos Santana, Ani DiFranco, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Joan Baez ­— and his wife, Iris DeMent.

Several local fans said they hope will Brown will sing “Canned Goods” and tell the story of how you could “… taste a little of the summer. My grandma’s put it all in jars.”

It was songs like “Canned Goods” that kept Brown’s career going.

“When I was about 30, I was ready to quit. The music business is tough,” Brown admitted.

Fortunately, he was asked to become a regular on Garrison Keillor’s legendary radio show, “A Prairie Home Companion.” In fact, a rare 1983 recording of “Canned Goods” is available on YouTube (http://youtube.com/watch?v=Nb-0ZCqga48).

When asked what songs he plans to play, Brown was politely noncommittal. Nevertheless, he did confirm he’d perform some songs from his most recent (2012) album, “Hymns to What Is Left.”

While not making any promises, he mentioned he often gets requests for “Hey, Baby, Hey” and “Daughters.” Then he volunteered he might play his upbeat “Fat Boy Blues.”

If he gets a request for one his old songs, Brown just laughed and said, “I hope I remember them.”

“He’s got a lot of really good songs,” said Greenwood. As a longtime stage manager at the annual Kate Wolfe Festival in Loyalton, Greenwood has come to know Brown both as a performer and as a person. “He’s there almost every year. He’s a real ‘folkie.’ He expresses the realness of the common man.”

Both Brown and DeMent are booked at this year’s Kate Wolfe Festival June 30.

Tickets for Brown’s show at Miners Foundry are selling for $27 in advance at the Nevada City Box Office (Miners Foundry) or online at minersfoundry.org/greg-brown/. If the show isn’t sold out, admission will be $32 at the door.

There are a limited number of reserved seats for $40 for those Greg Brown fans who want to get up close and personal, said Locks.

Tom Durkin is freelance writer and photographer in Nevada City. He can be reached at tdurkin@vfr.net.


Explore Related Articles

The Union Updated May 9, 2013 12:34AM Published May 9, 2013 12:26AM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.