Mark O’Connor Band’s very first performance took place at the legendary Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kansas in 2015. In 2017 – less than a year and a half later – they took home the GRAMMY Award for Best Bluegrass Album for their debut recording, Coming Home.
In a whirlwind three years, the band has also performed at the GRAMMY Awards Premiere Ceremony, received standing ovations at the Grand Ole Opry, reached the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s Top Bluegrass Albums chart, and opened for the Zac Brown Band that included two nights at Fenway Park. They have put together shows unlike any other, blending country and pop sensibilities with Americana rawness, bluegrass drive, and chamber music sophistication, one that has begun winning over audiences at festivals (AmericanaFest, GreyFox, IBMA, RockyGrass), clubs (Jazz Alley, Dakota Jazz Club), and the world’s premier Performing Arts Centers (Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Eastman Kodak Theater, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, Schermerhorn Symphony Center).
The O’Connor Band is the product of Mark O’Connor’s imagination – one that has served him well over the course of his four-decade professional career. A former child prodigy and national champion on the fiddle, guitar, and mandolin, Mark has won numerous GRAMMYs and CMA Awards, appeared on hundreds of commercial country albums, collaborated with the likes of Johnny Cash, Wynton Marsalis, Dolly Parton, and Yo-Yo Ma, and performed everything from original violin concertos to swing and jazz. But until recently, he had not worked on a project quite like this.
In addition to Mark, the band features his son Forrest, (Harvard graduate and former Tennessee State Mandolin Champion), daughter-in-law Kate (frequent performer on the CMA Awards and CMA Country Christmas shows), and wife Maggie (graduate of the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University). The four of them play together as though they have been sharing the stage for many years – and in some ways, they have.
“We all grew up listening to my dad’s music,” says Forrest, “so in a sense, we’ve been preparing for this band for a majority of our lives.”
The band is rounded out by Joe Smart (national flatpick champion on guitar) and Geoff Saunders (bassist/banjoist extraordinaire and recent graduate of the University of Miami’s DMA program).
All six band members possess charisma that, when combined onstage, ensnares audiences from start to finish. All are masters of their instruments, all improvise as readily as they play parts in counterpoint, all can sing, and all move about the stage in a free but gripping choreography. Kate’s beautiful and powerful voice belies her age. Forrest’s songwriting is at once poetic and accessible. Maggie’s violin playing blends effortlessly with her husband’s, so much so that, at times, the two sound like one player. Joe rips solos on the acoustic guitar as though he were playing electric. Geoff arcos high as commandingly as he grooves low. And Mark, of course, does things on the fiddle that has Paganini turning in his grave. He has also returned to the guitar leaving audiences awestruck over the iconic musician’s artistry all over again.
If the band’s first three years were a flash flood, their next few will be a calculated, steady rise. They continue to perform select engagements, doing an array of original songs, classics, and barnburners that require versatility and a depth of musical insight that few bands on the scene today can match.