Thursday, April 15, 2010

Bluegrass reunion; Port visit brings back memories of Gibson Brothers' early days

Visit brings back memories of Gibson Brothers' early days

By Anne Easter Smith
Special to The Daily News

I very nearly let out a whoop when I heard The Gibson Brothers were booked for the April show at FINCH (Fridays in Newburyport Coffee House) based at the First Religious Society.
They're not only a phenomenal bluegrass band — with five No. 1 albums, including last year's "Ring the Bell," on Bluegrass Unlimited magazine's radio airplay chart to their credit — but the Gibson brothers have been part of my life for the past two decades.
Twenty years ago, I was the features editor at the daily newspaper in Plattsburgh, N.Y. —- yes, the small town across Lake Champlain from Burlington, Vt., that no one has heard of — and in my spare time, I warbled a folk song or two in bars, restaurants or anywhere else that would pay me.
I was a regular at Plattsburgh's answer to FINCH, and one magical night at the Unitarian church's coffeehouse, two shy, teenage boys settled themselves on chairs in front of the audience to test their mettle at an open mike.
They introduced themselves as Eric and Leigh Gibson from a dairy farm in Ellenburg Depot, N.Y., a four-corners, aka small, town about 15 miles from Plattsburgh where, Leigh Gibson will tell you, "pumping gas and going for ice cream" were what passed for excitement in their youth.
That night during the brothers' two songs, featuring perfect sibling harmonies and dexterous finger-picking on guitar and banjo, we all sat spellbound, gobsmacked and thrilled by the music. When the hall erupted in deafening applause, the Gibson brothers were — to put it mildly — as gobsmacked as we were. Eric Gibson even blushed!
It did not take long for the North Country to take notice of the two talented musicians. A seasoned, local guitarist named Junior Barber offered to mentor them, then joined them and suggested that his young son, Mike, come onboard as a stand-up bass player, too. Soon, the band was a favorite at bluegrass festivals and summer concerts in the Adirondacks.
While they pursued their degrees at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, the brothers, who are about a year apart in age, continued to either play music or help their dad on the farm when they weren't studying. Indeed, Leigh Gibson even put his academic career on hold when his father was sickly and unable to handle the cows by himself. Eric Gibson's song, "Farm of Yesterday" on the "Ring the Bell" album, speaks to how the brothers were influenced by their father's livelihood. More...

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