If you came to this page to understand who Bryan McDowell is, you won’t leave with the question answered. The only answer to this is in hearing his music… not just once, but many times, taking in his shapeshifting lyricism and deft navigation of both original and traditional territory with any of a long list of his collaborators and contemporaries.
But to begin to respond to the question in words, we can say that Bryan is an Appalachian musician. That is, his roots are in 9 years of work with first generation bluegrass fiddler Arvil Freeman, and his first connection was to the mountain culture of Western North Carolina and its acoustic traces. His influences are the refrains of Doc Watson, Norman Blake, and other classic folk pioneers, passed to him from his clawhammer banjo-playing father.
But his tastes in music couldn’t be contained in Appalachia and a quick ear landed him recurring work in Nashville with elite artists like Sierra Hull, Molly Tuttle, Section House, and stints with Claire Lynch and John McEuen. He contributed his surprising, sometimes-crunchy-sometimes-fluid style on stage and in studio alongside A-team players that included the McCourys, Bela Fleck, Alison Brown, Jerry Douglas, Jake Stargel, Missy Raines, Cory Walker, David Grier, Rob Ickes, Justin Moses, and Stuart Duncan.
[see page bottom for complete list of his supportive work with artists]
Anyone who knows Bryan at all knows that he can’t be held to one instrument. His early contest success made that matter clear, when he placed 1st in 21 out of 24 of prestigious competitions and national championships. The wins came as often on flatpick guitar as on mandolin and fiddle. He further expanded his arsenal within 2 years of moving to Nashville, when he began to apply his musical depth to innovate on clawhammer banjo, and added things like tenor guitar and mandocello to numerous Grammy-nominated studio projects.
In his 2021 release with venerable bassist Mark Schatz, Bryan’s voice finally becomes the centerpiece of a project, and it may be the instrument he wields with the most ease. His phrasing of every line presents the strong and tasteful tones that you would expect from years of work with master vocalists like Lynch and Tuttle at hundreds of folk and Americana festivals. The album further captures McDowell’s first recorded expansion into songwriting, a component of his that will be seen on projects soon to drop.
So how do you quantify such a subtle and quiet soul with so many surprises? The solution is, you don’t expect him to do what you expect him to do. Keep your ear close to his music, and prepare to be stunned and transported by his iconic originality at every new milestone.
This year, Bryan infuses his energy into his new home base of Baltimore, while touring select dates with Mark Schatz, John Reischman, and acclaimed duo The Foreign Landers. When he’s not on the road, you can catch him in the greater DC area guesting with Charm City Junction and other celebrated mid-Atlantic bands, or hear him on new releases from Section House and other innovators.
Bryan has been a side man and session player for...
Bryan Sutton, Claire Lynch, Tony Rice, Sierra Hull, Ron Block, Section House, Josh Turner, Uncle Grier
Mountain Heart, Alison Brown, David Holt, Bobby Osborne, Molly Tuttle, Ashleigh Caudill,
Casey Campbell, Delta Rae, Lee Ann Womack, Missy Raines, East Nash Grass, Josh Goforth
Mark Schatz, John Reischman, John McEuen, The Foreign Landers